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Pennsylvania FBI on Alert as Threats Grow Following Trump Raid

FBI offices across the nation are increasing security after threats against law enforcement officers have grown following the agency’s search at Mar-a-Lago. Several Pennsylvania residents have been arrested.

(TNS) — FBI offices across the country, including in Philadelphia, are on high alert in response to increasing threats to federal law enforcement officers following last week's search of former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.

The defensive posture comes after separate attacks carried out by two men with Pennsylvania ties in days since, including one who was convicted in a 2020 assault at a home owned by the Episcopal bishop of Bethlehem.

On Monday, federal authorities arrested a third man — a Mercer County photographer — for a series of threats he made on the right-wing social media platform Gab to slaughter FBI agents and "water the trees of liberty" with their blood.

The escalation of similar incidents in recent days prompted the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to issue a joint intelligence bulletin Friday expressing concern about the volatile environment. It described what the agencies called as an "unprecedented" number of social media threats including calls for "civil war" and "armed rebellion."

Among the specific threats cited was one to place a "dirty bomb" outside FBI headquarters in Washington as well as calls for the targeted killings of judicial and law enforcement officials connected with the Mar-a-Lago search.

The Pa. Ties to The Cincinnati FBI Office Attack

The joint intelligence bulletin cited last week's attempted breach of the FBI's Cincinnati field office by Ricky W. Shiffer, who is believed to have made provocative posts on Truth Social, the social media platform founded by Trump, before showing up to the building armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a nail gun.

Shiffer, 42, grew up on a farm in Perry County, outside Harrisburg, and enlisted in the Navy soon after graduating from high school in 1998.

Public records show he did not return to the state after his naval service and a stint in the Florida Army National Guard that saw him deployed during the Iraq War. He was living in Ohio in the months before last week's attack.

Social media accounts bearing his name — including one on the Trump-founded site Truth Social — boasted of participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, though he had not been charged and it is not clear whether he entered the building. He responded to the Aug. 8 Mar-a-Lago search with online vitriol.

"Get whatever you need to be ready for combat," one of the accounts bearing Shiffer's name posted to Truth Social in the days after.

On Thursday, the day of the FBI office attack, he posted: "I thought I had a way through the bullet proof glass, and I didn't. If you don't hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I. and it'll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops."

He fled from the scene and was later killed by authorities after an hours-long standoff.

Another Recent Pa. Resident Attacked the Capitol

Another armed former Pennsylvania resident was involved in a separate attack on Sunday.

Richard Aaron York III crashed his car into a barricade outside the Capitol building in Washington and fired several shots in the air before killing himself.

Public records indicate York, 29, had been living in Northampton County as recently as 2020, when he pleaded guilty to assault charges after attacking a coworker with whom he was staying at the time.

York's lawyer, Steven Richard Mills, recalled that after an argument between the two, York "trashed" the house, which was owned by the Rev. Kevin D. Nichols, the Episcopal bishop of Bethlehem. The victim and York's coworker was Nichol's son.

The bishop did not return requests for comment on the incident Monday, Aug. 15.

York, meanwhile, was sentenced to a minimum sentence of 213 days before being paroled to live with his mother in Delaware. His prior criminal record includes convictions in Pennsylvania dating back more than a decade for offenses including assault, burglary, and terroristic threats.

Mills said Monday that news of his former client's involvement in the attack on the Capitol took him by surprise.

"I didn't initially put two and two together that it was the same guy," he said. "He seemed nice enough ... not somebody I would think this would happen to."

Carrie Adamowski, a spokesperson for the FBI office in Philadelphia, declined Monday to answer questions about either Shiffer's or York's Pennsylvania ties or to discuss any specific security measures the office had implemented in response to recent threats.

"The FBI is always concerned about violence and threats of violence, including the men and women of the FBI," she said in a statement. "We work closely with our law enforcement partners."

Capitol Police said over the weekend that they were reviewing York's social media accounts for any indications of his intent.

Online Outrage, Real-World Violence

Since the Mar-a-Lago raid, pro-Trump internet forums have erupted with vitriol, and many Republican leaders and media outlets have attacked the search as politically motivated overreach using inflammatory language likening the bureau's tactics to those of the Nazi secret police. Others have called for the destruction or defunding of the FBI.

The threat of right-wing extremist violence has become particularly acute in Pennsylvania in recent years, federal authorities have said. More than 70 residents of the state have been charged to date for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol building — more per capita than any other state, save Montana.

"These are some trusted members of our community who were somehow radicalized through whatever they were listening to or people that they were connected with," said Jacqueline C. Romero, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a recent interview. "That is concerning ... and has to be on our radar as a serious matter because the numbers we're seeing from Pennsylvania."

Amid those heated conditions, only a handful of Republicans have spoken against the incendiary rhetoric following last week's attacks, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

"I have urged all my colleagues to make sure they understand the weight of their words," he said.

Fitzpatrick, who worked as an FBI agent for 14 years before being elected to represent Bucks County in Congress in 2016, said he'd been informed by the bureau that "my life was put in danger recently by some of the same people."

"We're the world's oldest democracy," he added. "The only way that can come unraveled is if we have disrespect for institutions that lead to Americans turning on Americans. ... A lot of that starts with the words we're using."

(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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