One week after a team of FBI agents descended on his private club and residence in Florida, former President Donald Trump warned that his followers were enraged by the search — and that things could get out of hand if the Justice Department kept the heat on him.

“People are so angry at what is taking place,” Trump told Fox News. “Whatever we can do to help because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.”

This week, one of Trump’s closest allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a similar warning that Trump quickly reposted on his social media platform. Graham, in a Fox News appearance Sunday, predicted that if the search of Mar-a-Lago led to a prosecution of the former president, there would be “riots in the streets.”

The assessments by both men were worded carefully enough that they could be defended as efforts to spare the nation unnecessary strife, and on Monday, Graham tried to walk back his remarks, saying, “I reject violence.”

But the statements could also be perceived as fanning the same flames of outrage they claimed to be trying to avert. They carried a distinct echo of Trump’s calls after the 2020 election to do what was needed to keep him in office, signals that contributed to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol, soon after he urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”

In a broader sense, the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago has emerged as the latest rallying cry for those on the right who have long been suspicious that the powers of the federal government could be turned against them. It has prompted calls to dismantle or defund the FBI and furious denunciations of what far-right supporters of Trump increasingly portray as an overreaching national security apparatus.


On Tuesday, Trump spent much of the morning reposting messages from known purveyors of the QAnon conspiracy theory and from 4chan, an anonymous message platform where threats of violence often blossom. Some were outright provocations, such as a photograph of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi with their faces obscured by the words, “Your enemy is not in Russia.”

Over the past several years, intimations of violence have become more common in the Republican Party, a trend fueled in large part by Trump’s lies about his election loss. Threats of violent responses from the right have also shown up around policy changes such as the recent gun legislation signed into law by Biden and surrounding hot-button social issues like transgender rights and the teaching of anti-racism themes in schools.

Now the response by Trump and some of his allies to the search at Mar-a-Lago — including statements laced with fury at the Justice Department and the FBI — is underscoring yet again the degree to which threatening undertones are creeping into Republican political speech, raising concern about words spilling over into violent action.

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After the search, the FBI reported a spike in threats against its agents, and a Trump supporter who was reported to have been in Washington on Jan. 6 tried to break into the bureau’s Cincinnati field office, subsequently dying in a shootout with local police. Within days of that attack, another man, who mentioned it in social media posts, was arrested on charges of making a round of threats against agents.

The threats are not limited to the FBI or the Justice Department. Bruce Reinhart, the federal magistrate judge who approved the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, has been the target of online attacks, with some people posting messages threatening him and his family. Shortly after the search, Reinhart’s synagogue in Florida, citing the threats, canceled its Friday evening services. Similarly, officials at the National Archives, in an internal email first reported by The Washington Post, described a surge of angry rhetoric directed at its staff.


At least so far, extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, both of which are being prosecuted for the roles they played in the Capitol attack, have not publicly echoed Trump’s rants about the FBI in any significant way. But pro-Trump websites are regularly filled with violent posts about doing harm to employees of the bureau.

In an appearance in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Biden condemned “friends on the other team” who have predicted political violence in the wake of the search. “It’s never appropriate,” he said. “Never. Period. Never, never, never.”

From the Russia investigation to two impeachment trials, Trump has often tried to demonize his adversaries, portraying their efforts to hold him accountable for his behavior — or even to examine it — as outrageous attempts directed by political foes to deprive him of power.

“The Raid on my home, Mar-a-Lago, is one of the most egregious assaults on democracy in the history of our Country,” Trump wrote this weekend on his social media platform, Truth Social. He went on to say that the nation was “going to places, in a very bad way, it has never seen before!”

The consequences of provocative statements by Trump and his allies were placed into sharp relief by the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. In the months that preceded the riot, Trump used tactics similar to those that he employed after the Mar-a-Lago search, incessantly whipping up his followers by telling them that he — and they — had been wronged, and that they could not let the situation stand.

He used a Twitter post to summon his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 and made clear that blocking or delaying congressional certification of the Electoral College outcome was the last opportunity to keep him in office. At midday Jan. 6, he directed them to the Capitol and focused his ire on Vice President Mike Pence, leading to calls by the mob to hang Pence.


“Trump said things in advance, and in the aftermath, of Jan. 6 that look a lot like what we heard after the search at Mar-a-Lago — that people were and should be angry,” said Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who studies political violence. “He told people that their power had been taken from them illegitimately, the exact sort of thing that would make them angry. But he erased the fact that he had any role in nudging the anger along.”

On Jan. 6, the nation watched as thousands of Trump supporters responded to his words by traveling to Washington and storming the seat of Congress. Many of them, according to hundreds of criminal cases stemming from the riot, went to the Capitol believing they could rectify the supposed wrongs that had been done to Trump.

When asked, the former president’s spokesperson, Taylor Budowich, did not address the question of whether Trump was concerned that his words could be, or were being, interpreted by his supporters as calls to action. He said instead that Trump was “disgusted by how the Democrats are destroying once great institutions, like the FBI, in their never-ending quest for absolute power,” adding that he “recognizes that the only way to save these institutions is to encourage the good people within them to speak out and restore truth!”

Trump has managed to create a dynamic among many of his followers where the FBI’s actions are, by necessity, regarded as nefarious, yet another crime in a litany of grievances. That is why, after so many examples, this latest instance of targeting the FBI could present a danger, experts in political violence said.

Shannon Hiller, executive director of the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University, which tracks political violence in the United States, said she had hoped, after the attack on the FBI field office in Cincinnati, that Republicans in particular would have “sobered up” and been reminded that violent rhetoric can have often real consequences.

But that has not happened, and Hiller remains concerned that unrest could continue and even increase if a prosecution of Trump were to come.

“There are credible reasons why a country might want to investigate a former leader, and that can increase tensions in the short term,” she said. “But it is important to do so to gain accountability and create credibility in the long term.

“Unfortunately,” Hiller added, “in this country, it’s looking like it might be a long road.”