New York City police are cordoning off streets and calling up officers as they brace for protests and counter-protests. Federal law-enforcement officials are tracking a surge of violent threats against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, including a typewritten death threat containing white powder. And on the online forums where the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was planned, former President Donald Trump’s supporters are still debating how to best heed his call to “Take Our Country Back.”
Of all the unprecedented elements in Trump’s indictment, law-enforcement officials face a particular challenge in preparing for the public arraignment of a former—and perhaps future—American President who has warned of “potential death & destruction” if he is charged with a crime. The New York City Police Department, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Secret Service are among those making preparations and gauging the risks ahead of Trump’s arraignment Tuesday in Lower Manhattan.
Here are some of the security considerations ahead of the historic arraignment and what officials are doing to prepare.
New York Prepares
New York City is no stranger to planning for high-profile events, and law enforcement officials say they are prepared for any protests and mass media attention. Police have blocked some of the roads around the courthouse in downtown Manhattan where the former President is due to be arraigned on Tuesday. Officers have also erected metal barricades around Trump Tower, where he arrived Monday afternoon.
In a memo last week, New York City cops were ordered to patrol in uniform and prepare for possible mobilization, according to an internal memo obtained by local news channel PIX11. “The department remains ready and available to respond to protests and counter-protests,” the NYPD said in a statement, adding a reminder that firearms are not allowed at the courthouse, government buildings or protests.
The New York City Police Department has said there are no credible threats to the city, and has focused on traffic closures, possible crowd control, and coordinating security logistics with the Secret Service, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and local court officials.
While so far there have been no signs of the kind of online organizing that would indicate large-scale protests in New York or elsewhere, some high-profile Trump supporters are planning to travel to New York. GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene announced she would be there on Tuesday to “protest this unprecedented abuse of our justice system and election interference.” She is scheduled to speak at a rally organized by the New York Young Republicans Club, which held a previous protest last month which reportedly drew about 50 people.
Threats to Public Officials
Law enforcement has tracked a spike in violent threats targeting Bragg. Since Trump first announced he expected to be indicted in mid-March, he has attacked Bragg as a “Soros-backed animal” and “a degenerate psychopath that truly hates the USA.”
Bragg has been targeted by several hundred threats, including death threats and racist attacks, according to reports. Last week, Bragg’s office received a typewritten letter threatening him with assassination and containing a white powder. (The substance was later found to be non-hazardous, according to the NYPD.)
Bragg isn’t the only official in Trump’s sights. The former President wrote and shared dozens of posts on his Truth Social platform over the weekend, some of them calling out judges and officials’ family members by name. (The NYPD did not respond to TIME’s question about whether those named in Trump’s recent posts have been provided extra security).
“Please know that your safety is our top priority,” Bragg wrote in an email to staff last month first reported by POLITICO. “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place, so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”
“A very clear time and day”
When Trump called on supporters to protest what he said was his impending indictment on March 18, there was little enthusiasm from the MAGA faithful. Many expressed a sense of betrayal, asking why Trump had abandoned the hundreds of supporters facing charges for heeding his call on Jan. 6, 2021, and seemed wary that any public protests would be a “trap” to arrest more of them.
But experts say Tuesday’s arraignment presents a new security risk by attaching a specific date and location to Trump’s previously vague calls for supporters to protest.
“The danger increases the more we have a very clear time and day,” says Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who analyzes polarization and political violence in America. “There is a single day when he physically will be in a place and people will want to defend him, so that’s a moment of higher danger than normal.”
Ultimately, law enforcement has warned that the most serious concerns are not mass protests but the possibility that one or two armed individuals could decide to act. After the FBI searched Trump’s residence at his West Palm Beach resort last year, an armed man in Ohio who had been posting on pro-Trump forums tried to attack the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati before being killed in a standoff with police.
“We don’t need very many people to engage in political violence to create a chaotic situation,” Mason tells TIME.
This shift from public protests to individual threats and intimidation was visible on the pro-Trump social media groups, messaging apps and online forums where the planning for Jan. 6 took place.
“A death threat on Bragg helps nobody in the MAGA movement…so who benefits?” one person asked on a popular pro-Trump forum. “It puts him on notice and forces him to live in fear of the safety of his wife and kids,” another user answered. “If harm does [come] to him or his family others will think twice before trying to investigate Trump.”
Other supporters in those forums dissented, arguing Trump’s attacks and violent rhetoric calling for protests crossed the line. “He needs to find a more veiled way to communicate his directives,” one person wrote on a MAGA online board. “It’s clear he want the base to bring violence to his tormentors but you can’t blast that out on social media. It’s only going to bring more legal exposure…He needs to be more careful.”
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