Within the wake of January’s pro-Trump protest-turned-riot on the Capitol, some have warned of the risks of a “struggle on terror”–model response to the episode, and the way simply it might be turned in opposition to a number of activists, dissidents, and marginalized communities. A current legal case out of Florida reveals these warnings are usually not simply theoretical.
On January 15, in Tallahassee, the FBI arrested thirty-three-year-old Daniel Alan Baker, a veteran and self-described “hardcore leftist” who had traveled the nation final 12 months taking part in protests in opposition to police brutality. Described by various news outlets as concerned in a “Florida Capitol plot” or plotting an assault on Trump supporters, Baker has been slapped with federal prices and denied bail on the grounds that he’s a flight threat.
“Extremists intent on violence from both finish of the political and social spectrums have to be stopped, and they are going to be stopped,” said US lawyer Larry Keefe. “This arrest serves as a message to anybody who intends to incite or commit violence within the Northern District of Florida: if you happen to signify a risk to public security, we are going to come for you, we are going to discover you, and we are going to prosecute you.”
Baker’s arrest was as dramatic as any of the scenes that got here out of the Capitol three weeks in the past. In response to witnesses, early on a Friday morning, brokers rushed Baker’s condo, weapons drawn, broke open the door, and threw a flash bang grenade, earlier than arresting Baker “without incident.”
How did a person described by his blind, aged landlady as “a pleasure, very clever” and “thoughtful of the others who dwell right here, quiet, well-behaved,” flip into what Keefe described as a “harmful extremist” whose arrest had made the general public safer? And what precisely had Baker performed to justify a swarm of federal brokers smashing down his door?
Because the FBI’s criminal complaint lays out, Baker stands accused of “threatening using violence in america” and “utilizing social media to recruit and practice like-minded people in furtherance of his Ant-Authorities or Anti-Authority Violent Extremist Ideology.”
It definitely sounds alarming. Such language suggests a left-wing model of this month’s thwarted violence in Washington, DC, and all method of frightful eventualities: a plot to bomb the state capitol, to assassinate state lawmakers, or even perhaps to bloodbath the cops he’d spent the earlier 12 months demonstrating in opposition to.
However in truth, the FBI has neither introduced proof, nor accused Baker, of something of the type. As a substitute, the federal government’s case in opposition to Baker facilities solely on his constitutionally protected speech — “extremist rhetoric,” within the FBI’s phrases. Particularly, this refers to a collection of social media posts focusing on, because the criticism outlines, “these he claims are white supremacists, fascists, United States individuals with totally different ideologies than his, and allies of america.”
As completely documented, Baker in current months had turn out to be involved that Trump was planning a “violent militant coup” since dropping the election, and believed at a number of factors that america was about to erupt in bloodshed and even civil struggle, whilst these predictions failed to return true. These fears had been escalated by what occurred on the US Capitol weeks earlier.
“With the riot, he was afraid there was going to be an armed coup, and it was going to occur on the state capitol,” says Jack Fox Eager, a pal of Baker’s.
Alarmed at experiences that Trump supporters and far-right demonstrators had been planning armed protests in state capitols across the nation — and anxious that native regulation enforcement neither had the numbers nor inclination to repel them — Baker urged folks to take up arms and confront the protesters, envisioning himself and his allies encircling the group and trapping them contained in the Capitol, earlier than driving them out of the state.
“They’re staging an armed takeover, so solely an armed group can cease them!” Baker wrote within the description of the “Defend Tallahassee” Fb occasion he created, warning that “the enemy can have excessive energy rifles and explosives,” and “is coming from each racist group within the space.”
Prosecutors are additionally pointing to a flier titled “CALL TO ARMS JANUARY 20TH!” Baker allegedly posted as a remark to an area Tallahassee information station’s internet article and printed bodily copies of. Warning of “an ARMED COUP at each American Capitol,” the flier referred to as on Floridians to “defend capitol RESIDENTS and CIVILIANS from armed racist mobs WITH EVERY CALIBER AVAILABLE,” and once more urged attendees to “encircle” any protesters, “allow them to take the capitol and combat with the cops, SURROUND THEM AND TRAP THEM INSIDE!”
“That is an armed COUP and may solely be stopped by an armed group!” the flier reads. “Should you’re afraid to die preventing the enemy, keep in mattress and dwell.”
