How to Report Violent Extremist Threats and What Happens Next

  • Since the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, extremist threats of violence against the government have escalated.
  • When you learn of a specific, credible threat, the best response may vary, experts say.
  • Anonymous threats are best reported to the FBI; Local law enforcement agencies are best placed to deal with threats from well-known individuals.

The threat of anti-government violence has risen since the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion – not only on extremist-friendly platforms like 4chan and Gab, but also on mainstream sites like TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

Promptly reporting a threat — whether it’s anonymously online or from a loved one in real life — can save lives.

But when and how should threats be reported and what’s next?

Be wary of “shit postings”

Experts agree that the first step is to decide whether what you’re seeing reaches the level of an actual threat, or if it’s just vague, hateful rhetoric — colloquially known in extremism-monitoring circles as a “shit posting.” known.

According to Elizabeth Neumann, an assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy at the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, law enforcement wants to know about credible and concrete threats.

“It’s not just ‘I hate the FBI,'” explained Neumann, now chief strategy officer at Moonshot, a London-based agency that analyzes and combats online extremism.

If you know who is making the threat, contact local law enforcement

If the person issuing the threat or the location of a target is known, you should notify the local police or relevant law enforcement agency, the experts say.

Knowing the identity of the threat is an obvious advantage, Neumann said.

“If a loved one calls local law enforcement and talks to another person and says, ‘I have concerns,’ that person can immediately ask more questions,” she noted.

“You can make a decision – is this threat imminent? Do we need to send someone there immediately? Or can that wait until the next business morning?

“These are the things you can do when a human person picks up the phone and calls, rather than someone notifying law enforcement through an anonymous post on the internet.”

It’s never easy to drop a dime on a loved one or even a passing Facebook friend, Warren Eller, chair of the public safety division at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, told Insider.

“It sounds kind of Orwellian, the ‘go locate your family members’ whole thing, but the absolute best thing you can do is go to the local police station,” Eller said.

Act quickly and don’t try to intervene yourself, Eller said. Trying to dissuade the loved one from violent plans can leave them alienated and more secretive, he said.

If the threat is anonymous, contact the FBI

But what to do if the threatening person is acting anonymously online?

“The problem with most online conversations is that you don’t know where the user is actually located unless they identify themselves,” Neumann said.

“So if there’s specific information in the post — like, ‘You know, I’m sitting in Florida right now. I think I’ll just go to Mar-a-Lago,’ then of course you can call Florida State Police and say, ‘I saw that and cheer up,'” she said.

But these online threats usually come from people with hidden user identities. Anonymous threats are best reported to the FBI, which has national jurisdiction and the legal and technical resources to uncover the poster’s identity.

How to submit a tip to the FBI

The FBI does not have a dedicated hotline for extremist threats of anti-government violence, an FBI spokesman told Insider.

However, individuals may report such threats through the FBI’s online tip portal or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI. Tips can be submitted anonymously.

Moderators from sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram also use these FBI tip resources to report threats they see, and in fact have a legal obligation to do so, Neumann said.

Eller said that reporting a direct threat of force to the FBI through his tip line “will entail fairly quick and sharp intervention.”

What happens after you report a threat?

The FBI does its best given the significant number of reported threats and is very quick to verify that the threats are specific and credible, Neumann agreed.

“It has to be an idea of ​​an act of violence at a specific time or place or against a specific target,” Neumann told Insider.

“And then credibility would be assessed based on looking at the user’s history and the context of the conversation. It is difficult to fully determine the credibility of just one post. But they have analytics tools that they use to help with that,” she said.

If the threat does appear specific and credible, the FBI can ask a court to require the platform to tell them more, including the poster’s IP address and location.

It can take days or even weeks to find out who is behind an anonymous online threat. That’s why it’s so much better when an extremist threat is reported to the authorities by someone who actually knows who is issuing the threat.

The knocking and talking

Once the identity of the threat maker is known, law enforcement often conducts what is called a “knock and talk,” Neumann said.

An officer or agent will visit the potentially violent person and say, “Hey, we have been made aware of this post or behavior. She said.

“You’re basically trying to assess this person. Is it ‘Oh God, we have a problem?’ Or did they just have a bad day and open their mouths? Sometimes they just need to be told, ‘You can’t gossip like that because it scares people.’”

More dramatic measures

Depending on the state, law enforcement officials may be able to obtain a court order to quickly remove guns from the home in what is known as a “red flag” order.

In cases of an urgent, imminent threat, law enforcement can dispense with the knocking and speaking altogether and quickly apply for an arrest warrant.

It’s important to remember, Neumann said, that the vast majority of people who promote violent extremist ideas are not actually violent.

“Most never act,” she remarked.

“They use the internet to open their mouths and nothing ever happens. But then one person does it.”

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