Florida man accused of plot to confront protesters; governor activates National Guard

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Ana Ceballos
·6 min read
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Federal prosecutors said they “averted a crisis” at the Florida Capitol by arresting a man who threatened to violently confront protesters, as state law-enforcement officials prepared Friday for a possibly violent weekend and the governor activated the Florida National Guard.

The FBI has warned state and local officials about unrest between now and Inauguration Day, a potential spillover from last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters.

Although authorities have said they are not aware of any imminent threat toward the Capitol in Tallahassee, the arrest on Friday serves as a reminder of the potential violence that could unfold as political tensions run high nationwide.

U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe, a Trump appointee, announced Friday that Daniel Alan Baker was arrested on federal charges after issuing a call to arms for a violent attack on protesters on Sunday. Baker, a disgraced former U.S. Army soldier, identifies as a “hard-core leftist,” according to the criminal complaint filed by Keefe’s office.

According to the criminal complaint, Baker served in the U.S. Army in 2006 and 2007 in airborne infantry before receiving a less-than-honorable discharge. He went AWOL, the federal complaint said, before his unit was to deploy to Iraq.

From 2008 to 2017, the complaint said, Baker was unemployed and homeless in the Tallahassee area, occasionally working as a security guard. Baker joined a militia group in 2017 to fight against ISIS in Syria, federal prosecutors say. The militia group, People’s Protection Units, is a sub-affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, prosecutors said.

“Extremists intent on violence from either end of the political and social spectrums must be stopped, and they will be stopped,” Keefe said in a news release.

Online recruiting

Federal prosecutors say Baker began recruiting “like-minded individuals last October, as he made threats to those he claimed to be white supremacists and fascists.”

His threats escalated after the pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to the criminal complaint, and after the FBI warned of potential violence in Florida’s capital, leaving prosecutors to believe he was “an immediate threat during upcoming protests in Tallahassee.”

According to the criminal complaint, Baker issued a “call for arms January 20th!” and on Tuesday called on people to “fight back” against “armed racist mobs” at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Baker is accused of concocting a violent ploy to trap protesters and police inside the Capitol building to later “drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available.” Prosecutors say they believe he was armed and that he was “actively attempting to purchase additional firearms” before Sunday.

He provided a specific location on where to meet in Tallahassee and asked backers of his plan to “NOT RSVP TO THIS EVENT” for security measures.

“JUST SHOW UP,” he wrote. “WE ARE CHAOTIC MAELSTROM OF WILLING HANDS.”

Security measures

The arrest came as Florida law-enforcement agencies bolstered security measures in Tallahassee after the

FBI put them on notice about calls for “storming” government buildings in extreme right-wing online forums.

Tallahassee officials have closed City Hall and the county courthouse, which sits across the street from the Capitol building, to use in preparation for violent demonstrations. The city police department will be “fully staffed” through early next week, and as a precaution, the city canceled its annual Martin Luther King Day parade downtown on Monday.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson urged Capitol employees to work remotely on Sunday because of “very likely” protests. House Speaker Chris Sprowls has also told staff to stay home Sunday.

On alert for possible unrest, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees Capitol police, has monitored the “national situation” throughout the week and has been working closely with federal, state and local officials to implement security measures, said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.

DeSantis supports arrest of DC rioters, says Florida will be ready for any disorder

Mayor asks for troops

Tallahassee City Mayor John Dailey on Friday asked Gov. Ron DeSantis for help ahead of the weekend.

“Governor DeSantis, on behalf of residents and law enforcement in the capital city, I am asking you to do what only you have the power to do — call up and deploy Florida’s National Guard troops now,” Dailey, a Democrat, said at a press conference.

DeSantis did not make a formal request to activate the Florida National Guard to the Capitol until Friday night. In an executive order signed at 7 p.m., DeSantis moved to deploy troops to assist FDLE and local police in their efforts to “protect the state, its citizens, and public building and property from any potential civil unrest.”

The executive order took effect immediately and will remain in effect through Jan. 24.

DeSantis has not said much about the federal warning except to say the state would be prepared if protests take place.

“If anything is disorderly, we’re going to act very quickly. If there’s any type of disorder, we’ll have reinforcement there,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

Within local GOP circles, there is no active chatter about planned violent protests.

“None of the groups I’m involved in or interact with have anything planned. I have heard of nothing, but the rumors around town,” said Evan Power, the chairman of the Republican Party of Leon County, which includes Tallahassee.

A Herald/Times review of several Florida pro-Trump Facebook groups shows no calls for gatherings at the Florida Capitol in the coming days, although group members continue to fume by sharing far-right conspiracy theories about the election and call for vengeance for those who go against Trump.

“Time to punish the Republicans and Democrats who voted to impeach President Trump today,” one user wrote Wednesday, when Trump was impeached for the second time, this time for inciting a violent insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.

The FBI warning about possible unrest came five days after a pro-Trump mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College vote. The riot led to the deaths of five people and spurred Democrats to call for the president’s removal from office. President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated on Jan. 20, with heightened security measures.

“The FBI received information about an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington, DC on 16 January,” the FBI bulletin read. “They have warned that if Congress attempts to remove POTUS via the 25th Amendment, a huge uprising will occur.”

On Wednesday, the FBI hosted a conference call with dozens of law enforcement agencies from Tallahassee to Miami where security information was shared on preparedness for possible unrest.

“We do not have any specific intelligence,” Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell told city commissioners on Wednesday. “But the national narrative is going around, and we are preparing and planning for that as well.”

“We have no specifics for our Capitol or for Tallahassee,” he added.