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FLASH ALERT: ELECTED OFFICIALS STAY ALERT, ESCALATING THREATS AND VIOLENCE ANTICIPATED FOLLOWING TRUMP’S REMOVAL FROM CO STATE BALLOT; JUSTICES AND DEMOCRATIC FIGURES AT HIGH RISK OF TARGETED VIOLENCE

Magdalena Breyer, NORTHCOM and Extremism Teams

Christina Valdez, Editor; Evan Beachler, Senior Editor

December 21, 2023


Colorado Supreme Court[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to law enforcement and elected officials in Colorado, particularly Justice Monica M. Márquez, Justice William W. Hood, III, Justice Richard L. Gabriel, and Justice Melissa Hart, due to growing online threats following the Colorado Supreme Court ruling to bar former US President Donald J. Trump from the state’s ballot. The December 19 ruling disqualified Trump from the presidential primary ballot, under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment,[2] in a 4-3 decision. Republican elected officials voiced their disapproval of the ruling within hours, labeling the decision a threat to democracy and a case of election interference.[3] Trump released an urgent memo, warning his supporters that “this is how dictatorships are born” and that “Crooked Joe and the Democrats” will “use the ruling to challenge us in the remaining 49 states.”[4] There has been an escalation in violent rhetoric and calls to action on far-right platforms such as Telegram, Gab, and Truth Social following the court decision, with remarks ranging from “it’s about time we f*** that s*** up” to calls for a military coup.[5] Far-right users are engaging in doxxing activities against the four justices responsible for the ruling, labeling them as “traitors” and “enemies of our democracy.”[6] They are actively circulating their names, phone numbers, and pictures in groups with more than 22.5k members and attempting to locate their home addresses.[7] The court ruling occurred amid growing anti-government sentiments and threats against public officials.[8] 


CTG is on HIGH alert for escalated unrest and acts of violence in Colorado and nationwide as the presidential primaries approach, particularly against the justices involved in Trump’s disqualification and other elected Democratic officials. The ruling will VERY LIKELY increase public alertness to ongoing legal challenges to Trump’s 2024 candidacy, LIKELY fueling the narrative of election interference and fraud among Republican voters. Far-right individuals will VERY LIKELY persist in their doxxing efforts against the four justices, VERY LIKELY extending these activities to include those who filed the initial lawsuit. Trump will ALMOST CERTAINLY leverage the ruling to advance his narrative of persecution, with the ruling LIKELY bolstering his campaign by unifying the Republican voter base against a perceived unconstitutional power grab. The spread of misinformation and inflammatory statements by Trump will VERY LIKELY create a sense of urgency among Trump supporters and far-right individuals, VERY LIKELY acting as a catalyst in accelerating individuals’ progression through the Pathway to Violence.


On December 19, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that “President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”[9] Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed the initial lawsuit in September on behalf of two unaffiliated voters and four Republican voters, stating that Trump’s involvement on January 6, 2021, disqualified him under the insurrection clause of the US Constitution.[10] Section Three was enacted following the Civil War, barring anyone from office who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” after swearing an oath to “support” the Constitution.[11] The Denver District Court ruled that “Section Three does not apply to the President”[12] because of a technical loophole presented by Trump’s attorneys, denying the petition to keep Trump off the presidential primary ballot. Trump and the Electors presented the case to the Colorado Supreme Court for review, with Trump requesting the court  “hold that Section Three disqualifies every oath-breaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one [sic] and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land [sic].”[13] The court reversed the district court’s ruling, citing that “both results are inconsistent with the plain language and history of Section Three.”[14] The court stayed its ruling until January 4, 2024, the day before Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold will certify the candidates for the March 5, 2024 primary.[15] Despite different groups having filed dozens of lawsuits in an attempt to disqualify Trump under Section 3, this ruling marks the first time it has disqualified a presidential candidate.[16] 


Following the court decision, there has been a marked increase in violent rhetoric and calls to action on far-right platforms such as Telegram, Gab, and Truth Social.[17] Users on these platforms are expressing apprehension that other states will follow suit, employing warlike rhetoric and a distinct us versus them framing to delegitimize the ruling and justify violent responses. They are labeling the justices’ actions as “treason” in a narrative that depicts the ruling as part of a broader “war on democracy,” presenting the country as “infiltrated” by the enemy and in need of radical action such as a military coup.[18] This framing is developed further through sharing images of Abraham Lincoln and using revisionist history to spread disinformation. They claim that Democrats are enslaving “ALL Americans,” drawing parallels to the party’s alleged position on slavery in 1860 and actions to take Lincoln off of the ballot in 10 slaveholding states.[19] The us versus them mentality extends to their doxxing activities against Justice Monica M. Márquez, Justice William W. Hood, III, Justice Richard L. Gabriel, and Justice Melissa Hart. Users are circulating their names, phone numbers, and pictures online and in groups with more than 22.5k members, requesting others to “dig”[20] to uncover their home addresses.[21] 


