Prosecutions of threats hit a record high in 2023, researchers confirm

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Federal prosecutors pursued a record number of cases of threats against public officials last year, according to a new study. This week also saw new extremist prosecutions and  hate crime charges across the country. And former Donald Trump adviser and Proud Boys pal Roger Stone in a new case of threats against members of Congress.

It’s been a busy week in extremism.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaks with reporters during a news conference at the Department of Justice on Dec. 6, 2023, in Washington, as from left, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Director Staci Barrera, of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Criminal Division, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, look on.

Record number of threats federally prosecuted in 2023

Last year saw a record high number of federal prosecutions for making public threats, according to research from the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and Chapman University provided to USA TODAY.

As USA TODAY reported in August, 2023 was already on track to beat the previous record of 74 in 2022. By the end of 2023, the total hit 78 prosecutions, the new research shows.

  • Federal prosecutions for making threats more than doubled from 2021 to 2022. In 2022, a slew of threats followed the search of former President Trump’s Florida home and club Mar a Lago, and the increase has never really stopped, the researchers found.

  • Threats were focused on federal law enforcement including the FBI, but were also made against politicians, election officials and other public workers.

  • As USA TODAY previously reported, direct threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment and can be prosecuted by federal and local law enforcement.

  • Last week, a Louisiana man was charged by the Department of Justice with threatening a shooting at a CIA building.

“It’s clear from the data that the number of cases is rising as increasingly more ideological, instead of personal, grievances are driving those arrests,” Seamus Hughes, a senior researcher on the University of Nebraska team, told USA TODAY. “It doesn’t appear to simply be a one-off year, but an unfortunate trend that authorities are going to have to grapple with for the foreseeable future.”

Gunman Payton Gendron reads an apology to the court at sentencing for charges, including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, before Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Buffalo, N.Y. Gendron, a white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket has been sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday after listening to the relatives of his victims express the pain and rage caused by his racist attack. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP, Pool) ORG XMIT: NYBUE802

New prosecutions, new charges & sentences in hate crime cases

There was a flurry of activity in courts across the nation in several different hate crime cases, including a new arrest, two sentencings, and a slew of new hate crime charges for the man who attacked an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado last year:

  • Elizabeth Ballesteros West, a 56-year-old woman, was arrested late last week in Oregon and charged with making threats against her coworkers. “I am left with no alternative. I’ll probably have to go out in a blaze of glory,” West wrote in a Facebook post, federal officials said. According to a DOJ affidavit, West possessed “13 or 14 guns,” had attended neo-Nazi rallies, and repeatedly used the N-word as the FBI interviewed her. The federal filings said West’s posts were made on a support page for transgender women, where she said she had been bullied by co-workers.

  • In Los Angeles, a man associated with the far-right “Boogaloo” movement was sentenced to two years in prison this week. Isaac Loftus, 27, was arrested near a south Los Angeles high school in November 2022, carrying a ghost gun, multiple knives and zip ties, according to prosecutors. Loftus pleaded guilty to gun charges.

  • In Massachusetts, a man was sentenced to life in prison for a racist road rage murder in 2021. Dean Kapsalis was convicted by a jury last year of running his truck into Henry Tapia after shouting a racial slur.

  • In Colorado, the defendant in the mass shooting that left five dead at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in 2022 was charged with 50 additional hate crimes by the DOJ this week. The shooter, who is already serving a life sentence on state charges for the attack, plans to plead guilty to the new charges, the Associated Press reported.

  • And in New York, prosecutors announced late last week they will seek the death penalty against Payton Gendron, the man who killed 10 people at a Tops supermarket in a racist shooting in 2022.

Roger Stone reportedly under investigation in threat case

Roger Stone, the one-time political advisor to Trump-turned-far-right internet personality, is under investigation by U.S. Capitol Police according to media outlet reports this week, tied to a recording of an apparent threat against members of congress.

  • The investigation stems from an audio recording released last week by news website Mediaite that purports to feature Stone discussing two Democratic Congressmen — Reps. Jerry Nadler from New York and Eric Swalwell from California — with former NYPD police officer Sal Greco.

  • According to Mediaite, Stone says in the recording, which was allegedly made before the 2020 election: “It’s time to do it … Let’s go find Swalwell. It’s time to do it. Then we’ll see how brave the rest of them are. It’s time to do it. It’s either Swalwell or Nadler has to die before the election. They need to get the message. Let’s go find Swalwell and get this over with.”

  • Stone has denied that the recording is of him, claiming it is a “deep fake” that has been altered using artificial intelligence.

  • Stone was previously pardoned by Trump after he was found guilty of obstructing a Congressional investigation into the former president.

Statistic of the week: 12

That’s how many incidents of violence committed by the far left across the United States were included in a study released this week by researchers at the New Lines Institute.

The study, written by former top Department of Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson and extremism expert Alejandro Beutel, highlights what the researchers say is a growing risk of violence from the far left, especially in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

Though far-right actors remain the primary threat to the U.S., the study says, ”far-left extremist violence, including lethal attack capabilities, cannot be overlooked or overestimated.”

“There is increased risk of social turmoil and political violence by violent far-left extremists for at least the next 12 months,” it states,

The 12 incidents, from 2016 to 2022, were selected as “illustrative” of the ecosystem of violence coming from the far left, the study states. The list was not meant to be exhaustive. During that time, far-right violent extremists killed dozens of people in mass shootings and other attacks.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Record prosecutions in threat cases; a Roger Stone investigation?