The politics of eliminationism—in which ordinary democratic discourse is replaced by the constant drumbeat of demonization that depicts one’s political opponents as inhuman objects fit only for extermination—has been growing steadily in America for well over a decade, reaching a fever pitch during Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. But now, in the post-Trump era, his rabid fans have ripped off the mask of plausible deniability and are now openly calling for killing liberals and Trump critics—which includes anyone who believes he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.
Much of this toxic discourse is occurring in the more extreme corners of the internet, but on Monday at a “Critical Racism Tour” event in Nampa, Idaho, it was blurted out into the open when an audience member asked Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “When do we get to use the guns? … How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?” Kirk replied with a nondenunciation denunciation, warning that such talk is “playing into their hands,” but then saying that the query was just “overly blunt” and agreeing that “we are living under fascism.”
The event, billed as “Exposing Critical Racism at Boise State University” but held at Nampa Civic Center, was primarily focused on promoting the bogus critical race theory narrative that American right-wingers have been wielding as a pseudo-controversy to disrupt college campuses and school boards. Kirk was the featured speaker, and he took questions afterwards.
A bearded man who did not identify himself told Kirk he was going to ask him “something a little bit out of the ordinary,” and then proceeded:
At this point, we’re living under a corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns? [Crowd whoops.] No, and I’m not, that’s not a joke, I’m not saying it like that. I mean literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?
The crowd seemed mostly supportive of this view, so Kirk tried to calm them down:
KIRK: No, uh, hold on. Stop, hold on. I’m gonna denounce that and I’m gonna tell you why. Because you’re playing into their plans, and they’re trying to make you do this. That’s okay … They are trying to provoke you and everyone here. They are trying to make you do something that will be violent, that will justify a takeover of our freedoms and liberties the likes of which we have never seen. We are close to have momentum to get this country back on a trajectory using the peaceful means that we have at us.
So to answer your question—and I just think it’s, you know, overly blunt—we have to be the ones that do not play into the violent aims and ambitions of the other side. They fear—let me say this very clearly—they fear us holding the line with self-control and discipline, taking over school board meetings. They’re the ones that are willing to use federal force against us.
I know that people get fired up. We are living under fascism. We are living under this tyranny. But if you think for a second they’re not wanting you to all of a sudden get to that next level, where all of a sudden they’re going to say, ‘We need Patriot Act 2.0.’ If you think that Waco was bad, wait till you see what they want to do next.
What I’m saying is that we have a very fragile balance right now in our current where we must exhaust every single peaceful mean possible. I will say this: Idaho has not even started to exercise the peaceful means of state sovereignty against the federal government. Not even close. I’ll give you five things Idaho could do right now.
Kirk then went on to suggest that Idaho’s governor should announce that there would be no coronavirus-related vaccine or mask mandates. (In fact, Gov. Brad Little is publicly fighting the federal vaccine mandate in court, though states’ options to do so are extremely limited under the law.) He also suggested that the legislature announce it was going to choose which federal laws apply to the state—something that, again, Idaho legislators are already doing, though predictably meeting with futility.
His main suggestion, however, was for the state government to inform the federal entities managing the state’s federal lands that “you’re out of the state of Idaho, we’re managing our own lands.” This is in fact an old idea in Idaho, dating back at least to the days of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and ‘80s.
There was a recent push for this idea—the Idaho Legislature in 2013 passed a resolution demanding the federal government “immediately transfer title to all public lands” to the state government. Other states, like Utah, tried following suit. But by 2017, but it had run aground on the shores of cold hard reality: Some 32.6 million acres out of 52.9 million of Idaho's total land is owned by the federal government.
Moreover, because these are mostly heavily forested wildlands that over the past decade have been beset by drought and a resulting plague of wildfires, the costs of managing these lands is prohibitive for a small state like Idaho. Then-Gov. Butch Otter attacked the idea, citing the 2015 fire season—in which fires burned 740,000 acres in the state to the tune of $300 million, the cost of which was mostly picked up by the federal government—as a recent example: “If the feds weren’t there to pay for it … you’d blow a huge hole in the state budget,” Otter’s press secretary explained.
Perhaps even more relevant is the fact that Idaho can’t claim ownership of federal lands under the legislation by which it was admitted to the union in 1890. The state also currently receives some $2.3 billion annually from the federal government in its education endowment fund as compensation.
Kirk was more than oblivious to longtime realities in Idaho, though. His “denunciation” of the argument for killing liberals was not at any point a civil or moral one—Kirk clearly was sympathetic to the man’s sentiments. Instead, it was purely tactical, calling violence “a mistake.”
His interlocutor responded: “I just want to know, where is the line?”
KIRK: The line is when we exhaust every single one of our state ability to push back against what’s happening. We haven’t even started the process of having Idaho, or states like Idaho, get back to self-government as our founders envisioned. They gave us state sovereignty!
What is the line? Look man, I think we’re at the teetering edge of a regime that knows that good decent Americans are gonna get to the place where, like in the movie Network, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!’ Right? Well guess what? Know that there’s a deeper game at play. Understand the psychological warfare that’s being played here. They’re trying to animate you. They’re trying to get you to do something that then justifies what they actually want to do.
So what’s the solution? We need to start to demand Idaho to be Idaho, and the federal government can stay out of Idaho for just about everything.
So Kirk’s “denunciation” of the question amounted primarily to urging the audience to reel in their violence for the time being while proceeding to attack local and state governments when they fail to follow their extremist agenda. Even this solution contains an innate threat: We have seen how the right’s “self-control and discipline, taking over school board meetings” has played out on the ground—with barrages of threats, intimidation, and actual violence, including that directed at health care workers attempting to enforce pandemic mandates.
The impulse for eliminationist violence, moreover, is latent in all of this: Even if Kirk’s audience takes his advice and bides their time, the threat remains intact to overthrow local authorities if they fail to enact their extremist ideas and displace reality—such as Joe Biden’s election as president—with their conspiracy theories and disinformation. We already saw how that played out on the ground on Jan. 6 at the Capitol after the “Stop the Steal” rally, an event at which TPUSA was a major sponsor, providing seven buses carrying 350 people.
If right-wing propagandists like Charlie Kirk and his army of devoted followers have their way, that scenario will be playing out again. But the next time, if the eliminationist extremism of his army’s footsoldiers continues to fester, it may very well be with guns.