Since the August 9 raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, references to ‘Civil War’ have doubled in the online spaces where anti-government extremism flourishes.
File photos, Getty Images
References to ‘civil war’ doubled after the Mar-a-Lago raid, say extremism experts.
Post-raid anger on extremist platforms was at its highest since the lead up to January 6, they say.
The anger mirrors the anti-government rhetoric of Donald Trump and his allies.
References to ‘civil war’ doubled on online extremist platforms in the week following the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, according to experts who monitor far-right, anti-government chatter.
“We saw a significant uptick,” said Elizabeth Neumann of Moonshot, a London-based agency that analyzes and counters online extremism, noting a 106% increase in the term “civil war” in certain online spaces between the August 8 search warrant and the week that followed.
Extremist anger has not been that high since the lead-up to January 6, said Alex Friedfeld, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
“In these right-wing and extremist spaces, they interpret the Mar-a-Lago search not as a legitimate legal process but as the first shots of a war by the federal government,” Friedfeld said.
“So consequently, you’re seeing calls for people to arm up, to lock and load, and to be ready to use real bullets to defend themselves,” he said.
“We’re seeing ‘lock and load,’ and ‘It’s time for civil qar,’ and ‘Can we start shooting now?'” he added.
Neumann said the huge increase in “civil war” chatter does not even account for the full scope of the issue since it’s just “looking at what we call ‘DVE’ spaces — domestic violent extremist spaces — where we know violent extremists like to hang out.”
Those “spaces” include unmoderated websites such as 4Chan, Stormfront, Patriots.win and MyMilitia.com, extremist chat channels on Gettr, Gab and Telegram, and even certain hashtags on mainstream sites like Twitter and YouTube, she said.
The anger is the culmination of six years of Donald Trump “feeding the narrative that there’s a deep state,” said Neumann, who served as an assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration.
“It’s the narrative that the FBI was after Trump all along and they’ve stolen the election so you have to take back your country or you won’t have a country anymore,” she said.
“We’re seeing more people saying that what the DOJ and FBI are doing now is going to stop Trump from running again, that they’ve already stolen it once and are going to do it again,” said Wendy Via, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
The talk of a war between Americans mirrors Donald Trump’s own outrage and the reactions of extreme-right Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has called for defunding the FBI and made references to “civil war” on Instagram.
And for good reason — polarizing language is an effective fundraising tool, especially for Trump, who has raised up to $1 million a day in donations since the raid.
The war rhetoric does not have a focal point, experts note. But that could change “if Trump or someone in his orbit announces a major event, maybe in DC itself,” Friedfeld said.
“For now what I’m worried about are lone individuals or small groups who are consuming this message that there is a war out there, and you need to fight. And they decide to take it upon themselves to be the soldiers in this war.”
People who make credible, specific threats of violence online can face criminal charges. Even Trump’s Truth Social, where users called for violence against FBI agents, notes in its fine print that such threats would be reported to the federal government.