National security experts say Trump operates like a terrorist leader

Mark Follman reports today:

Pro-Trump rioters were more orchestrated than was generally understood.

For several weeks before the siege, the national security community was “swimming in threat intel” about far-right Trump partisans with potentially dangerous plans, a senior US law enforcement official told me. Some of the threats metastasized online. According to a social media analysis cited in the New York Times, the phrase “Storm the Capitol” was mentioned 100,000 times across various platforms in the 30 days preceding the attack. Violent far-right extremist groups exchanged ideas about concealing weapons and using guerilla tactics to target political enemies. On Twitter, President Trump himself spent weeks inciting violence focused specifically on Jan. 6, the day Congress would certify Joe Biden’s election victory. The day prior to the attack, a FBI field office in Virginia issued a stark internal warning about extremist talk of going to “war” in Washington, including individuals sharing a map of the Capitol complex.

Juliett Kayyem—a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security—was blunt about Trump’s culpability, saying: “Trump is the spiritual leader for domestic terrorists and he is their operational leader. He tells them what to do.”

Elizabeth Neumann, who served served as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention from March 2018 to April 2020, warned in October:

Language from campaign materials and Trump’s extemporaneous speeches at rallies have been used as justification for acts of violence. The president has repeatedly been confronted with this fact… the issue is not whether he has ever condemned those ideas and people; it is that he is inconsistent and muddied in his condemnations. Extremists thrive on this mixed messaging, interpreting it as coded support.


Combined with the president’s repeated efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election and militaristic calls to “join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have expressed concerns to me that the president’s rhetoric will lead to more civil unrest and violence.

Follman reported in December that national security experts had identified Donald Trump’s behavior as a pattern known as “stochastic terrorism”—“a method of political incitement that provokes random acts of extremist violence, in which the instigator uses rhetoric ambiguous enough to give himself and his allies plausible deniability.” Follman reported that:

Over the past four years, numerous perpetrators of threats and violence have directly invoked the president and his rhetoric, and recent gatherings by far-right groups in support of Trump’s efforts to reverse his election defeat have led to beatingsstabbings and a shooting

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