That is all the foundation of the prosecution’s declare that Baker was “utilizing social media to recruit and practice” others to additional an “Anti-Authorities or Anti-Authority” agenda: a Fb occasion, a flier, and a handful of feedback, all centered on defending authorities property and personnel from what he believed can be an armed, far-right assault. The criticism highlights Baker’s most inflammatory language, ignoring the truth that he repeatedly made clear that his purpose, if any such incident even occurred, was to lure pro-Trump protesters within the Florida Capitol, and to guard those that could be threatened by them.
“He felt he wanted to defend black and brown folks from white supremacists,” says Eager. “In his manner he was utilizing his privilege to defend.”
Roommate Eric Champagne says Baker was “writing to a polarized viewers” to mobilize folks to return out, and that his actual plans had been a step down from even this rhetoric.
“What he was discussing with me was doing regular avenue medic stuff, driving round,” says Champagne. “There’s concentric roads across the capitol, you’ll be able to drive round and never be attacked, however you’ll be able to cease and assist somebody who’s injured. This time he would simply have a registered firearm simply in case.”
Baker had expertise as a medic, and was on the time making an attempt to boost cash for an EMT program at his local people school. Those that know him recall tales of Baker speeding to use first assist to strangers shot at protests or concerned in accidents.
“I all the time felt very protected with him, figuring out there’s a fallback there,” says Susanna Matthews, Baker’s landlady. “Trigger I’m eighty years previous and blind.”
Maybe most alarming is that the costs in opposition to Baker aren’t simply based mostly on his rhetoric across the pro-Trump Capitol protest that barely materialized. In addition they contain his activism, and a collection of earlier, unrelated posts essential of police and navy and utilizing leftist slogans.
The criticism focuses on Baker’s 2020 travels throughout the nation to “take part in protests which have resulted in violence,” referring to final 12 months’s George Floyd protests, together with his time in Seattle’s CHOP/CHAZ motion. The only instance of his supposedly menacing habits? Instructing “his followers on find out how to debilitate regulation enforcement officers by filling up balloons with paint and to throw them at regulation enforcement.”
Baker’s criticism of and hostility to police makes up a big a part of the criticism. Baker posted that police sound “like chilly blooded nazis,” that his model of avenue judo “works in opposition to cops sporting physique armor,” that he was “searching” cops, and his normal sense that police had been infiltrated by the far proper (one thing that’s objectively true) and had been complicit within the Capitol riot (a suspicion shared by at least some lawmakers). At one level, the criticism cites Baker photographing and posting on-line photographs of unmarked regulation enforcement autos parked at his house (“for intelligence functions for his following”).
A few of Baker’s rhetoric crossed over into violent imagery, telling followers, “Hospitalize your native fascist” or that he was “so fucking all the way down to slay enemies once more” — although as instances just like the Occupy Wall Avenue protests showed, such rhetoric doesn’t essentially translate into motion.
Extra goofily, the FBI additionally cites a handful of unremarkable but superficially threatening leftist cliches in Baker’s posts: “I wish to watch capitalist society burn”; “loss of life to amerikka”; a meme that reveals him “consuming the wealthy”; or the truth that he performed “anarchist-type monologues” within the background of his exercise movies. It was additionally partly on the premise of such “repeated public endorsement of violence and violent acts” that the courtroom denied him bail. Baker’s lawyer has contended that is all political hyperbole, or at worst, too “conditional, equivocal, speculative, and unrealistic” to be taken critically.
“Politically he was not an accelerationist, however on-line he favored to feed the delusions,” says Champagne.
He factors to a tongue-in-cheek put up cited within the FBI’s criticism: a YouTube video Baker put up within the wake of the Capitol incident of Trump supporters attacking a protester. “I’ve acquired a sponsor (Soros, you realize, the antifa card was lastly accredited) and I and my donors will probably be providing money rewards for info resulting in the verified identification of any and each particular person on this video,” he wrote within the description.
The put up was introduced up by an FBI agent in Baker’s preliminary listening to, say those that attended. When the general public defender requested the agent if he knew who George Soros was and if he actually believed he was financing Baker, the FBI agent replied that, not figuring out who Soros was, he couldn’t say. The reply prompted laughter within the courtroom. “I believed to myself, ‘Nicely, I’m unsure the place you’ve been for the previous nevertheless a few years,’” recollects Matthews.
