Armed vigilantes watching ballot drop boxes in Arizona. Anti-mask, anti-vaccination, anti-diversity protesters intimidating staff and patrons at a public library children’s section. Proud Boys storming drag queen story hour events and in some cases forcing cancellation. Threats to election workers. A huge increase in armed protests turning violent. Multiple mass shootings inspired by white nationalist rhetoric.
This is our reality now: The far right is increasingly turning to violence to get its way.
RELATED STORY: Proud Boys ginned up on ‘groomer’ rhetoric bring their menacing ways to LGBTQ Pride events
Meanwhile, The New York Times is analyzing partisan language, reaching the unavoidable conclusion that Republican members of Congress are far, far more likely than their Democratic colleagues to vilify their political opponents, but stopping short of a frank discussion of how far Republicans have gone. Language is important, don’t get me wrong. But the Times stopped short of accurately characterizing the language coming from Republican members of Congress and didn’t even sidle up to the question of what they’re inspiring in their followers. The word “violence” appears only twice in nearly 4,000 words on “polarization,” for instance, and both uses are to characterize how Republicans reject descriptions of or accountability for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Language is important because of what actions it produces, and the United States is past the point of “If Republicans continue using polarizing language, eventually there might be violence.” The violence is here.
Over the weekend, Maricopa County, Arizona, law enforcement responded to reports of armed "poll watchers" dressed in tactical gear watching a ballot drop box. There have been multiple cases of this, with at least one voter saying they were harassed, photographed, and followed by watchers. Imagine going to drop off your ballot and seeing this:
Proving that the only purpose here is intimidation, Arizona ballot drop boxes are already under video surveillance, and the videos are available through public records requests. If what these people cared about was seeing the traffic at any given drop box, they could do that without putting on their commando costumes and spending hours sitting around.
But this is what happens when your political movement is turning to violence and the armed threat of violence as a basic tactic. And, showing that our laws are not ready for it, in at least one case, law enforcement said that since the watchers were 75 feet from the ballot box, there was no violation of the law. This isn’t standard electioneering, though. It’s not comparable to people holding campaign signs, as those 75 feet laws were intended to police.
These Arizona watchers are part of a broader turn to violence on the right. Also over the weekend, an all-ages drag event at Old Nick’s Pub in Eugene, Oregon, faced threats. Protesters against the drag event, some of them armed, some of them self-admitted Nazis, fired paintballs and pepper spray, and were driven away not by police but by community members who turned out in defense of the drag event, journalist Alissa Azar tweeted.
Attacking drag events is a big thing on the right these days. Proud Boys disrupted an event at a California library in June, where, according to a sheriff’s department press release, they “began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event organizer” and were “extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety.” Also in June, Proud Boys showed up to intimidate people attending a Pride Storytime event at a North Carolina library, with one parent saying, “I certainly felt like I was in danger when they entered the building.” A Nevada library event was disrupted by a man armed with a rifle. In September, a drag event at the Memphis Museum of Science and History was canceled due to threats, including from Proud Boys. The list goes on.
Libraries can be a target in the absence of LGBTQ events, too. In February, the Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association said in a statement, “In three separate recent incidents, a group that is opposed to masking, vaccines, and diversity came into children’s rooms at the Central Library and the Hyde Park Library to protest COVID protection measures. While there, they intimidated and harassed members of the public and staff at the library and refused to leave when asked.”
In 2021, an Everytown study found 560 demonstrations or protests over the preceding 18 months at which participants were armed. “Armed demonstrations comprise nearly 10% of all violent or destructive demonstrations in the United States, and are violent or destructive six times more often than unarmed demonstrations,” according to the study. “Contrary to claims that the presence of guns in public spaces makes people safer, demonstrations involving at least one armed individual tend to be violent or destructive 16% of the time.” And, yes, the problem is overwhelmingly driven by one side; according to the study, “the majority of armed demonstrations have been driven by far-right mobilization and reactions to left-wing activism.”
These aren’t just random people individually deciding to show up with weapons, either. “Militia groups and militant social movements, like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, are active in over 54% of all armed demonstrations.”
This is the context of the armed people in tactical garb watching Arizona ballot drop boxes: an overall violent political culture, one that increasingly sees violence as a legitimate tool. That showed up most publicly in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but not only did it not end there, the Republican defense of that and downplaying of the level of violence shows that there is no pressure from above to back off.
Sometimes the violence does come from people acting alone, as in the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and the 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. In both those cases, the shooters left manifestos showing strong influences from the racist far right. Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, the number three House Republican, have echoed some of the same rhetoric themselves, while Tucker Carlson blasts it out on Fox News almost nightly. The connections are not hard to draw: Donald Trump spends a couple years insisting that elections are rigged against him, with many congressional Republicans joining him in those claims, and what do you know, election workers are being threatened and armed vigilantes are lurking by ballot drop boxes and harassing voters.
It is simply not honest to present any of these as isolated events, or to talk about the language coming from Republicans without talking about the actions spurred by that language. The violence coming from the right is not going away, and it is genuinely dangerous to the nation. The media has to learn to confront that head on.
Donald Trump and his MAGA allies came close to overthrowing our democracy on January 6, and they will try again if they win in 2022. The best thing you can do is to help get out the Democratic vote for the midterms, and we need everyone to do what they can. Click here to find all the volunteer opportunities available.
We cannot let Trump-endorsed election deniers to gain the power to administer elections. Can you chip in $1 to each of these Daily Kos-endorsed Democrats for secretary of state?
On Daily Kos’ The Brief, we speak with polling giant Drew Linzer, who runs polling firm CIVIQs and comes in to talk about a new poll his team conducted for Daily Kos. He is also here to explain, as a professional, how to not stress out every time you see a poll going your way or the other way. One thing is for sure, though: We are living in historic times, and what that means for these midterms cannot be easily predicted—so Get Out The Vote!
Buffalo shooter’s manifesto reveals how he was a product of Republicans’ ‘replacement theory’
No surprise U.S. can’t fill poll worker jobs after threats from 2020 election deniers