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Trump’s ‘LIBERATE’ tweets, give fuel to extremists

Trump’s ‘LIBERATE’ tweets, give fuel to extremists

Trump’s tweets pushed many online extremist communities to speculate whether the president was advocating for armed conflict, an event they’ve termed “the boogaloo.”

When President Donald Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” on Friday morning, some of his most fervent supporters in far-right communities — including those who have agitated for violent insurrection — heard a call to arms.

The tweet was one of three sent from the president’s account, along with “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

Trump’s tweets came after small protests by Trump supporters broke out in a handful of states, many of which were fueled by anti-vaccination and anti-government groups. Anti-government sentiment has percolated among far-right extremists in recent weeks over the stay-at-home orders governors have issued to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Trump’s tweets, however, pushed many online extremist communities to speculate whether the president was advocating for armed conflict, an event they’ve termed “the boogaloo,” for which many far-right activists have been gearing up and advocating since last year.

There were sharp increases on Twitter in terms associated with conspiracies such as QAnon and the “boogaloo” term immediately following the president’s tweets, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, an independent nonprofit group of scientists and engineers that tracks and reports on misinformation and hate speech across social media.

Posts about the “boogaloo” on Twitter skyrocketed in the hours after the president’s tweets, with more than 1,000 tweets featuring the term, some of which received hundreds of retweets.

“We the people should open up America with civil disobedience and lots of BOOGALOO. Who’s with me?” one QAnon conspiracy theorist on Twitter with over 50,000 followers asked.

“Boogaloo” is a term used by extremists to refer to armed insurrection, a shortened version of “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo,” which was coined on the extremist message board 4chan.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington condemned Trump’s tweets in his own Twitter thread in which he warned the president about encouraging violence.

“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies – even while his own administration says the virus is real, it is deadly and we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” Inslee wrote.

The president’s statements this morning encourage illegal and dangerous acts. He is putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19.

His unhinged rantings and calls for people to “liberate” states could also lead to violence. We’ve seen it before. 1/7

The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies – even while his own administration says the virus is real, it is deadly and we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted. 2/7

A Twitter spokesperson said the president’s tweets didn’t violate the site’s policies against content that poses a risk to health or well-being around the coronavirus outbreak.

The use of “liberate” in the tweets is too vague to be actionable, according to the Twitter spokesperson.

The activity comes as extremist researchers have warned about increased activity during the pandemic.

Law enforcement officials have previously identified “boogaloo” domestic extremists as a legitimate threat. A report released by the Network Contagion Research Institute about the term “boogaloo” being used to ironically mask violent overthrow attempts had “gone viral” within law enforcement and intelligence communities in February, Homeland Security Advisory Council member Paul Goldenberg told NBC News in February.

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The president’s tweets came just minutes after Fox News aired a segment featuring coverage of a Facebook event called “Liberate Minnesota.” Although only a few hundred people expressed interest in the event on Facebook, local news sites and conservative blogs drove attention to the event Thursday, one day before the president’s tweets.

“Minnesota citizens now is the time to demand Governor Walz and our state legislators end this lock down!” the event’s Facebook page reads. “Thousands of lives are being destroyed right now. It is not the governor’s place to restrict free movement of Minnesota citizens! Gov. Walz you work for the citizens of this state!”

A few hundred protesters had gathered outside Gov. Tim Walz’s residence in St. Paul, Minnesota, by Friday afternoon, packed in tight crowds along the sidewalk. They chanted “USA” and carried signs with pro-Trump, anti-Walz messaging. One sign read, “If ballots don’t free us bullets will.”

The Minnesota protest followed several others in different states including Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan, in which demonstrators have demanded governors end shutdowns enacted to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The protests have been a unifier of anti-government and conspiracy-minded subcultures, bringing anti-vaccination activists, anti-government militia groups, religious fundamentalists and white supremacists together at state capitols.

While focused on their respective states, the groups are organizing expressly to call for people to violate the policies that Trump has supported at daily news briefings.

Ohio had one of the first national rallies. On April 9, about 70 protesters gathered on the lawn of the state Capitol. Chanting “Free Ohio Now!,” they carried signs and bucked guidelines for maintaining 6 feet of social distancing. Videos of the event were livestreamed in popular anti-vaccination Facebook groups.

By Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny NBC News

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