Republican elected officials voiced their support for Trump and their disapproval of the ruling within hours, including those who have not endorsed Trump in 2024. Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), called the ruling “election interference” and pledged the support of the RNC’s legal team.[22] North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis announced that he will introduce the Constitutional Election Integrity Act, hindering “state politicians and state entities like the Colorado Supreme Court from disqualifying presidential candidates from the ballot.”[23] Trump responded by releasing an urgent memo warning his supporters that “this is how dictatorships are born” and that “Crooked Joe and the Democrats” will “use the ruling to challenge us in the remaining 49 states.” He stated further that he would appeal the decision and “take this fight all the way to the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT.”[24] At the same time, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Kounalakis, urged California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber to explore legal options to remove Trump from the California ballot, citing the Colorado Supreme Court ruling.[25]


The Colorado Supreme Court ruling will likely be counterproductive, likely galvanizing Trump’s base and sympathizers who perceive the ruling as an undemocratic and unconstitutional power grab. Trump will almost certainly leverage the ongoing situation to bolster his political campaign, very likely using provocative language in his public statements and on social media to instill a sense of urgency and injustice among Republican voters. This tactic will very likely be effective in rallying his base as it taps into existing narratives of political victimization among his support group. The combination of the ruling, uncertainty regarding the appeals process, and Trump’s rhetoric will very likely intensify emotions of fear and anger among Republican voters, which will likely continue to intensify until the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) ruling. The escalating situation will very likely result in the rise of online and physical threats toward members of the Colorado Supreme Court and other elected officials, with these threats likely manifesting as physical acts of violence.  


Existing online threats will very likely escalate, likely encompassing intensifying violent rhetoric, increased calls for direct action, and increased doxxing activities targeting public figures associated with the ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court judges will very likely be the primary targets of any verbal threats and any physical attacks in the upcoming days and weeks, with perpetrators very likely targeting places of work and private residences through vandalization and intimidation strategies. The doxxing initiatives will very likely broaden in scope and target other individuals or groups deemed complacent in the ruling, such as CREW. Far-right individuals will very likely proactively seek out and publicize information about other lawsuits aiming to bar Trump from the presidency to counteract these measures. They will very likely circulate the personal details of layers, plaintiffs, and others involved in these legal efforts, likely expanding their operations nationwide.


The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling will very likely significantly impact the dynamics of the 2024 presidential primary and general election. It will very likely set a precedent for other states’ Supreme Courts with a Democratic majority to file similar motions, pending SCOTUS’ ruling. States with Republican majorities will likely attempt to block Joe Biden from their state’s ballots, likely citing his stance on various policies or actions taken during his presidency as grounds for disqualification. There is a roughly even chance that the Colorado ruling will lead to a series of legal challenges and counter-challenges, likely creating an unprecedented and complex scenario in American electoral politics. This dynamic will likely deepen partisan divides and further erode public trust in electoral processes, with there being a roughly even chance that legal battles will dominate the election cycle rather than campaign issues and policy debates.


CTG has gauged the risk of a potential attack using the Pathway to Violence[26] matrix, which details the six phases individuals undergo before committing acts of violence. It is almost certain that a subset of individuals within the far-right community are conducting substantial research regarding potential attacks following Trump’s disqualification from the Colorado ballot. The online framing of these far-right individuals as victims (us) in contrast to the justices and Democratic party (them) and the use of warlike rhetoric evidences the circulation of grievances and violent ideations. The widespread doxxing campaigns almost certainly indicate a transition from the “violent ideation” to the “research and planning” phase. The growing intensity of the rhetoric and targeted nature of the doxxing will very likely embolden extremists to move beyond online threats to physical actions. CTG’s assessment suggests that the fourth phase of the matrix, the “preparation” phase, is very likely being undertaken with individuals likely acquiring weapons, conducting surveillance of potential targets, and practicing attack methods. Final indicators of an imminent attack will very likely include an increase in violent rhetoric online and reconnaissance of the planned target, physical or digital. CTG assesses that the threat of violence is very likely to continue escalating in the upcoming weeks and months, especially in the lead-up to SCOTUS’ ruling.


CTG recommends that the majority-voting justices of the Colorado Supreme Court and others involved in the lawsuits enhance their privacy protocols in response to escalating threats. This initiative should include a holistic review and tightening of digital security measures. Those involved should consider changing their personal email addresses, phone numbers, and social media privacy settings to reduce the amount of publicly available personal information. CTG further recommends that they implement robust home security measures, such as installing surveillance systems and reinforced locks, to reduce the likelihood of armed entry. CTG recommends that these individuals vary their daily routines and routes to minimize the predictability of their location. Personal security services should accompany them, particularly while traveling and attending public events.


CTG recommends that law enforcement intensify their surveillance of and presence around key physical locations, including the homes and workplaces of the justices and individuals associated with the lawsuit. Law enforcement should increase their patrols, focusing on unusual activities such as unfamiliar vehicles, acts of loitering, or surveillance attempts. They should be alert to unconventional threats, including drone surveillance or the delivery of harmful substances. CTG recommends that law enforcement establish secure and rapid communication channels with at-risk individuals to ensure timely responses to suspicious activities or potential incidents. Cyber units should monitor online chatter for indications of the planning or mobilization of an attack.


