Florida anti-fascist activist sentenced to 44 months in prison for online threats against pro-Trump Capitol rioters
First posted November 15, 2021 1:12pm EST
Last updated November 15, 2021 1:12pm EST
All Associated Themes:
- Legal Action
- Social Media
- Violence / Threats
A federal judge sentenced Daniel Baker to 44 months in prison for Facebook threats he directed at far-right groups seeking to attack the Florida State Capitol ahead of President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. His posts were in response to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots and the FBI’s perceived threat of right-wing escalation at statehouses across the country. Baker’s sentence is significantly longer than those of most of the armed Jan. 6 rioters who have been convicted.
Daniel Baker is a 34-year-old U.S. Army veteran and anti-fascist activist who, prior to his arrest, was living and working as a yoga instructor in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city. After going AWOL and eventually being discharged from the military, Baker used his combat and EMT training to fight against ISIS alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Rojava, Syria.
Allen Winsor is a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Florida. His appointment by former President Donald Trump in 2018 was vehemently opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of over 200 civil and human rights groups that, in an open letter, accused Winsor of improper actions and affiliations with right-wing organizations.
The string of Facebook posts that led to Baker’s arrest came in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, after the FBI issued warnings of further potential armed protests by similar right-wing groups in Washington, D.C., and at all state capitol buildings on Inauguration Day, according to The Associated Press.
Baker’s posts encouraged anti-racists and anti-fascists to encircle the Florida State Capitol, so if an attack did occur, rioters would be “trapped” inside with police, according to The Intercept. One Facebook flyer was titled “A Call to Arms January 20th!” and read, “Help protect your community from terrorists. We WILL protect capitol RESIDENTS and CIVILIANS from armed racist mobs WITH EVERY CALIBER AVAILABLE.”
FBI agents in Jacksonville, with the aid of the Tallahassee Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, arrested Baker on Jan. 15, 2021. According to WCTV, on Jan. 25, Federal Magistrate Michael Frank ordered Baker to remain in the Tallahassee Federal Detention Center until his trial, scheduled for October. The ruling was based on the argument that Baker might flee and “pose[d] a serious risk of danger to the community, including a risk of violence.”
Much of the support for Baker’s arrest came from accusations that he had a tendency toward extremist violence. The complaint filed against him described his ideology as “Anti-Government or Anti-Authority Violent Extremism” and his previous involvement with YPG, an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the United States designated a terrorist organization in 1997.
The complaint stressed that Baker described himself as a trained sniper for YPG, cited a VICE Youtube documentary where he can be seen fighting against Turkish and ISIS militants and quoted his 2020 online post saying, “God I hope the right tries a coup Nov 3rd cuz I’m so f****** down to slay enemies again.” (Notably, the United States approved $177 million in aid to the YPG in the 2022 defense budget and has supported the group with armored vehicles, weapons, and training to fight against ISIS, according to the Daily Sabah.)
The FBI findings also noted that Baker had participated in Black Lives Matter protests during 2020. In an email to The Intercept from prison, Baker said he believed including that information had a partisan motivation. “They criticized me for supporting Black Lives Matter,” Baker wrote. “Feminist Liberation ideologies, Global Revolutionary movements and direct democracy. … The government has made its stance clear throughout my hearings.”
Natasha Lennard, author of The Intercept article, opined that Baker’s case “should have been a straightforward First Amendment case, with Baker’s online speech, albeit bellicose, judged as constitutionally protected. Instead, the formerly unhoused veteran has been made a victim of government efforts to draw false equivalences between fascistic far-right forces and the anti-fascists who would see them opposed.”
Baker sentenced to 44 months in prison, 3 years federal supervision
On Oct. 12, 2021, Winsor sentenced Baker to 44 months in federal prison and three years of federal supervision following his release. According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, Winsor convicted Baker of two counts of “transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure another person.” The kidnapping charge stemmed from the language in his Facebook post in which he called for “encircling and trapping” right-wing rioters.
Brad Thomson, a civil rights attorney for the People’s Law Office, pointed out that Baker’s three-and-a-half-year sentence was harsher than any punishment given to the armed protesters at the violent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot up to that point. “The overall message people will get from this is that online speech calling for militant antifascist action will send you to prison for much longer than actually taking militant action with fascists,” Thomson told The Intercept.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jason Coody, who helped prosecute the case, believed the ruling sent a different message. “(The ruling) should serve as a significant deterrent to those who would solicit others to join them in conducting criminal acts rather than engage in lawful debate,” Coody wrote. “The free exercise of speech is central to our democracy. However, the defendant’s threats of armed violence to inhibit expression of political views different than his own are both unlawful and dangerous.”
Baker files complaint against prison
Before his conviction, Baker was in custody for 10 months of pretrial detention, including seven months of solitary confinement. During this time, Baker asserted, he observed and personally suffered a number of abuses. In his email to The Intercept, he wrote that he was placed in cells covered in feces and that “crueler guards would consistently taunt and abuse” a mentally ill inmate in the cell next to his. Baker also said that he was refused vegan meals and prayer beads, both of which are part of his Hare Krishna religion, and that his mail was illegally opened by prison guards.
Baker filed a complaint on Aug. 19, 2021, against the prison and a number of guards for the alleged violations, citing “unsanitary conditions, threats, verbal harassment, targeted harassment, violation of religious freedom…1st & 5th amendment rights,” and more. According to The Intercept, the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on his lawsuit or the conditions of his past confinement.
As of Nov. 15, 2021, there were no further developments in the case.