No one but Trump has demonstrated the ability to inspire the mindless fanaticism that can culminate in death threats, harassment, attempted kidnappings, pipe bombs, shootings, and deadly assaults on anyone perceived as an “enemy.” For the most part, national Republicans have been perfectly content to mock, normalize, or simply ignore this poisonous feature of Trump’s malignant influence. Some have cynically responded to it by trying to score political points through “bothsidesism,” while many others appear to embrace Trump’s terroristic approach outright. But what no Republican seem ready to admit—at least publicly —is that Trump’s grip on violent fanatics cuts both ways, and can be used against them just as easily as it is wielded against liberals and Democrats.
Jacob Ware is a research fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), a longstanding non-partisan policy think tank based in New York City, and a contributor to the Lawfare Blog; his primary focus is terrorism and extremism. In a three-part analysis for the CFR, the first two installments which were published this month, Ware zeroes in on the threat that far-right, Trump-fueled, domestic terrorism presents not simply to Democrats, but also towards the Republican Party and familiar bastions of conservatism—such as law enforcement and the military.
As Ware writes:
[T]hose who see election and policy defeats as the far right’s main or only danger to the Republican Party overlook a far more concrete peril: a direct and imminent terrorist threat to the party and its leaders. In fact, in the post-Trump era, Republican politicians are just as frequently targeted by conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric spread by the violent far right as more typical victims on the political left.
Ware notes that anti-government ideology has historically been a fixture of the modern far right, but that these sentiments metastasized to an unprecedented degree during the Trump administration into something better described as an “anti-democratic” (small-d) ideology, in which government institutions that deviated from the “Trump line”—whatever that happened to be—became targets of right-wing hate. Significantly, this equation rendered all traditional, conservative Republicans fair game, since the term “Republican” could be “redefined “ at will, depending on one’s fealty to Trump.
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Thus, the chant of “Hang Mike Pence” seen on Jan. 6, 2021, can be viewed not as an anomaly, but a reflection of this new prevailing ideology, as can the multiple campaign ads by Republicans during the 2022 primaries viciously attacking other Republicans as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) if they were insufficiently pure in toeing the Trump line.
The deluge of threats against former House Republicans and Jan. 6 select committee members Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney are recent examples, as is the flood of death threats against Republicans who voted for the bipartisan Infrastructure legislation that ultimately passed in 2021.
As Ware writes:
And perhaps most seriously, in December, a failed Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, Douglas Keith Casey, was charged with threatening to kill Congressman Randy Weber, alleging that Weber had committed fraud in the primary election—despite Weber, a staunch conservative, having previously been 1 of 126 House Republicans to sign a Texas Supreme Court amicus brief in 2020 seeking to undo the presidential election results in several key states.
Ware also cites research published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPR) in October, describing the transformation of far-right ideology as what they term “accelerationism.”
From the FPR’s analysis:
What unites the disparate elements of the far-right today is the concept of accelerationism, a violent extremist strategy aimed at triggering the downfall of current systems of government through repeated acts of extreme violence. Accelerationism is essentially a tactical doctrine elevated to an end goal: rocking the ship of state until it capsizes. The aim is to provoke a general crisis that must magically unlock all future possibilities.
In this environment (as Ware notes), “disagreement is akin to treachery and violence can have a cleansing effect.” Thus, we have antisemitic and white supremacist “personality” Nick Fuentes leading a chant of “Destroy the GOP” at the so-called “Million MAGA March” in December 2020, and calls by former Trump Chief of Staff Steve Bannon to “behead” lifelong Republican and FBI director Christopher Wray—just two examples cited by Ware of threats leveled by the far right against their own supposed ideological colleagues.
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In April 2022, Simon Montlake noted for The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) that an analysis showed that “since the 1990s, the majority of felony prosecutions involved death threats by right-wing extremists against Democratic politicians.” However, Republicans indicted more recently—in the advent of the Trump administration—“may be as likely to level death threats against Republicans as Democrats,” either for perceived treachery in voting with Joe Biden’s policies, or for voting to impeach Trump.
As Ware notes:
[N]ot as much analysis has explored the risk of violent fratricidal conflict against Republicans deemed insufficiently dedicated to the MAGA orthodoxy. As analysts Mary McCord and Jacob Glick warn, “By making strides to mainstream the political violence and illiberalism that they espouse, private paramilitaries have established themselves as a sinister force in American life that has endured long after Trump’s term ended.”
Ware implicitly blames the failure of elected Republicans to denounce violence of all stripes for this phenomenon.
Any Republicans who deign to challenge Trump’s supremacy must now be prepared for an onslaught of violent threats and rhetoric emanating from Trump’s minions. These conservatives are likely to discover very quickly that this tactic is very real and cannot be easily dissuaded by mockery, ridicule, or even reliance on law enforcement.
The second installment of Ware’s series addresses the increasing threat of far-right groups towards law enforcement (traditionally a bastion of Republican support), pointing out that:
[D]espite the prevailing narrative, when considering ideologically motivated violence, far-left extremist violence has not predominantly killed police officers in the United States. Historically, most domestic terrorist violence against the police comes from the far right.
He also points out that “grievances against law enforcement and government could be more rhetorically central to far-left and anarchist extremism—but violent far-right extremists are more likely to act on such grievances, and are far more likely to claim casualties.”
So, as these Republican “hopefuls” gear up for a primary challenge against Donald Trump, whether they acknowledge it or not, they are going to be swiftly reminded of the true nature of the orange-tinged Frankenstein’s monster they’ve created. Because it doesn’t stop—or end—with threats against Democrats, however cynical or comfortable Republicans may once have been with that state of affairs. Nor does it matter how much any given candidate tries to “Trumpify” himself, even if some candidates, including DeSantis, have certainly bought into that idea.
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The reality, in fact, is that Trump has cultivated an equal-opportunity army of people willing to threaten and commit violence against just about anyone who isn’t Donald Trump.
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