August 16, 2022
IntelBrief: Unprecedented Number of Threats Facing U.S. Federal Law Enforcement
In the wake of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) search of former President Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago, Florida, threats against the FBI and federal law enforcement have spiked. The former President is reportedly facing potential prosecution for violating the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice after documents classified at the top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) level were found at his property, including extremely sensitive documents related to nuclear weapons. Subsequently, threats have been directed against FBI personnel and property, prompting the bureau and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue a joint intelligence bulletin laying out the range of possible threats. The bulletin comes as the latest in a series of warnings about the growing tide of anti-authority and anti-government violent extremism (AAAGVE).
Several violent acts followed in the wake of widespread condemnations by Republican lawmakers and supporters of the federal authorities who executed the search. Last week, an individual who was known to the FBI attempted to attack its field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was then shot and killed in a standoff with law enforcement. There was also an armed protest outside of the FBI’s Phoenix field office over the weekend. Also over the weekend, a man drove his car into a barricade at the U.S. Capitol, then fired a gunshot into the air before killing himself. FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the issue of FBI employees’ safety in a memo distributed last week, highlighting the severity and apparent credibility of the threats. There were also numerous attempts by individuals to “doxx” FBI agents, making public their personal information so that others could harass or target them with threats and physical violence. At times, former President Trump’s own inflammatory rhetoric following the search has contributed to the already volatile security situation. Others have echoed his incendiary rhetoric.
Online vitriol and threats included calls to “kill all feds” as well as exhortations of violence against a federal magistrate judge and the U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland. Other online threats called for a “dirty bomb” to be detonated in front of FBI Headquarters, along with more general threats of impending civil war and armed rebellion. A disinformation campaign related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has also caught the attention of militia violent extremists (MVEs) and others, who released direct threats on social media. “Civil war” and “lock and load” were among the phrases trending on sites such as Telegram, Gab, and Reddit, in addition to Truth Social, former President Trump’s social media platform, which is where the Cincinnati gunman Ricky Shiffer posted direct threats and implored others to kill federal law enforcement agents. Even elected members of Congress, including Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), joined in, tweeting, “We must destroy the FBI.” Other fringe political figures such as Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called to “defund the FBI.” On Monday, in his first remarks to the press since the Mar-a-Lago search, President Trump acknowledged that the "temperature has to be brought down," adding that "if there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that." However, the former president has made no efforts to discourage threats against law enforcement and has actively spread mis- and disinformation regarding the search and the ongoing investigation.
Just over a year and a half after the January 6 Capitol insurrection of 2021, far-right extremists in the United States are once again energized and ramping up calls for violence. This current landscape of political violence and anti-government extremism is reminiscent of the early to mid-1990s, the same environment that produced Timothy McVeigh whose 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City resulted in 168 dead and nearly 700 injured. To this day, it remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. Online comparisons of the FBI to Nazi Germany’s gestapo, Adolf Hitler’s secret police, merely serve to ratchet up tensions and encourage violent extremists to act. Several Republican politicians repeated the comparison, including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Florida Senator Rick Scott. Former Trump White House adviser, Steve Bannon, went even further, commenting, “I do not think it’s beyond this administrative state and their deep state apparatus to actually try to work on the assassination of President Trump,” in remarks to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show last week. Continued violent rhetoric by politicians and the media, amplified by a far-right ecosystem rife with disinformation, is almost guaranteed to lead to future acts of extremist violence targeting U.S. government institutions and federal law enforcement agencies and their personnel.