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Twitter suspends Steve Bannon account after talk of beheading; his lawyer in fraud case quits

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, in Washington. Bannon told the Associated Press that if the elections were held today, he believed the GOP would lose 35 to 40 seats and the House of Representatives, but argued there was time to turn that around. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CNN) — Twitter permanently suspended an account belonging to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon after he suggested Thursday morning that Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. His comments were made in a video posted to his Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts.

Bannon falsely claimed President Trump had won reelection, despite several key states still being too close to call, and said that he should fire both Fauci and Wray.

He then said he would go further: “I’d put the heads on pikes. Right. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats. You either get with the program or you are gone.”

On Friday, a high-powered attorney representing Bannon in a criminal fraud case, moved to withdraw from representing him and asked that hearing scheduled for Monday in the case be postponed while Bannon looks for a new lawyer.

The lawyer, William Burck, a highly-regarded Republican attorney who served in the George W Bush administration, had represented Bannon during former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential election.

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Bannon retained Burck after he and three others were indicted over the summer and charged with defrauding investors in a crowd-funding effort called “We Build The Wall” to raise money for a border wall. They have pleaded not guilty.

The inflammatory comments came during a livestream of Bannon’s “War Room: Pandemic” online show.

The video was live on Bannon’s Facebook page for about 10 hours Thursday and had been viewed almost 200,000 times before Facebook removed it, citing its violence and incitement policies. CNN has reached out to Bannon for comment.

Earlier Thursday evening YouTube removed the video for violating its policy against “inciting violence.” Twitter said it had permanently suspended the account of Bannon’s “War Room” podcast for glorifying violence.

Bannon was also banned on Thursday from Mailchimp, an email newsletter platform that Bannon’s podcast used to reach supporters.

The move could further limit Bannon’s ability to promote his messages.

“We can confirm we’ve identified this account and closed it for violations of our Terms,” Mailchimp tweeted after social media users noticed the business relationship.

Bannon’s comments came as other supporters of President Trump also used violent and militaristic rhetoric to back Trump’s baseless claims of a rigged election and to condemn his perceived political opponents.

In a tweet Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. called for his father “to go to total war over this election.”

“It’s time to clean up this mess & stop looking like a banana republic!” he added.

Trump Jr. also repeated multiple baseless claims undermining the integrity of the election in the tweet, which was labeled by Twitter as “disputed and might be misleading.”

During the campaign, he had touted baseless rigged-election claims to recruit an “army” for his dad, as CNN has previously reported.

CNN has reached out to a spokesperson for Trump Jr. for comment.

Earlier on Thursday, Facebook shut down a pro-Trump group called “Stop The Steal,” which amassed hundreds of thousands of members and had been coordinating protests that sought to challenge the election’s legitimacy.

Some members of the group posted about civil war and revolting against the government should Trump lose the election, according to a report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based think tank that monitors extremism.

“So IF they give this to Joe, how do we go about over throwing [sic] the government?” one member of the group asked in a post.

Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst with ISD, said that, although such posts may be hyperbolic, Facebook groups can be used to coordinate offline protests or events that could turn violent.

“It was possible for this group to become a hub for potentially violent behavior,” O’Connor said.

One of the administrators of the “Stop the Steal” group, Dustin Stockton, told CNN he did not see any messages within the group “calling for violence outside of what is common political hyperbole.” He said Facebook’s removal of the page was “out of line and they should restore it immediately.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN, “In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events.”

The spokesperson added, “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”

Researchers say the controversy over the vote count is particularly fertile soil for extremists to spread their messages.

“A contested election creates the perfect conditions for extremists to create chaos, to sow division, and to try to undermine our democratic institutions,” said Oren Segal, a vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “All those are foundational goals for extremist movements across the board.”

Even if comments from political influencers do not directly call for violence, war-like symbols and veiled references can valorize violence and potentially inspire people to action, said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University.

She said President Trump’s comments at his first debate with Biden, in which he told the far-right group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” for instance, could have been perceived as a call to action, regardless of his intent.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Mallory Simon and Brian Fung contributed to this article.

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