- A criminal-defense attorney began tracking Donald Trump’s base online before the 2020 election.
- His monitoring has made him concerned about the safety of school-board members.
- “I’m watching them post their home addresses online, their phone numbers,” he told Insider.
Ron Filipkowski, a criminal-defense attorney in Sarasota, Florida, wasn’t surprised by the violence at the US Capitol during the January 6 insurrection.
By then, he had tracked enough social-media posts from right-wing extremists in his spare time to see trouble ahead. He shared warnings on Twitter from the Proud Boys and one of the Oath Keepers who talked of “blood lust” on that day. The activity had picked up, he said, after President Donald Trump urged supporters on Twitter to be there.
“This is their Super Bowl,” he tweeted about the Proud Boys on December 30, 2020.
Filipkowski, a former longtime Republican, began tracking extremists on social media before the 2020 election to help persuade moderates to vote for then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.
The former Marine and state and federal prosecutor still keeps a close eye on the far right, working with two researchers he keeps anonymous, monitoring livestreamed events, podcasts, radio broadcasts, social media, and dark chat rooms. Every day, he watches streamed video of the “War Room” podcast with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, whom Filipkowski describes as a “chaos agent.”
All that work has left him with one main concern moving forward: the safety of school-board members. The cause for alarm goes beyond the rowdy protests at meetings across the country over mask mandates, COVID-19 policies, and race and gender education.
“I’m watching them post their home addresses online, their phone numbers,” he told Insider of the school-board members’ personal information.
Filipkowski is prolific on Twitter, but he shares only some of what he sees. The majority of it can’t be shared because it includes “violence, conspiracies, you know, crazy theories,” things that would get him barred from Twitter, he said.
“For everything I post, I’ve seen 99 things worse,” he said.
‘You’re like Inspector Clouseau’
Sometimes, his tweets include derisive commentary. For example, “The editor on this is going to have one of the most difficult jobs in America in 2022,” he tweeted about GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert’s forthcoming book.
Or he will post screenshots or videos, including one of a “guy screaming that if the LA City Council doesn’t lift their mask mandate ‘get your guns’ because it’s going to be ‘civil war.'”
Filipkowski’s Twitter account, which is followed by more than 263,000 people, is getting media attention, and he’s been doing television interviews about his work.
“You’re like Inspector Clouseau out there, assembling all this data,” the CNN host Michael Smerconish said during an interview with Filipkowski.
Filipkowski, 53, has a day job, so why keep doing this after Biden won? He told Insider he believed the country and democracy were in peril. He sees Trump trying to get elected officials who control voting across the country replaced, he said, adding: “I believe that 2024 could be our last real democratic election.”
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Filipkowski said Trump loyalists who promoted and attended the January 6 rally had now made targets of school boards, city and county commissions, secretaries of state, and supervisors of elections.
“They have taken their disparate causes and motives to the local level, refocusing on softer, more vulnerable targets such as local government agencies because, according to the new motto of one of their ubiquitous leaders, former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, ‘Local action has a national impact,'” he wrote.
Filipkowski, who taught high-school history for a few years, told Insider he felt invested in the challenges facing school-board members because he had documented so many of the wild meetings. Many members don’t feel protected by local law enforcement, he said, and the activists who are intimidating them are trying to get them to quit.
Attorney General Merrick Garland drew attention to the problem when he called on the FBI to address illegal threats against public servants, Filipkowski said. But the response was “just bungled,” he said, with the Department of Justice relying too much on a National School Boards Association’s complaint — one that riled Republicans by comparing threats to domestic terrorism.
In October, he tweeted a video of the Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins’ speech about the threats and harassment she had endured. “THIS is what the Garland memo was about,” he wrote, not about Republicans’ “BS that the FBI is arresting moms for speaking!”
He made that video #1 on his list of top 25 video-clip tweets of 2021, which each made national news and had at least a million views, he tweeted.
Republicans say the discontent originated with parents, but Filipkowski said others were clearly orchestrating the chaos on masks and race education. They include “influencers, the grifters, the people making money off this and political leaders who are exploiting it for votes,” he said.
Trump’s ‘Frankenstein monster’
Until December 2020, Filipkowski served on Florida’s 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission after being reappointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. He resigned in protest over the treatment of the former state data scientist Rebekah Jones, who said she was fired for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data and whose home was raided. Filipkowski’s pinned tweet is his resignation letter. Jones was later arrested.
Filipkowski’s protest hasn’t earned him friends in DeSantis’ office, which denies Jones’ allegations. “How either of these characters became left-wing celebrities is puzzling,” Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for the Executive Office of the Governor, wrote in an email to Insider.
It was surprising to his former law partner Jeffrey Haynes to see Filipkowski change his party registration after years of being a hard-core Republican who was active in the local party. “His first child’s name is Ronnie Reagan Filipkowski,” Haynes said.
Filipkowski had intended to change to an independent this year, but after January 6, he said he became a Democrat the following day. What led him to abandon the GOP, specifically, is a “long answer,” he told Insider, but he wrote in his op-ed that he no longer recognized the party.
He and the other researchers aren’t being paid for monitoring the far-right, though he hopes to someday make a career in journalism or opposition research for politics.
He could have a lot of work, given the direction he believes that the Republican Party is headed. What he has seen online, he said, has left him “shook” by how radicalized people have become. Trump has “created a Frankenstein monster, and it’s the MAGA people,” he said.
That Trump gets booed when he talks about vaccines shows how he has lost control, he said.
“That’s the base pushing back, saying, ‘Yo, we’re in charge now, not you,'” he said.
This story was originally published on December 30, 2021.