An Ongoing Insurgency
A few weeks ago, Liz Cheney told Jake Tapper, “If you look at the vote to impeach, for example, there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security – afraid, in some instances, for their lives. And that tells you something about where we are as a country, that members of Congress aren’t able to cast votes, or feel that they can’t, because of their own security”. Indeed, as January 6th proved conclusively, it is remarkable just how much current Republican orthodoxy is backed by threats of violence as well as actual violence itself. And just like January 6th, it is remarkable how much that threat is still underplayed and/or ignored. Under Trumpism, violent right wing extremism has not only been mainstreamed into the Republican party but also been infiltrated into government itself.
Long before January 6th, Trump had turned political violence into the Republican brand. There was the encouragement of violence against protestors at his rallies; the declaration that the press was an “enemy of the people”; the violent rhetoric aimed at immigrants, minorities, and Muslims, and the encouragement of police abuse. There was the “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” moment. There was “lock her up” which led to supporters demanding Clinton be “shot for treason” or “hung on the Mall in DC”. (As we saw with Pence, hanging is still a favorite with the new white nationalists). There was the “very fine people” at Charlottesville who literally wore their anti-Semitism on their sleeves, as well as the murder-by-car by a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi at that very same rally. There was the violent clearing of Lafayette Park to make way for a Trump photo-op and the kidnapping of protestors in Portland by unmarked federal agents.
The easily anticipated results of all this incitement soon became clear. A rabid Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to 16 Democratic leaders. Counties that hosted Trump rallies showed an over 200% increase in hate crimes. The mass murderers in Pittsburgh and El Paso cited the “great replacement” as their motivation. Trump’s efforts to cover his own massive failings in dealing with COVID by calling it the “China flu” led to a massive and ongoing increase in hate crimes against Asians. His similar efforts at ridiculing basic public health measures in particular, and attacking the legitimacy of any elected Democrat in general, led to a plot to kidnap and execute Michigan Governor Whitmer. The GOP’s refusal to accept the results of November 3rd led to death threats against election officials in Georgia and elsewhere. Finally, there was the infamous call for the Proud Boys to “stand by”, which they did until called upon to participate in a coup on January 6th.
On an objective basis, the January 6th attempted coup was a failure because it did not stop Biden from becoming President. For the insurrectionists and their supporters, however, January 6th was an enormous success that, along with the extraordinary number of Republicans who refused to certify the election even in the failed coup’s aftermath, proved how powerful the violent extremists had become within the Republican party and laid the groundwork for future actions. As one of the Proud Boys’ leaders at the insurrection boasted, “We took that House back…We made the House leave…they couldn’t finish their vote…that hasn’t been done since 1850…we the people took control…I started a revolution”. Republican leaders have praised the insurrectionists as patriots but also cast them as victims.
Post January 6th, things have actually gotten worse. The Proud Boys are now attempting a hostile takeover of Republican party apparatus in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas. The state Republican party has recruited those same Proud Boys in its successful effort to censure the current Secretary of State, the only statewide elected Republican in Nevada, because of her certification of Biden’s victory. The Proud Boys are battling for similar control of the GOP in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland. In both cases, the threats of violence are both implicit and explicit.
Meanwhile, elected Republicans and other GOP leaders are continuing to contribute to the party’s culture of political violence. In Oregon, a Republican state Representative coordinated the attack on the state capitol with armed protestors, even going so far as to opening a locked door so that the protestors could enter. In at least five GOP-controlled states, there is legislation to provide immunity for those using their vehicles to run down protestors, a standard ISIS terrorist tactic. The Republican efforts to suppress minority voters and control the electoral process are abetted by threats of violence against current election officials who are perceived as insufficiently loyal to Trump. One-third of current election officials do not feel safe because of threats of violence, some of those officials have already resigned, and over one-third of all election officials are eligible to retire in 2024. It remains unclear who will be willing to replace them in the current toxic environment other than GOP partisans, which fits the overall plan perfectly. Finally, like the Republican colleagues Cheney mentioned above, Democratic members of Congress are also expressing fear for their personal safety. As Pramila Jayapal noted, “I think many of us don’t feel safe and we understand that’s the world we live in now. I mean, we were almost killed [on Jan. 6], so no we don’t feel safe”.
As usual, Republicans are continuing to ponder a “Second Amendment” solution while increasing the ease of getting guns and restricting the ability to enforce existing gun control laws at the same time. Marjorie Taylor Greene has declared “The only way you get your freedoms back is it’s earned with the price of blood”. The embattled Matt Gaetz offered his advice for dealing with so-called “cancel culture” by saying “We have a 2nd amendment in this country and I THINK WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO USE IT!” Lara Trump is advocating vigilantism on the borders, saying, “arm up, get guns, and be ready, and maybe they are going to have to start taking matters into their own hands”. Don Jr. has posted a tweet that appeared to advocate for the murder of Dr. Fauci.
