Trump’s rhetoric prompts warnings of real violence

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man armed with an AR-15 rifle was killed in a shootout after he tried to break into the FBI offices in Cincinnati. A Pennsylvania individual was arrested after he posted death threats against officers on social media. In cyberspace, calls for armed uprisings and civil war are growing louder.

This could be just the beginning, federal officials and private observers of extremism have warned. A growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters appear ready to strike back at the FBI or others they say are going too far in investigating the former president.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are warning and being warned of increased threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Experts who study radicalization and misinformation online — such as Trump’s false claims about a stolen election — say the recent spike was sparked by the break-in at Trump’s home in Florida. But what could happen in the event of arrests or accusations?

“When the messages reach a certain pitch, things start to happen in the real world,” said former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer, who now heads the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University. “And when people in positions of power and public trust start echoing extremist rhetoric, we’re even more likely to see real-world consequences.”

Amplified by the right-wing mainstream media, the angry claims by Trump and his allies about the raid are stoking the fire of his supporters’ distrust of the federal government in general and the FBI in particular — albeit run by one man. who was appointed by Trump_. And at least some of Trump’s supporters now appear to be acting out of his anger.

Last week, a man in armored tactical clothing and armed with an assault rifle and a nail gun attempted to break into the FBI office in Cincinnati. Later he was shot by the police after exchanging shots with the agents. Authorities said they believe the man had posted strong messages on Truth Social, Trump’s online platform, including one that said federal agents should be killed.

Another man drove his car into a US Capitol barricade on Sunday and began firing into the air before shooting himself.

On Monday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of a Pennsylvania man who had repeatedly threatened the lives of FBI agents on Gab, a platform popular with Trump supporters.

“They have declared war on us and now it is hunting season against you,” he wrote in a post shared by the authorities.

A joint intelligence bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warns of an increase in violent online threats against federal officials and government facilities. These include “a threat to plant an alleged pipe bomb in front of FBI headquarters,” along with calls for “civil war” and “rebellion,” according to a copy of the document obtained by The Associated Press.

Mentions of the “civil war” on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter increased 10-fold in the hours immediately following last week’s Mar-a-Lago record, according to analysis by Zignal Labs, a company that analyzes the content of social networks.

Many of the posts contained unsubstantiated claims suggesting that President Joe Biden ordered the FBI to search Trump’s home, or that the FBI planted evidence to incriminate Trump.

“That Biden sent the FBI to raid the home of former President Mr. Donald Trump is a declaration of war against him and his supporters,” one person wrote on Telegram.

The intelligence bulletin also noted that federal law enforcement officials have identified several threats against government officials who participated in the Mar-a-Lago search, including calls to kill the trial judge who signed the search warrant.

The names and addresses of FBI agents and other officials have been posted online, along with references to relatives who could be other targets, according to intelligence documents.

The threats are eerily similar to online rhetoric that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the U.S. Capitol, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who chairs the House committee investigating the Capitol storming and the National Security Commission.

“These threats of violence and even civil war — coming predominantly from right-wing extremists on the internet — are not only un-American, they are a threat to our democracy and the rule of law,” Thompson said.

The search of Trump’s residence was executed on the basis of a legally obtained warrant signed by a judge. But that is not in the interest of Trump and his allies.

“This is an attack on a political opponent on a level never before seen in our country,” Trump wrote Monday on Truth Social. “Third World!”

Republican Rep. Paul Gosar equated the investigation with “tyranny,” tweeting, “We must destroy the FBI.”

Another Republican congressman, Andy Biggs, tried to place the blame in part on the individual agents who ran the search. “This looked more like something you would see in the former Soviet Union,” Biggs said this week. “Why did all those agents volunteer for it?”

Republican Sen. John Thune told reporters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Tuesday that while the Justice Department has shown that it followed legal protocols to obtain the search warrant, its reservation about the Trump investigation has caused the people question the motives of law enforcement.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions that, left unanswered, create a lot of suspicion among the American people, and the one thing you don’t want is for people to not trust law enforcement,” Thune said.

Other Republicans have tried to tone down the rhetoric, as Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did during a weekend appearance on CNN. “We have to stop judging them,” Hutchinson said of the officers. “The FBI is simply carrying out its responsibilities under the law.”

But many in the conservative media have not heeded that advice.

“The break-in at Mar-a-Lago was not law enforcement, it was the opposite of that,” Tucker Carlson said on his Fox News show Monday night. “It was an attack on the rule of law.”

Fox also shared a doctored photo that falsely showed the judge who signed the order receiving a foot massage from Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for helping her boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse minors. The original photo was not of the judge, but of Epstein, who committed suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial. Brian Kilmeade of Fox News later said the doctored image was shared as a joke.

The roots of Republican anger at the FBI go back to the 2016 election and investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material in a private email account. That fury has only grown as new investigations focus on Trump, his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified material since he left office.

Unsubstantiated claims that the FBI secretly framed Trump supporters for their violent actions on January 6 also stoked the ire of conservative social media users.

“Well guys you started this civil war,” one user wrote on Gab, “and others are going to end it for you.”


Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.

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