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Morning Conversation: U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe

Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 10:38 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In this edition of the Morning Conversation, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe breaks down the crucial role social media plays in the prosecution process connected to the storming of the U.S. Capitol, as well as threats made surrounding the Florida Capitol.

You can find a transcribed version of WCTV Morning Anchor Michael Hudak’s interview with Keefe below.

HUDAK: You have an outreach program called BLAST – why is that important to you?

KEEFE: It’s an acronym — Building Lasting Relationships Between Law Enforcement and the Community — but in practical terms, it’s an opportunity and sustained way – for four hours for members of federal, state and local law enforcement to interact, to role play and swap roles with youth – especially in the black community, where there is such a level of distrust and fear mutually. We’re trying to break down those barriers to have sustained communication, so both sides can know each other. Retooling that program entirely. Before, law enforcement created the scenarios and everything, while young folks attended and observed. Since George Floyd and other incidents, we’re retooling the program to be more dynamic… involve young people, black community in creating the program… New expectations for law enforcement in dynamic situations — whether it’s a traffic stop or responding to a domestic violence call. Having that deep discussion, rather than talking about arrests, convictions, with our residents.

HUDAK: Breeding that communal responsibility looking out for one another — is that the initiative you want to take with this?

KEEFE: Exactly. You succinctly said it for me — instead of being a law enforcement creation, invite all aspects of the community and all diverse groups, to create the curriculum, so they can express what that encounter should look like and how they want it to unfold.

HUDAK: What went through your heart and your mind when you saw the storming of the U.S. Capitol?

KEEFE: Like any citizen, I set aside my role as US attorney, prosecutorial decisions, dispassionate, applier of facts and law… We’re all human. There are thoughts and views embedded in your brain of who you are. It was awful. It was horrific. I saw it as an attack on our democracy. The investigative work that has resulted… There is a heightened level of motivation because of the significance of that event. This was an attack on the iconic symbol of our democracy and government. Not to become zealots ourselves, but it motivated us to follow through on prosecutions and investigations to make sure there’s that accountability.

HUDAK: We’ve seen a couple of arrests connected to that siege right here in the Sunshine State. When you see that effect in Florida… They were in DC that day — what goes through your head?

KEEFE: We’ve seen that in our backyard here the past two weeks in North Florida. Shortly after the event of Jan. 6… there was great communications between DOJ in Washington and the US attorney in DC running these investigations and prosecutions…. A good number of US Attorneys throughout the country had people in their districts who were involved in the siege on the Capitol. There’s that group that needs to be held accountable. We arrested someone in Pensacola yesterday — but last week, there was an individual arrested in Tallahassee who is being prosecuted by our office here. He was not directly involved in the Jan. 6 events, but he made threats of imminent harm about potential protests at the state capitol here in Tallahassee. And that was an individual who was spiraling… violent, culture of division of controversy and dissension … That goes far beyond expressing views… It becomes just expressing violence. That was a second-order effect of Jan. 6.

HUDAK: Do you believe those arrests in the last couple of weeks are the tip of the iceberg as far as prosecutions connected to Jan. 6? Or just the violence that was insinuated and the trickle effect that had?

KEEFE: Right now, I think we’re getting close to 100 federal prosecutions in Washington connected to Jan. 6. For those who were actually present. I don’t have the data on a second-order effect around the country or people making more threats or domestic violent attack plans. State and local partners and the federal government are working together to scour social media 24/7. Take leads and tips of that activity. Have probable cause… people crossing the line of free speech to planning attack or event… Once that’s there… we seek tools to surveil and closely monitor their activity. The problem that comes up is encrypted messages…. We are moving forward and folks are staying vigilant — especially in the intelligence community.

HUDAK: You mentioned social media and its impact on prosecution… Some of these people incriminate themselves with selfies at the Capitol — What are your thoughts on the role of social media in law enforcement?

KEEFE: It’s crucial. Whether we’re talking about foreign terrorists… it’s the way the world communicates – especially young, highly motivated people who have passionate beliefs… The problem is crossing that line from holding beliefs and expressing views to planning violent acts. Whether it’s domestic violent extremists. A lot of people would be surprised to know there’s a greater threat in this country right now from domestic violent extremists than there are from foreign terrorist organizations. The way law enforcement handles it now are these intelligence analysts. Far more important in any instances than the officer holding the gun and badge catching the criminal after the crime are those analysts reviewing social media.. spotting trends, patterns, communication networks. Alert investigators, get ahead of the crimes… not prosecute and punish after the horrible act, but instead identify, deter, disrupt… Before it occurs, without crossing lines and violating the constitutional rights of individuals.

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