Online violent extremist rhetoric soars after Mar-a-Lago search

Author: Jacob Rosen and Nicole Sganga / CBS
Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Credit: CBS

Hours before a man identified by two law enforcement sources as Ricky Shiffer died in a standoff with law enforcement after he allegedly attempted to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office on Thursday, Shiffer appeared to post on former President Donald Trump’s social media platform “TRUTH Social” to express his desire to kill federal agents.

The post, which has since been removed by the site’s moderators, appeared shortly after the FBI searched the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence, Monday.

“When they come for you, kill them,” the suspect wrote. “Be an American, not a steer.”

Shiffer was in Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 6, 2021, though he was not arrested following the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The posts represent a tiny fraction of violent extremist content flooding far-right message boards and social media platforms in the wake of the FBI’s search of the Mar-a-Lago resort. Phrases including “civil war” and “lock and load” trended across Telegram channels, Gab, Reddit and TheDonald, a popular forum among Trump supporters. Also rising – antisemitic slurs threatening the Florida magistrate judge who signed the search warrant enabling the FBI to search for and remove boxes and documents of potentially classified material from the former president’s home. At this point, the volume of the rhetoric hasn’t reached the same levels seen in the days leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

The threats ranged from attacks on the FBI and those involved in the case to calls for Trump supporters to take up arms against the government.

“Ballot box, soap box, jury box, and ammo box … options are getting limited,” wrote one user. “Time to bear arms and take down the FBI,” wrote another.

“There was just an explosion of angry rhetoric across right-wing media, across right-wing social media accounts,” Jessica Reaves, the editorial director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism, told CBS News. “What is most notable to us is the uniformity of the calls for civil war across, quote, unquote, extremist and … ‘mainstream’ platforms and from people on, you know, across the board, in the right-wing space.”

Reaves continued, “What we’re seeing today is a volume and a sort of pitch that we’ve not seen … in certainly at least 18 months, maybe more.”

Users on far-right platforms, pro-Trump message boards and Twitter threatened the Florida magistrate and shared what appear to be the judge’s home address and phone numbers and names and photos of possible family members. The threats, first uncovered by the non-profit investigative group Advancing Democracy Inc., were also shared on social media channels of the far-right militia group the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, another militia group.

In addition, users have seized on reports that when he was practicing law, the judge represented employees of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, feeding into the false QAnon-driven narrative that there is a cabal of pedophiles and Satan-worshippers who run a global sex-trafficking operation.

The judge’s biography page was taken offline this week after users on the far-right platforms ‘doxxed’ the judge by posting his contact information alongside the threatening messages.

The anger surrounding Trump’s false allegations about a stolen 2020 election has not subsided among his most loyal supporters, Rita Katz, CEO of Site Intelligence Group, which tracks extremists online, told CBS News, but she also said that the level of online extremism hasn’t yet matched the pre-Jan. 6 furor.

Katz noted that, “While the incitements and themes of this dangerous discourse do indeed resemble those seen before the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, we have not yet seen it reach the same volume and prevalence.”

But she added, “There are many developments to come and we must not work under the naive assumption that a similar event couldn’t happen again.”

Although GOP lawmakers’ language is more muted, extremism experts note that violent rhetoric mirrors ideas spread on far-right platforms with statements painting the U.S. government as a “banana republic” or “police state.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis alleged law enforcement’s search of Mar-a-Lago marked an “escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.”

“Failure is not an option,” Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted, Monday. “We must destroy the FBI. We must save America. I stand with Donald J. Trump.”

“One day what goes around is going to come around,” wrote Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. “And then we become Nicaragua under Ortega,” the Florida lawmaker added in an apparent comparison to the leader notorious for jailing political opponents.

At a press conference on Thursday announcing his department was seeking permission from a federal judge to unseal the search warrant used by FBI agents to seize documents from Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the work of FBI agents and those involved in the case.

“The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants,” Garland said. “Every day, they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism, and other threats to their safety, while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning the “violence and threats,” adding that “unfounded attacks on the integrity of the FBI erode respect for the rule of law.”

“Every day I see the men and women of the FBI doing their jobs professionally and with rigor, objectivity, and a fierce commitment to our mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution,” Wray wrote. ” I am proud to serve alongside them.”

— Andy Triay, Rob Legare and Pat Milton contributed to this post.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.