Far-right extremists on pro-Donald Trump message boards and social networks are making violent, antisemitic threats against the judge who reportedly signed the warrant that allowed the FBI to search the former president's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida.
Multiple members of these toxic online communities are even posting what appears to be Judge Bruce Reinhart’s home address, phone numbers, and names of his family members alongside threats of extreme violence.
“This is the piece of shit judge who approved FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago,” a user wrote on the pro-Trump message board formerly known as TheDonald. “I see a rope around his neck.”
Responding, another user wrote: “Idgaf [I don’t give a fuck] anymore. Name? Address? Put that shit all up on here.” Moments later, a different member replied with what appears to be Reinhart’s current address, phone numbers, previous addresses, and names of possible relatives.
In another post on the same message board, one user commented, “Let's find out if he has children....where they go to school, where they live...EVERYTHING.”
These threats of violence and antisemitic slurs on a range of platforms, including 4chan, Telegram, Gettr, Gab, and Trump’s own platforms called Truth Social, were first uncovered by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that conducts public-interest investigations.
“The threats against Judge Reinhart in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid are significant,” Daniel J. Jones, founder of Advance Democracy, told VICE News. “In addition to the antisemitic and violent slurs, we’re seeing his address and other personal information being shared online—with the implied or explicit purpose of ‘real-life’ action.”
A message board where a number of these threats were posted also happens to be the same one where many of those involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot posted threats of violence in the lead-up to Jan. 6.
These threats against the judge, Jones told VICE News, are “all the more alerting given the events of January 6.”
These threats made against Reinhart and his family didn’t occur in a vacuum: Within hours of the FBI searching Trump’s Palm Beach home, the former president’s supporters reacted furiously, calling for civil war and the dismantling of the FBI. As Trump has scrambled to explain why his home was searched, he has also pushed conspiracy theories about the FBI supposedly planting evidence there.
Right-wing news outlets have also tried to connect the judge to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Reinhart worked as a federal prosecutor until 2008, and a day after he quit, he became the defense attorney for a number of Epstein’s employees, including his pilots and a scheduler, according to his 2018 Miami Herald report. The link between Reinhart and Epstein has been weaponized by Trump supporters to incorrectly imply Reinhart was Epstein’s own lawyer, and, by extension, was corrupt and possibly a pedophile. (A small note in light of these accusations: Trump had a long personal relationship with Epstein, and once famously told New York Magazine that he was a “terrific guy.”)
On fringe message board 4chan, one user posted an image of Reinhart with the caption: “About that Judge that signed the search Warrant…Bruce Reinhart once quit his job as a U.S. Attorney to work for Jeffrey Epstein. Another 4chan user wrote in response: “That is a k***. And a pedophile … He should be tried for treason and executed.”
“The U.S. Marshals are responsible for the protection of the federal judicial process, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals told VICE News when asked for comment about the threats. “While we do not discuss our specific security measures, we continuously review the measures in place and take appropriate steps to ensure the integrity of the federal judicial process.”
I’m already on the record opposing the federal prosecution of the former president for his actions leading up to and throughout the insurrectionary violence on Capitol Hill during the afternoon of January 6, 2021. At the moment, it’s unclear if Monday’s raid was connected to the Justice Department’s investigation of those actions, or if the search for classified documents in Trump’s home was part of some other investigation. But it doesn’t really matter, since the theatrics of the event served as a preliminary test of how the country will respond to any effort by law enforcement to prosecute Trump.
And America is already failing that test.
In a country where the political system, including its two major parties, believed in the rule of law and trusted the nation’s public institutions to uphold it, response to the raid would have been muted. Republicans would have joined with Democrats in releasing grave but cautious statements, calling for patience, making the point that the unprecedented criminal investigation of a former president must be allowed to run its course before firm opinions can be reached.
Instead, leading Republicans immediately treated the raid as an illegitimate act undertaken by an alien, tyrannical “Regime” resembling a Third World dictatorship. Several used language about law enforcement being “weaponized” for political purposes. Many also connected it to the recent party-line passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which included provisions for hiring an additional 87,000 IRS agents to pursue tax cheats. This was the message: If they can raid the home of the former president, they will be coming for you next.
The Republican response confirms at least two troubling things about the state of the party and the country.
First, Trump maintains an iron grip on the GOP. If you want to understand why so many leading Republicans rose immediately to his defense, look at the results of the straw poll at last weekend’s CPAC conference, which the former president won with 69 percent. That’s up from 55 percent in February 2021 and 59 percent in February of this year—showing that devotion to Trump is increasing over time among the most committed voters and activists on the right, despite considerable admiration for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and despite (or maybe because of) the January 6 hearings. Trump remains the boss, in other words. The Republican base trusts him more than the institutions of American government, which is why elected members of the party are quick to side with him against the latter.
That points to the second thing that reaction to the raid has confirmed: Confidence or trust in American institutions is at historic lows. Trump’s political rise was a manifestation of that lack of trust—and, as a master demagogue, his very presence on the political scene continually drives those numbers lower.
He accomplishes this by refusing to play along with the atmospherics of high-minded politics. No one is given the benefit of the doubt unless they personally ingratiate themselves to him. No Democrat (like Attorney General Merrick Garland) could possibly be trying to do the right thing. There’s always a baser motive to point to, always an interpretation of events that suggests an effort to cloak a power-grab in exalted language. Law (and its enforcement) is indistinguishable from politics. The effort to pretend otherwise is just another (more deceptive) act of self-aggrandizement.
All of which means that for the better part of a decade now, Trump has been teaching his party that “the rule of law” is for saps, suckers, and chumps—and its voters have learned their lessons well.
To this, many Democrats and anti-Trump conservatives respond: All the more reason why we need to prosecute him, to vindicate the rule of law and show that justice can still be done.
And hey, I get it. In theory, that sounds exactly right. I’d love to see Trump punished for any acts that broke the law, both for the sake of justice and in order to deter future acts of political treachery. The problem is that this is a polity, not a graduate seminar in Kantian ethics. If only one of the country’s two major parties accepts the legitimacy of prosecuting a former (and possibly future) president, then the rule of law will not be vindicated, only Democrats will think that justice has been done, and no future bad actors will be deterred. Rather than healing the country’s civic wounds, the effort to punish Trump will only deepen them.