A Florida man who had fought in a Kurdish militia against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and helped rescue a shooting victim in Seattle's Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) was arrested on Friday for allegedly threatening Inauguration Day violence against Trump supporters at Florida's state capitol.
The case strangely touches on many corners of American life, from the U.S. military interventions in the Middle East to the Black Lives Matter protests that rocked American cities last summer. It is also part of a cycle of political revenge and government crackdowns that may continue long after the 2020 presidential election.
"Armed racist mobs have planted the Confederate flag in the nations Capitol [sic] while announcing their plans to storm every American state Capitol on or around inauguration day. We will fight back," Tallahassee activist Daniel Alan Baker wrote under his own name in the description to a now-deleted Facebook event, which he promoted with physical fliers and a YouTube video. "We will circle the state Capitol and let them fight the cops and take the building. Then we will encircle them and trap them inside. We will drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available."
The author of the alleged threat is a veteran of the war against ISIS—but he didn't fight for the U.S. military.
Baker had joined the U.S. Army in 2006, but went AWOL in 2007 before his unit was set to deploy to Iraq, according to the FBI's criminal complaint. He was then homeless over the next decade, taking occasional jobs as a security guard.
In 2017, Baker joined an anti-ISIS rebel force in Syria known as the YPG, which stands for "People's Protection Units" in the Kurdish language, the FBI claimed.
The YPG, now part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had taken in hundreds of foreign volunteers as it liberated northeastern Syria from ISIS. Baker served as a combat sniper, and even appeared in an Emmy Award-winning VICE News documentary about ISIS's last stand in March 2019.
In the documentary, Baker leads part of a retreat under fire, helping save his fellow fighters and VICE journalist Aris Roussinos as ISIS militants overrun their outpost.
"Yeah! That's our boys," Baker hollers at the sound of a fighter jet from the U.S.-led military coalition. "OK, now's the time to go!"
The YPG is also an enemy of Turkey. Turkish forces attacked the YPG in October 2019, six months after Baker had returned to the United States.
Baker allegedly wanted to take matters into his own hands. Multiple people told the FBI that he intended to find Turkish military pilots who were training at U.S. bases and "kill or mutilate them," Special Agent Nicholas Marti wrote in an affidavit.
"The [SDF] is an ally of the United States and its forces have fought with the U.S. military in Syria against ISIS. As a rule, the SDF does not target civilians," said a source close to the SDF. "It opposes violence of any kind against civilians, men, women and children. The SDF is not associated in any way with Mr. Baker. He is not an SDF fighter."
No attacks on Turkish pilots ever came to fruition, and Baker soon threw himself into a different struggle.
In mid-2020, protests against the police murder of George Floyd sparked unrest across the U.S. Baker traveled to Black Lives Matter protests around the country. He also picked up a reputation for aggressive online commentary.
"A number of us YPG volunteers warned Baker about his rhetoric online and how it could reflect negatively on the rest of us and the YPG," said Joshua Bailey, another American veteran of the Kurdish fighting force.
The Turkish government and the Trump administration have both tried to connect left-wing political violence in the United States to returning YPG veterans, with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan arguing that "those behind the recent violence and looting during protests in the U.S. are working with the YPG" and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security drawing a link "between ANTIFA ideology and Kurdish democratic federalism teachings."
Black Lives Matter protests eventually led to the creation of Seattle's CHAZ, also known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), a police-free area occupied by anarchists and other activists. Baker came to the CHAZ/CHOP to volunteer as a medic.
On June 30, 2020, tragedy struck the protest zone. Vigilantes shot two black teenagers in an SUV, killing 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. It was the second deadly shooting in 10 days at the CHAZ/CHOP.
A video posted to Baker's YouTube channel shows him helping the victims of the incident, even though Baker later claimed on Twitter that the victims had first "pulled guns and knives and beat ass [sic] and started driving around shooting."
It remains unclear whether that is true.
In the video, Baker is startled by the sound of gunshots. He walks toward the noise, and finds a crowd shouting around an SUV with its windows blown out. Baker helps move the two victims (who are not visible) across the bloodstained ground to a waiting car, which takes them to the hospital.
Seattle police cleared out the CHAZ/CHOP soon after.
Baker told a journalist what his takeaway was in October 2020: "If they really wanted a revolution, we needed to get AK's and start making bombs."
His tone became much more frantic after the 2020 election. Baker made several posts on Facebook and Instagram warning that President Donald Trump would incite a military coup or civil war, according to the FBI's affidavit.
Baker's fears seemed to be at least partially confirmed on January 6, when a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in hopes of overturning the election results.
"Many of us are also sharing anxiety over and deeply concerned about recent events in the Capitol," emphasized Bailey, the other YPG veteran, but the "overwhelming majority of YPG volunteers don't hold accelerationist views, especially in light of what we have seen in the Syrian civil war."
Baker's brushes with violence in Syria and Seattle, however, did not seem to have turned him off from political violence.
Baker posted a series of YouTube videos about the "terrorists" at the Capitol, including one offering money to help identify them. On Tuesday, he posted the call to arms that got him arrested.
And he made a chilling prediction in a private Facebook post, according to the FBI's affidavit.
"Aw, it's yalls [sic] first civil war!" Baker allegedly wrote.