The Second Amendment solution dovetails with the open advocacy for a coup. QAnon cultists and others on the far right see the coup in Myanmar as a template for what should happen here in the US. Speaking at a QAnon gathering, Mike Flynn agreed that a Myanmar-style coup “should happen here”. At that same gathering, Roger Stone’s social media advisor called for Hillary Clinton to be hanged and Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert downplayed the January 6th coup while hanging out with some of those who participated in it. A recent poll showed that 28% of Republicans believed that, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” Unsurprisingly, as Kevin Drum notes, Republicans have long looked at a potential coup here in the US far more favorably than Democrats or Independents.
Flynn is not the only ex-military leader floating dangerous ideas. Over 120 former military officers signed a bizarre letter backing up Trump’s claims of election fraud and framing the current moment in revolutionary terms. The letter stated ,”Our Nation is in deep peril…We are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776. The conflict is between supporters of Socialism and Marxism vs. supporters of Constitutional freedom and liberty…Without fair and honest elections that accurately reflect the ‘will of the people,’ our Constitutional Republic is lost…FBI and Supreme Court must act swiftly when election irregularities are surfaced and not ignore them as was done in 2020″. It went on to accuse the Biden administration of “forcing Politically Correct policies like the divisive critical race theory into the military at the expense of the War Fighting Mission”. A similar view that the military simply teaching about racism and and its history essentially amounted to Marxism led to the firing of a current lieutenant colonel in the Space Force.
Estimates are that 15% of the January 6th insurrectionists were former military and it seems increasingly clear that the current military has a distinct white nationalist problem. A 2019 survey showed that over one third of current forces had seen evidence of white supremacist and racist ideologies expressed within the military. As former pilot Mike Pietrucha notes, “But it’s also clear that the [Defense] department has taken a softball approach to the challenge — as illustrated by the fact that it doesn’t treat membership in white supremacist organizations as a sole rationale for discharge. Worse yet, the services, especially the U.S. Army, have a long habit of venerating those who fought for the Confederacy, both ex-Army oath-breakers like Col. Robert E. Lee and those who never served in the U.S. Army, like Henry L. Benning, whose major relationship to the U.S. Army was that they fought against it. Might one wonder why the services have a poor record combating white supremacy? Maybe it’s because white supremacy is baked in”.
The core of the Republican base, white evangelicals, is now hopelessly ensconced in the QAnon cult. Over a quarter of white evangelicals actually believe that Trump has been fighting an international cabal of pedophile sex traffickers run by Democrats and Jews. Things have gotten so bad even some evangelical leaders are noticing, with one commenting that he has talked to “pastors, of virtually every denomination, who are exhausted by these theories blowing through their churches or communities”. Another religious historian noted, “There’s also an emphasis in certain circles on deciphering biblical prophecies that bears some similarities to decoding QAnon conspiracies — the idea that there is a secret meaning hidden within the text that can be discerned by individuals who have eyes to see”. Other cults are mirroring QAnon, such as the bizarre Rod of Iron Ministries that worships AR-15s and believes Trump is trying to rid the world of “political Satanism” and restore Eden. Its leader claims, “The internationalist Marxist globalists are trying to start a civil war here, so that they can bring in the U.N. troops and Chi-Com Chinese military to come in and destroy and kill all gun owners, Christians, and any opposition, i.e., Trump supporters. We are in the death of America right now”. A recent FBI intelligence assessment worried about what would happen as QAnon believers increasingly become convinced they can not “trust the plan”, such as the failure to reinstate Trump in August, and decide that “they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence – including harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition.”
While Democrats dither over whether and how to protect our democracy, Republicans have largely abandoned the concept of free and fair elections. As the votes to not certify Biden’s election just minutes after the January failed coup and yesterday’s filibuster of the attempt to even begin debate on voting rights legislation clearly illustrate, the Republican party is no longer interested in democracy, only power. The party has chosen two mutually reinforcing tacks to maintaining that power – rigging elections and political violence. As Jonathan Chait writes, “The Republican Party, like all parties, is trying to hold together a coalition. That coalition includes people like Flynn, who want to simply seize power at gunpoint. The accommodation they have reached between their violent and nonviolent wings is a legal regimen designed to ensure that the next time a Trump rejects the election result, he won’t need a mob to prevail”. But that mob will be available if and when Republicans lose the next election and they will be actively abetting the attempts to rig the election through the use of violence and threats of violence.
Political scientist Dan Drezner perhaps summed up the current GOP best when he compared it to Hezbollah, “a political party that also has an armed wing to coerce other political actors through violence. The comparison is stronger now than before. The Republicans who wanted to impeach Trump have been marginalized, and the state parties sound more and more secessionist with each passing day”. The Republican party is a threat to small-d democrats and capital-D Democrats. It looks increasingly like a terrorist organization against democracy itself.