There are additionally extra severe questions on regulation enforcement’s conduct. Matthews and Champagne each recall the FBI agent later testifying that he had instantly recognized himself as one when finishing up the arrest. But in keeping with them, brokers initially introduced themselves as Postmates employees, and solely recognized themselves as FBI later — in keeping with Champagne, as soon as that they had already damaged down Baker’s door and thrown a flash bang. Matthews was so frightened by the “raving maniac” who first knocked on her door, she referred to as 911, whereas the roommates — on edge on account of right-wing loss of life threats Baker had acquired up to now — had their very own weapons drawn.
Eager and Champagne keep that the federal government’s portrayal of Baker is distorted and stripped of context. The criticism cites his other-than-honorable discharge from the navy after going AWOL, as an illustration, however they are saying it neglects to say this was as a result of he’d been sickened by the rape tradition he encountered upon enlisting. And whereas they disagree together with his rhetoric on-line, they are saying Baker wasn’t violent, and as an alternative believed within the custom of armed self-defense, instructing each of them martial arts.
“When he skilled me, he stated one of the best rape protection was figuring out jiu-jitsu and being armed, and that weak folks in society ought to defend themselves,” says Eager.
They stress his very actual worry about impending far-right violence, and the post-traumatic stress dysfunction his navy service left him with. That included his time in Syria preventing with the Kurdish Individuals’s Safety Models, cited for instance of the hazard he posed in each the costs in opposition to him and to deny him bail — although the US navy has backed the exact same group.
But at coronary heart, Baker was — just like most of the Capitol protesters who had been spurred on by right-wing lies concerning the election consequence — responding to the information he was consuming. A lot of the information media on the time designated the occasion as an “assault,” a “siege,” “terrorism,” and even an “insurrection” — that means an armed anti-government rebellion — and portrayed it as dangerously near overthrowing US democracy. The next weeks had been saturated with lurid warnings of far worse, extra organized violence to come, based mostly largely on claims from varied authorities, like an FBI bulletin that predicted the armed storming of presidency buildings throughout the nation. That included this CNN piece that Baker included in his flier.
He was additionally responding to the language of politicians. Baker uploaded to YouTube this video of former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), now within the Biden administration, calling on Individuals to “rise up, man up, lady up, and defend this structure from all enemies, overseas and home.” On his channel, Baker pointed to the assertion as a name to arms, citing it to justify his plans to confront protesters on inauguration day.
If nothing else, Baker’s case reveals how simply the martial local weather that has prevailed for the reason that Capitol riot might be turned on unrelated people who maintain vastly totally different beliefs. Baker’s case shouldn’t be not like the federal government’s prosecution of even nonviolent pro-Trump protesters on the Capitol, which has rested partly on inflammatory social media posts and statements of their very own. It is a notably straightforward customary to use to the Left, whose staunchest pacifists use slogans and have interaction in actions that regulation enforcement and prosecutors can misconstrue as scary and violent.
On this manner, the vow of Larry Keefe, the US lawyer who introduced Baker’s arrest, to go after “extremists” and “terrorists” across the spectrum within the wake of the riot is very loaded. Keefe is a Trump appointee whose affirmation was secured by his pro-Trump ally, Consultant Matt Gaetz. Gaetz has baselessly blamed antifa for the occasions on the Capitol, and last year wanted to “hunt them down like we do [terrorists] within the Center East.”
This isn’t remoted. New York police not too long ago cracked down on Martin Luther King Day marchers, with the town’s mayor citing the Capitol riot as justification. Republican lawmakers across the country swiftly used the riot to repackage and rush by means of anti-protest payments they first devised in response to final 12 months’s anti-police brutality protests, most notably the vehemently pro-Trump Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. It’s precisely what each liberal and conservative authoritarians hoped for within the wake of the riot: that something performed in response to the pro-Trump crowd that stormed the Capitol can be later used to clamp down on protest from the left.
How far this marketing campaign will go stays to be seen. Extra instantly, Daniel Baker is awaiting trial in a particular, segregated housing unit in jail. On-line isn’t actual life, except the federal government decides to prosecute you for posting.