Sat, September 3, 2022 at 10:31 AM·6 min read
President Biden’s fiery speech in Philadelphia denouncing former President Donald Trump and what he described as “extreme MAGA ideology” has sparked online calls for violence, including death threats against the president, according to documents obtained by Yahoo News.
Biden’s remarks also prompted immediate concerns from senior counterterrorism officials who said they fear that calling Trump supporters extremists would be viewed as a call to arms and would only inflame an already volatile threat environment.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said Thursday night at Independence Hall, flanked by two U.S. Marines. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
By Friday afternoon, posts on forums popular among white supremacists and far-right extremists called for the assassination of Biden, and named Jewish administration officials including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as potential targets. Declarations of civil war were also appearing, according to documents detailing some of the threats.
“On Gab, one user posted a series of violent threats accusing Biden of stealing the election,” according to a threat alert from Site Intelligence Group sent to law enforcement agencies and others on Friday. Trump and many of his supporters have long claimed, without evidence, that the 2020 presidential election won by Biden was stolen from Trump due to widespread voter fraud.
Site Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism activity, issued several threat alerts detailing calls for violence in response to Biden’s speech. The potential threats were posted in online forums tied to the Proud Boys, neo-Nazis and other extremist groups.
“Users on several far-right and ultranationalist venues made violent threats against President Joe Biden following his speech addressing political extremism on September 1, 2022,” said one of the alerts. “Users advocated for Biden to be murdered and predicted violence if he continues speaking about the topic.”
Amid criticism, the White House has defended Biden’s language, saying that the president is standing up for democracy and denouncing political violence. On Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre singled out specific Republicans who’ve espoused extremist rhetoric.
During Biden’s speech, four current U.S. domestic counterterrorism officials told Yahoo News they were concerned the president’s words would further divide the nation and lead to increased threats against government and law enforcement officials.
“I fear he is lighting a fuse that is not going to go well,” one senior Biden counterterrorism official said. “Sadly this is not a united speech but a very divisive one.”
On Friday, this official said their fears appear to have been confirmed by what they described as an uptick in threats of potential violence. A different counterterrorism official said they were concerned that fringe right-wing and extremist groups will use Biden’s speech to recruit and fundraise, potentially increasing the longer-term threat from these groups.
The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. Some said they also didn’t want to be seen as criticizing the president. The Department of Homeland Security referred Yahoo News’ request for comment to the White House National Security Council.
Former senior DHS counterterrorism official John Cohen told Yahoo News he was also concerned about the potential ramifications of Biden’s speech.