Federal officials, including those at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, are monitoring what they say has been an uptick in violent rhetoric online since former President Donald Trump asked his supporters to “protest” what he said was his imminent arrest.
Several media outlets have reported that chatter includes comments like “civil war,” and “worse than January 6.” But the online discussion has been just that—and has not had the coordination, information, and volume before the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, US officials and security experts told CNN.
“There has been nothing specific or credible—both in terms of large-scale activity or violence,” the senior official said. A senior law enforcement official also told CNN that while the online chatter is growing with time, it’s all “familiar” to the intelligence community, meaning nothing that rises to the level of major concern as of now.
A key difference two years after January 6, sources told CNN, is the threat of arrest has risen in the minds of many potential protesters. A senior law enforcement official said that a small protest on Monday in New York City was a good example of the current situation. He said that one group that was scheduled to come decided not to out of apparent fear of being arrested.
Still, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are wary of underestimating the potential violence, as they did before January 6, when a deadly attack at the Capitol was followed by weeks of online threats.
CNN further reported that officials in Washington were preparing for demonstrations surrounding any indictment of Trump that could erupt into violence.
But FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials are also wary of opening themselves up to political attacks by Republicans, the senior US official said, who are eager to call out both agencies for anything perceived as infringing on people’s First Amendment rights.
On top of that, online rhetoric has been relatively muted compared to 2021.
“The steady stream of anti-government hostility and increasingly violent rhetoric is worrying, but it hasn’t reached the volume of what we saw in the run-up to January 6 yet,” Ben Decker, the CEO of online threat analysis firm Memetica, told CNN.
Some posts from influential right-wing figures in recent days have seemingly been more geared at creating chaos than at sparking violence. Right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec took to Trump’s preferred social media platform, Truth Social, to call for a “nationwide bank run” after Trump announced that he expected to be arrested.
“The risk here is that narratives surrounding the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and potential arrest of President Trump may converge as influencers like Posobiec foment conversation around a potential run on banks as a form of nonviolent protest,” said Lisa Kaplan, founder of tech firm Alethea Group, which tracks online disinformation campaigns.
One law enforcement expert said that the level of engagement on some of the most aggressive posts they had seen was much lower than they had expected.
Some Trump allies, like Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have warned that any protests against an arrest of Trump could be infiltrated by federal agents.
It’s widely believed charges against Trump will come on Wednesday, with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg having already spoken to law enforcement with communications extending to the U.S. Secret Service.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans have called the potential arrest of Trump a political witch hunt.
Three House GOP chairmen on Monday sent a letter to Bragg calling for the Manhattan DA’s testimony before Congress. They said the investigation was an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.
While we have not yet identified specific plans to engage in large-scale violence, we remain concerned about singular acts of political violence occurring in the days ahead,” Daniel J. Jones, president of Advance Democracy, a not-for-profit research organization, told CNN.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources told CBS News that there’s been a “significant increase” in threats and violent rhetoric online from domestic violent extremists as an indictment of Trump looms.
Domestic violent extremists in online postings have warned that prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office would cross a red line if Trump is indicted, and it would be met with more violence than the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the source told CBS.
CBS Sources said the threats are mostly aimed at law enforcement, judges, and government officials in New York and elsewhere who they see as participants in what they see as a political persecution of Trump.
“We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York,” Bragg wrote. “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”
In Washington, D.C., U.S. Capitol Police is expected to have extra staffing Tuesday and Wednesday, CBS and NBC News reported. A senior congressional source said Capitol Police plan to make an emergency declaration Tuesday ahead of any possible indictment, CBS reported.
The declaration allows for mutual aid assistance from other departments and has been used ahead of other recent protests.
The source said there is no specific intelligence they are tracking, but the department is making the declaration proactively. The Metropolitan Police Department said it’s not aware of any potential protests related to Trump in the capital.
“MPD will continue to monitor and will plan accordingly with our federal law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of DC residents and visitors,” MPD said in a statement.
“MPD encourages the public to remain vigilant, if you see something, say something.”
Stacy M. Brown is an NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent.
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