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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In days before Trump appears in court, few signs point to a Jan. 6 repeat


New York Police Department officers around Manhattan Criminal Court, on March 31, 2023.

By Glenn Thrush, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman


Former President Donald Trump’s expected appearance today in a Manhattan court is a volatile moment for the country with an unpredictable outcome, but law enforcement officials have not yet seen indications of a disruptive, organized backlash akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.


The New York City Police Department, state law enforcement agencies, the Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service have been coordinating efforts, while increasing intelligence gathering and mobilization. The police, for instance, sent a stand-ready order to about 35,000 officers, a force larger and better trained than some national armies.


Even as Trump’s coming arraignment reflects a different set of circumstances, the response is informed by lessons learned from the Capitol riot and from the challenges posed by the nationwide protests against police violence in 2020. They include the need to deploy forces quickly when threats pop up on social media, and the importance of sharing intelligence among agencies in real time, officials have said.


“At the moment, they are not seeing those threats, and the department has a lot of experience coordinating with the Secret Service and the court system, so that effort is not terribly concerning,” said Kenneth Corey, who retired late last year as chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the New York Police Department.


“But there are still big unknowns — mainly the protesters,” he added. “Who shows up? How many show up? What kind of mood are they in?”


There is no guarantee law enforcement will detect every threat, even if the agencies involved work seamlessly. There could be concealed efforts or lone wolves motivated by incendiary messaging who will lash out, as was the case shortly before the Capitol was breached, when a pair of pipe bombs were found outside the nearby headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees.


But the FBI has not identified any specific threats, two officials with knowledge of the situation said. Because of that, the bureau, which was criticized for not publishing a bulletin before the Jan. 6 riot, has not distributed an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement, one of the officials said.


As of Sunday, neither law enforcement officials nor outside experts have picked up evidence that Trump’s defenders or detractors are gearing up for a major event on a day when a man elected to the nation’s highest office will be booked in lower Manhattan.


The city’s police department, which has a sprawling, sophisticated intelligence operation that developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has tracked isolated threats on social media, but it has yet to detect larger plans that might spur violence or mass disruption.


“The NYPD continues to monitor all activity, but there are no credible threats to the city at this time,” Fabien Levy, the press secretary for Mayor Eric Adams, said in an email.


It is not clear whether Trump plans to make a statement in New York after he is indicted, which could change that dynamic. But even if he does, the circumstances leading up to his court appearance Tuesday are markedly different from those in the run-up to the Capitol attack.


For starters, there are few, if any, signs that the overt coordination of mass protests that characterized the weeks and months before Jan. 6 have taken place.


Justice Department officials believe part of the reason is that the prosecutions of Jan. 6 suspects has helped deter those most likely to instigate violence.


More than 1,000 people who entered the Capitol or breached its grounds on Jan. 6 have been already charged with crimes, and hundreds more remain under investigation. Moreover, some of the chief organizers of the pro-Trump rallies that preceded the attack were swept up in the Justice Department’s vast criminal inquiry, and some like Ali Alexander have said they have little interest in rallying on Trump’s behalf this time.


Thus far, Trump has not made any specific call to action for today. Doing so could be problematic for him: One of the possible crimes the Justice Department’s special counsel, Jack Smith, is investigating is Trump’s role in egging on protesters to disrupt congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.


Before Jan. 6, pro-Trump chat boards like the TheDonald.win quickly filled up with comments by posters discussing plans about building gallows, occupying the Capitol, chasing lawmakers through the tunnels of the building and committing other forms of violence.


Advance Democracy Inc., a nonprofit that conducts public interest research, issued a report this weekend that determined that Trump’s supporters had not used the successor to the TheDonald.win — a website called Patriots.win — to make any clear-cut plans to engage in violence or even to discuss organizing large-scale activities surrounding his indictment in Manhattan.


Instead, the report found scattered comments both in pro-Trump chat boards and on wider social media sites calling for violence against Manhattan’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, and the members of the New York City Police Department.


“This cannot go unpunished,” one commenter wrote shortly after the news of Trump’s indictment emerged. “The DA needs to pay dearly.”


New York City Police, despite a reputation as one of the world’s premier departments, has had problems with responding to mass protests in the past. Officials were forced to revamp their training procedures after the chaotic and violent demonstrations spurred by the killing of George Floyd in 2020.


But the department has more experience in dealing with crises and mass demonstrations than its counterparts across the country, with ample personnel to respond to the kind of scenario that the Trump indictment might pose.


The Capitol Police, by contrast, is significantly smaller, with about 2,000 officers who have limited resources and experience. Moreover, the force had to rely on the FBI for intelligence — and the bureau failed to alert their partners of the threat of mass violence or the seditious conspiracies, blinded by a narrow focus on lone actors and a misguided belief that the threat from the far left was as great as that from the far right. Even the Capitol Police, which had correctly identified Congress as the target on Jan. 6, failed to prepare for that day adequately, deploying too few officers and failing to erect the physical barriers that would have helped protect Congress.


“There’s a difference in scale with the NYPD — they can push a button and get 1,000 officers,” said John Miller, the department’s former deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, who served as a senior official at the FBI.


“Then if that isn’t enough, they can push the button again, and get another 1,000 without too much trouble,” he added.


Some of Trump’s most extreme supporters seem to recognize this fact.


“NYPD won’t fall as easily as Capitol police did,” one person wrote in a March 20 post on Patriots.win. “There needs to be multiple events to scatter and distract them. Be careful though. NYPD are brutal and even more so when protecting one of their own. They have militarized units that are trained to round up and kill.”


Robert Reilly, a former FBI agent in New Jersey who handled domestic terrorism cases, said the city itself is not as fertile a protest ground for conservative activists who were able to mobilize easily in Washington and during the violent neo-Nazi protests in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


“This is New York City,” he said. “You’re not going get the protests you would in Charlottesville or the Capitol. It is too far and too many tolls and nowhere to park.”

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