On January 15, the FBI raided the home of a run-of-the-mill whackjob named Daniel Baker. The broad strokes of this man’s life will be familiar to those who spend time on certain parts of the Internet: he is a tough-talking wannabe vigilante who’s said he’s “so fucking down to slay enemies again” and wants to stop them “WITH EVERY CALIBER AVAILABLE.” His stated enemies? Trumpist insurrectionists and Proud Boys mobs. The US Attorney who announced his arrest? A Trump appointee championed by Matt Gaetz.
The Washington Post has a good article about the raid that includes a number of viewpoints as well as a history of Baker’s life. He’s had his share of troubles. After an emotionally troubled childhood, he washed out of the Army and spent some time homeless. In 2017 traveled to Syria to fight against ISIS with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a sniper. He posts stuff like the quotes above online.
The article doesn’t mention any concrete plans or weapons stockpiles or FBI entrapment stuff. The complaint (PDF) alleges that he has
violat[ed] Title 18, United States Code, Section875(c), which makes it a federal felony offense to “transmit in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing a threat to kidnap any person or a threat to injure the person of another.”
One of their pieces of evidence?
BAKER has traveled across the United States to participate in protests that have resulted in violence to include joining the CHOP/CHAZ movement in Seattle, Washington during the summer of 2020. CHAZ refers to the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and CHOP refers to the “Capitol Hill Organized Protest,” which was a protest and self-declared autonomous zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. BAKER has used social media as a way to promote, circulate, encourage and educate followers on how to incapacitate officers while at a protest. For instance, BAKER has posted and informed his followers on how to debilitate law enforcement officers by filling up balloons with paint and to throw them at law enforcement.[…] In addition to his online postings, BAKER has traveled around the country to protest against police brutality and the destruction of America, including travel to Seattle, Washington and Nashville, Tennessee
(There may be some OCR typos.) It’s pretty flimsy stuff. Paint balloons!
I wouldn’t let this guy cat-sit, but does this really justify an FBI raid? If not, how can we let our feelings on this case inform our feelings on prosecuting Trumpists on Parler for the same behavior (for the cases where things are truly equivalent)? One distinction people are drawing is that Baker’s threats of violence are in response to perceived threats from said Trumpists. But there’s always going to be a whackjob posting something violent; is the fact that you’re responding to a fellow whackjob exculpatory? Are we prepared for a world where this fairly common online behavior is enough to get stun grenades tossed into your home? While the online part is new, have we been living in that world since the sixties anyway? Here’s a Reason post that goes over some of these, if that’s up your alley.
If this is the standard going forward, a whole lot of people across the political spectrum are going to find themselves in trouble. Meanwhile, the work of stopping actual terrorism and violence will be made harder, as federal agents spend increasing amounts of time investigating, targeting, and prosecuting people for harmless posts.
I don’t know if I’d call this sort of thing ‘harmless’, exactly–cosplaying Weimar Germany is generally not great–but I’d say this behavior justifies, at most, an interview. I might feel differently if this sort of behavior was rare, but unfortunately it is not.
Update: Adam has provided a good history of the FBI’s sordid past targeting minorities, socialists, LGBT folks, etc. in the comments!