CTG recommends that social media platforms intensify their moderation efforts to reduce the spread of extremist rhetoric. They should deploy a proactive approach, monitoring and flagging content that is inciting violence, spreading misinformation, or supporting doxxing. Users promoting violent rhetoric should be subject to temporary bans or permanent suspension following investigations into their online behaviors. CTG recommends that social media companies collaborate with law enforcement to provide key information to investigate viable threats while respecting free speech and privacy concerns. CTG recommends integrating a team of experts in digital forensics and extremism to enhance the algorithmic detection of extremist content. The companies should conduct regular audits of content moderation policies and their effectiveness todevelop and enhance their capabilities continuously.


CTG’s NORTHCOM and Extremism analytical teams will continue to analyze and monitor further developments, such as statements, threats, or attacks by far-right individuals against the Colorado Supreme Court and others involved in the ruling. These teams will work closely with CTG’s Digital Targeter program and the Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (WATCH) team to gather additional information in real time and warn the public in the event of threat escalation or attacks.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH following the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling to bar Trump from the presidential primary ballot. The court’s ruling has triggered a significant escalation of violent rhetoric across far-right platforms, signaling an escalation in threat dynamics. The dissemination of the personal information of Justice Monica M. Márquez, Justice William W. Hood, III, Justice Richard L. Gabriel, and Justice Melissa Hart poses an immediate risk to these individuals. Trump will very likely leverage the decision to intensify the narrative of victimhood among his supporters, likely fueling a feeling of urgency and prompting physical acts of violence. The volatility of the situation is likely to persist indefinitely, very likely being contingent on whether other states pursue similar legislation and the outcome of SCOTUS’ ruling.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of escalating violent rhetoric and an increased risk of violent actions targeting the Colorado Supreme Court justices and individuals connected to the lawsuit. The ruling will VERY LIKELY deepen political polarization, with Trump VERY LIKELY leveraging the situation to consolidate support for his presidency among Republican voters. The ruling will VERY LIKELY have a substantial influence on the dynamics of the 2024 presidential primary and general elections, with the outcome of Trump’s legal appeal to SCOTUS ALMOST CERTAINLY presenting a critical juncture in determining the trajectory of these tensions. It is VERY LIKELY that Democratic-led states will seek to disqualify Trump from their ballots if SCOTUS upholds the ruling, with Republican-led states LIKELY pursuing legislation to disqualify Biden from their ballots. There is a ROUGHLY EVEN CHANCE that these legal battles will become a central focus of the electoral campaign period, with threats and violence against public officials, particularly Supreme Court justices, LIKELY continuing to escalate in this context.

 

[1] Colorado Supreme Court by Google Maps

[3] Ronna McDaniel, X, December 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/GOPChairwoman/status/1737261244187279567 

[4] An Urgent Memo Prepared by President Donald J. Trump, Trump 2024, December 20, 2023, https://secure.winred.com/save-america-joint-fundraising-committee/9662d2783971b533 

[5] CTG Threat Hunter

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Understanding Threats to Public Officials, NCITE, August 2023, https://www.unomaha.edu/ncite/news/2023/08/simi-report-compressed.pdf 

[10] Colorado Supreme Court rules Trump is disqualified from presidency for Jan. 6 riot, CBS, December 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/trump-colorado-supreme-court/ 

[11] Fourteenth Amendment, United States Constitution, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CONAN-2002/pdf/GPO-CONAN-2002-9-15.pdf, pg. 2034-2035

[13] Ibid, pg. 87

[14] Ibid

[15] Colorado Supreme Court rules Trump is disqualified from presidency for Jan. 6 riot, CBS, December 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/trump-colorado-supreme-court/ 

[16] Colorado Supreme Court declares Donald Trump is ineligible for the White House, AP, December 2023, https://apnews.com/article/trump-insurrection-14th-amendment-2024-colorado-d16dd8f354eeaf450558378c65fd79a2 

[17] CTG Threat Hunter

[18] CTG Threat Hunter on Truth Social

[19] Ibid

[20] CTG Theat Hunter on Telegram

[21] CTG Threat Hunter on 4chan

[23] Tillis to Introduce Bill to Require SCOTUS Review of Presidential Candidate Qualifications, Thom Tillis, December 2023, https://www.tillis.senate.gov/2023/12/tillis-to-introduce-bill-to-require-scotus-review-of-presidential-candidate-qualifications 

[25] Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis Calls for Secretary of State Weber to Explore Legal Options to Remove Former President Donald Trump from California’s 2024 Presidential Primary Ballot, Office of Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, December 2023, https://ltg.ca.gov/2023/12/20/lt-governor-kounalakis-calls-for-secretary-of-state-weber-to-explore-legal-options-to-remove-former-president-donald-trump-from-californias-2024-presidential-primary-ballot/ 

[26] The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) Pathway to Violence by Lydia Baccino

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