Some users on pro-Trump internet forums told users to “lock and load,” agitated for civil war and urged protesters to head to Mar-a-Lago in the hours after news broke that the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida compound on Monday.
One user posting about the “civil war” shortly after the search was Tyler Welsh Slaeker, a Washington state man awaiting sentencing for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to previous research and statements posted online. A report in December by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative group, found that Slaeker posted to the pro-Trump internet forum TheDonald under the username “bananaguard62.”
On Monday night, the username “bananaguard62” posted the top reply to the “lock and load” post.
“Are we not in a cold civil war at this point?” the account asked. Another user responded, “several points ago.” Another top reply to Slaeker quoted a notorious antisemitic Nazi rallying cry.
In the months before Jan. 6, Slaeker had posted selfies to his bananaguard62 account, and he would later appear in photos from the Capitol riot and arrest records. On Jan. 6, he uploaded a photo of himself watching Trump’s speech from a tree on the Ellipse. Metadata from that photo confirms it was taken by Slaeker, according to the Advance Democracy Report. NBC News has also seen the photo and its metadata.
In the minutes after news of the search broke, users on pro-Trump forums like TheDonald, a Reddit-like website that was used to provide logistics before the Capitol riot, urged immediate violence, asking questions like “When does the shooting start?” and calling upon Trump to summon militias.
The most popular comment responding to the news, upvoted over 1,200 times, was simply the words “lock and load.”
Later on in the night, Slaeker clarified in a reply that he could not be more specific about his civil war post.
“I am awaiting sentencing for trespassing into the Capitol,” he wrote. “I am only being careful with my words.”
Slaeker’s recent posts illustrate that some of the same people on extremist forums talking about “civil war” or angling for more violence have taken real-life action in the past.
“Prior to the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, we saw unprecedented plans online to conduct real-world violence,” Advance Democracy President Daniel J. Jones, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member, said in a statement. "The online outrage was based on false allegations of voter fraud and bizarre theories of coordinated government corruption. The raid by the FBI has provoked similar violent rhetoric online — including from at least one individual charged in relation to the insurrection on January 6th.
“The promotion of broad government conspiracy theories by political leaders, elected officials, and political entertainers continues to undermine our democracy — and will likely lead to additional political violence,” Jones’ statement said.
Users of pro-Trump extremist forums urged his supporters to stage an impromptu “rally” outside Mar-a-Lago, Trump's compound in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday night, according to posts seen by NBC News. According to Cristian Benavides, a reporter for NBC Miami, some supporters of the former president began arriving in trucks before midnight. One vehicle featured a “Trump-Pence” flag along the length of the truck bed, with former Vice President Mike Pence’s name crossed out.
In other extremist chats on Telegram, including a chat among “Groypers,” or members of the white nationalist “America First” movement, users shared a post from the Proud Boys’ Telegram account, adding that the FBI is “Biden’s gestapo” and that “Civil War is imminent.”
More mainstream pro-Trump influencers, including podcasters with millions of followers on YouTube or Twitter, have also heightened their rhetoric.
“Tomorrow is war,” Steven Crowder, who has over 5 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.9 million followers on Twitter, said in a tweet. “Sleep well.”
Slaeker is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16 before Judge Paul L. Friedman of U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., where all Jan. 6 cases are being prosecuted. His lawyer, Kimberly Hodde, requested last month that the sentencing be held in person rather than by videoconference. Hodde did not respond to a request for comment. Neither the government nor Slaeker have filed their sentencing memos, which are due one week before the sentencing date.
As part of his plea agreement in June, Slaeker admitted that he was wearing a helmet and recording video on his phone when he entered the Capitol “through an exterior door that had been opened from the inside by other rioters” and that he was “with a mob of rioters” in the rotunda. He then exited the building, briefly re-entered through the same door and then left again.
“The defendant knew at the time he entered the U.S. Capitol Building that he did not have authority to do so and that the building was restricted,” Slaeker admitted as part of his plea agreement.
Slaeker pleaded guilty to a count of entering and remaining in a restricted building, and as part of his plea agreement he received a credit for acceptance of responsibility provided that he “clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility, to the satisfaction of the Government, through [his] allocution, adherence to every provision of [the plea agreement], and conduct between entry of the plea and imposition of sentence.” Other charges would be dropped at sentencing as part of the plea deal.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year of incarceration, but Slaeker’s estimated sentencing guidelines were zero to six months, according to court documents.
Slaeker has repeatedly posted about his experience at the Capitol on Jan. 6, insisting to users on TheDonald that the event was not a “false flag,” as some users have continued to argue. The posts are usually swiftly deleted, but they have been archived by Advance Democracy.