Individual prosecutors involved in the classified documents case against former president Donald Trump are facing substantial harassment and threats online and elsewhere, according to extremism experts and a government official familiar with the matter.
At the same time, two officials said, federal agencies have not observed a general increase in threats against law enforcement in the weeks since Trump was indicted in South Florida — a sharp contrast from the surge of violent rhetoric in the days after FBI agents searched the former president’s Florida property last August.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues. The FBI has called threats against law enforcement “reprehensible and dangerous,” and says it is working closely with other law enforcement agencies “to assess and respond to such threats.”
Experts in political extremism say organized threats of violence against government institutions are generally down since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in part because people have realized they could face legal consequences for taking action.
Still, experts say they frequently observe violent rhetoric targeting people who are blamed for undermining the former president — not just prosecutors involved in the criminal investigations surrounding Trump but also swing-state election workers refuting false claims of voter fraud.
Far-right Trump supporters are posting the names of prosecutors and government workers online and yelling them at demonstrations, threatening them and sometimes revealing details about their personal lives, the experts said.
At the Justice Department, officials have responded by trying to keep the names of prosecutors and agents working the Trump cases from becoming public in official documents, congressional hearings and less formal conversations about the case.
That’s a tricky task, given that prosecutors’ names are listed in public court filings, and their names and information about witnesses are accessible to Trump as a defendant in the case. The former president has written social media posts directly attacking people involved in investigating him, including special counsel Jack Smith and the New York state judge handling a separate criminal indictment against Trump.
The Justice Department and the FBI have also faced sustained criticism from some Republican members of Congress, who are demanding accountability from law enforcement as they decry the investigations into Trump as partisan. Such critiques are often amplified in conservative news outlets and on social media.
Top Justice Department officials, including Smith, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland, have long had security details, and officials are dispatching security to other personnel as needed, people familiar with the matter said.
Last August, in the days after federal agents executed the court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home and private club, violent threats against law enforcement surged. A gunman attempted to breach an FBI field office in Ohio and, after a police chase and six-hour standoff, was shot dead. A Pennsylvania man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill FBI agents.
The agents involved in the Aug. 8 search, some of whose names became public when an unredacted version of the search warrant began circulating online, also received targeted threats.
On Aug. 17, Justice Department officials heard rumors that CNN reporters would be releasing security footage they obtained from Trump that showed agents searching Mar-a-Lago, according to internal emails that the FBI made public earlier this year. The emails show Justice officials discussing strategies on how they could emphasize to Trump’s team and CNN the safety risks of releasing the video without blurring faces or identifying features of the agents.
After those discussions, a Justice Department employee wrote in another email that he had learned CNN did not actually have the footage, and no such video has become public.
Experts who monitor online message boards used by the far right said that even though general threats are currently not at the high levels experienced after the Mar-a-Lago search, law enforcement should continue to turn out in force for Trump’s court appearances and other events to deter any potential violence.
They said many extremists have grown more cautious about taking action, based on the prosecution of upward of 1,000 people who stormed the Capitol in 2021.
“Trump burned a lot of his supporters. They felt he wasn’t supportive enough of those arrested on Jan. 6. They have soured and are less likely to go out and be violent on behalf of Trump,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a political violence researcher at the nonprofit Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Law enforcement ramped up security preparations ahead of Trump’s first appearance in a Miami courthouse in June, noting online threats and fearful that a gathering of far-right extremists could lead to potentially violent protests.
No significant crowd materialized. The relatively small group of pro-Trump demonstrators was peaceful and outnumbered by security and members of the media.
“Rather than seeing these giant swells of activity we are seeing a smaller subset of individuals — which is already in a smaller subset of Americans — drilling down in a particularly intense way to find individual people to take out their anger on,” said Jared Holt, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a counterextremism think tank. “It’s too risky for them to go into the streets right now. Every time they do — even a little bit — there’s huge media frenzy and huge police presence.”
Peter Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University in California who monitors extremism, said right-wing message boards have recently focused more on “grooming” — the false belief that teaching children about sexual identity and gender identity makes them primed for sexual abuse — than on Trump’s federal indictment.
He noted that while the Mar-a-Lago search last summer was unannounced and unexpected, there was extensive speculation about Trump facing charges in the classified documents case before the indictment was filed.
At a judicial conference last week, FBI Director Wray said that attacks on the Justice Department for its charging decisions are “not healthy” and “not productive.”
“I’ll sleep just fine at night if the talking heads and the armchair quarterbacks are reduced to complaining about the results,” he added. “As long as we can stand behind the professionalism, the objectivity and the rigor of the investigation itself.”
Rachel Weiner and Hannah Allam contributed to this report.