A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who apparently embraced the pro-Trump conspiracy movement QAnon has been arrested after allegedly threatening an agency higher-up over a litany of imaginary crimes.
The charges against CBP officer Alberto Almeida, which were filed in New Jersey federal court last week and have not been previously reported, is the latest example of the traction QAnon’s dangerous brand of right-wing disinformation seems to be gaining within the ranks of law enforcement.
According to the criminal complaint, Almeida sent “numerous” menacing messages via text and social media to Edward Fox, CBP’s assistant port director for Newark, New Jersey, over the past nine months.
The messages, which came via text and social media, referenced deranged tropes pushed by QAnon, which pushes the baseless idea that the world is controlled by a cabal of cannibal-pedophiles in the Democratic Party, who, in an echo of earlier anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, drink childrens' blood to stay alive. QAnon fans believe that President Trump, along with members of the military and federal law enforcement, will soon carry out mass arrests and executions of his political opponents.
Almeida’s unhinged accusations against Fox included involvement in the Sept. 11 terror attacks and a child-trafficking ring that QAnon supporters have convinced themselves is run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Attention CBP Assistant Port Director Ed Fox in Newark,” Almeida posted to his own Facebook page.
“The next time I come to Newark Airport I am bringing Donald Trump and the U.S. Military down on your f****** head for your involvement in Hillary/Maxwell/Epstein’s child trafficking ring and 9/11. You f****** treasonous pedophile,” Almeida’s post continued. “Trump takes down Hillary, JFK JR (US MILITARY) takes down the Mossad, and I take you down b****, that’s how this worked. Tick Tock. #WWG1WGA”
That might seem like gibberish, but there’s a method to the madness.
QAnon followers, who often use the slogan “WWG1WGA,” or “Where we go one, we go all,” believe there exists a so-called “deep state” within the D.C. power structure linked to Clinton and a web of purported enablers including the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in federal lockup last August, and his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell. Q acolytes believe this nonexistent confederation is behind a plot to bring down Trump—and that the late JFK Jr., who they claim is not dead but hiding out in Pennsylvania, will soon emerge as Trump’s 2020 running mate.
Although the claims may seem comedic, the FBI in fact considers QAnon a domestic terror threat, with the potential to carry out violent acts. On Oct. 6, Facebook banned QAnon-related accounts across all of its platforms, defining it as a “militarized social movement.” Still, otherwise intelligent-seeming people somehow keep falling for it. Over the summer, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn expressed his support for the admittedly delusional conspiracy, seeming to “induct” several others into the fold. President Trump has refused to renounce the group, arguing that “they like me.”
Almeida is the first known CBP officer to be charged with a QAnon-related crime.
While only a small percentage of American law enforcement officers have so far been outed as QAnon adherents, law enforcement insiders who spoke to The Daily Beast expressed alarm at the idea of armed men and women subscribing at all to a conspiracy as outwardly irrational as QAnon.
Former CBP internal affairs chief James Tomsheck said his personal reaction to the Almeida charges was one of “shock and dismay.” Tomsheck said now would be the time for agency officials to begin an administrative inquiry into Almeida, regardless of what happens in court.
“If the employee is espousing violent ideology, he certainly could be found unsuitable for employment and terminated—independent of any criminal acts he may have committed,” Tomsheck told The Daily Beast.
In response to a request for comment, a CBP spokesperson said, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection takes all allegations of employee misconduct seriously, but none more so than alleged threats to members of the public or other CBP employees. As shown in the criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the allegations against CBP [officer] Almeida are being investigated by the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility. CBP does not comment on ongoing investigations or pending litigation."
Although 45 U.S. states can now decertify police officers for serious wrongdoing—essentially, taking away their “license” to work as a cop—this is not standard practice at the federal level. In fact, the only federal agencies known to share their own data with IADLEST, a national database of law enforcement officers and agents who have been stripped of their badges, are the Department of Defense and the National Park Service, said Roger Goldman, a Missouri law professor and an expert on police decertification at the state and local levels.
When a federal law enforcement officer is convicted of a crime, they often sign an agreement not to ever apply for another federal police job again. But, Goldman told The Daily Beast, “Who keeps track of that? It’s not enough just to get a promise that this guy will stay out of law enforcement.”
Social media has brought apparently “unstable people [like Almeida]... out of the shadows,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD squad commander who now teaches at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“Federal and local authorities better be doing their due diligence in hiring,” Giacalone told The Daily Beast. “I’d like to know if there were any red flags in this guy’s jacket before, during, and after the hiring process.”
CBP is the rare law enforcement agency that does not require all recruits to undergo a psychological evaluation before joining the force. Its members are also arrested at a far higher rate than that of local and state law enforcement, with criminal misconduct by U.S. border officers recently hitting a five-year high.
Almeida is now free on $50,000 unsecured bond. He faces a single charge of threatening a law enforcement officer—in this case, his superior—which carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Almeida’s attorney, David Jay Glassman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Almeida is due back in court on Oct. 20.