IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump and Republican leaders may have just made law enforcement’s job harder

Several variables, including what Trump says or does on social media, will determine how tough things get for law enforcement in case the former president is indicted.

In a Truth Social post on Saturday in which he claimed he’ll be arrested by New York officials Tuesday for hush money he paid adult film star Stormy Daniels, former President Donald Trump called for his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Trump’s post is one of the reasons we need to be concerned about whether in response to any of the criminal investigations he faces, violent extremists will mobilize on his behalf as they did Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump’s post is one of the reasons we need to be concerned about whether violent extremists will mobilize on his behalf as they did Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump’s potential indictment by a Manhattan grand jury, potential indictment in Fulton County, Georgia, and potential indictment by federal grand juries mean our law enforcement and security agencies — and, in fact, our very rule of law — could be sorely tested. For example, on March 8, Vice News reported that the violent domestic extremist group Boogaloo Boys has been ramping up its radicalization and recruitment efforts in the hopes of sparking an anti-government civil war and that the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago in August helped spark the group's online recruitment efforts. The challenges go beyond securing any individual courthouse and include whether local, county, state and federal law enforcement can withstand — better yet, prevent — another violent assault on our system from domestic extremists driven by allegiance to a twice impeached former president.

Just as, say, the Federal Reserve regularly subjects banks to stress tests to determine whether they can withstand losses from various simulated market conditions, our criminal justice system is about to undergo its own kind of stress test. Except this isn’t a tabletop exercise — it’s real and the stakes are high.

There are four variables — or stressors — that will determine how bad things get for law enforcement agencies.

The first variable is Trump himself. His Saturday social media post was a sign that he intends to not only fight any charges leveled against him — which is his right — but that he also plans to enlist others in the fight. Peaceful protests and freedom of assembly are sacred in our system; but we can’t be certain that peacefully assembling is what Trump means when he says “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”

We do know how some in his base will likely interpret such language. On Jan. 6, just prior to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, Trump used the words “fight” or “fighting” 20 times before encouraging the crowd at a rally to march to the Capitol. More than 1,000 Americans eventually faced federal charges after heeding Trump’s call. It doesn’t appear that he’s used the same language while addressing these potential indictments, but if he ever does, then he will make law enforcement’s battle against violent supporters exponentially tougher.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., quickly followed McCarthy’s tweet with one referring to a Trump indictment as “political persecution."

The second challenge to law enforcement’s ability to keep the peace will likely be the Republican Party. How the party’s leadership reacts to any charges against their guy will influence how the party’s MAGA members respond to those charges. So far, the signs aren’t good. Soon after Trump’s Saturday post, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., tweeted that the potential charges against Trump were “…an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., quickly followed McCarthy’s tweet with one referring to a Trump indictment as “political persecution." A few hours later, Greene tweeted about Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg allegedly receiving campaign donations from George Soros and stated, “This is why every single Republican should go scorched earth.” Later — perhaps realizing the potential for violence — McCarthy and former Vice President Mike Pence, separately tried to qualify and minimize Trump’s call for protests.

The third stressor on the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and police everywhere will likely be conversations among extremists on social media. Although Vice News observed increased activity from the Boogaloo Boys on Facebook, the platform’s parent company, Meta, reportedly didn’t act until it was informed by Vice News of what was happening.  This isn’t because Facebook is aligned with the Boogaloo Boys. It’s because of the increasing difficulty social media platforms have playing whack-a-mole against would-be violent people.

Trump returned to YouTube and Facebook last week with a video on YouTube with the title "I'm back" and with a Facebook message that included the words "I"m back" and that video. The challenges of keeping the peace could increase if Trump begins to use those platforms to subtly or overtly inspire violence, gets suspended and then claims to his followers that he’s being wrongly censored.

The Jan. 6 violence laid bare law enforcement’s inability to see the full domestic terror threat, and to effectively act against it even when it was staring them in the face. There still hasn’t been a comprehensive review of what went wrong and what’s needed for law enforcement to get it right. A Senate report last year found the FBI and Homeland Security are still not adequately addressing the domestic terror threat. Law enforcement is fighting these challenges to our peaceful order with no new authorities or investigative techniques. To prevent an act of domestic terrorism, law enforcement must get it right every time; a terrorist only has to get it right once.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for all our law enforcement agencies is preventing violent extremism while simultaneously preserving everyone’s rights to free speech and assembly. That means not investigating ideology or hate speech, but intervening before any planned violence can be carried out. If there are Trump indictments and there are potentially violent protests that amount to a stress test, it’s a test we’re going to need our law enforcement agencies to pass.  Because our rule of law is too big and too important for us to let it fail.