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Wed 20 November 2019
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CJ Werleman on more worrying developments in the US, where President Donald Trump is spinning his potential impeachment into a ‘coup’ which will require retaliation.


Three unrelated stories in the past week provide a glimpse into the way in which the United States has descended into political and social disorder as President Donald Trump enters the final year of his first term in office.

On Saturday, “go back to your country” were the last words a 42-year-old Peruvian immigrant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin heard before a white male suspect threw battery acid into his face, causing second degree burns in what police have described as a “racist attack”.

On Monday, FBI officials announced that they had arrested a 27-year-old suspected white supremacist for allegedly plotting to bomb Temple Emanuel, the second oldest Jewish synagogue in the state of Colorado. “I wish the Holocaust really did happen… they need to die,” the suspect is reported to have posted in an online chat forum just days ago.

A week prior to that, a Major League Baseball (MLB) umpire warned on Twitter that he was buying a semi-automatic weapon in preparation for a civil war that will follow if Trump is removed from office. “I will be buying an AR-15 tomorrow, because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020,” tweeted 50-year-old Rob Drake.

While three separate events don’t make a summer, so a variation of the idiom goes, they provide an insight into the rapid degradation of political order and civility in American society as the congressional inquiry into the possible impeachment of the President gathers speed and a mountain of evidence mounts on Trump’s lies and observable efforts to abuse the power of his office and obstruct justice.

It is almost impossible to recall a moment in US history in which the country has found itself so close to the likelihood of mass political violence, widespread social chaos and a constitutional crisis, at least not since the middle of the 19th Century when the US was torn apart by its debate about slavery.

When House Democrats announced the launch of their inquiry into Trump’s possible impeachment in late September, the President invoked the nation’s historical recollection of the Civil War when he tweeted a quote from regular Fox News contributor and mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress, which read: “And I do want to make this prediction this morning: If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”

Less than a week later, Trump doubled-down on this violent rhetoric by tweeting: “I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!”

When the current occupant of the White House – the political leader of the country – isn’t inviting political violence by instilling the idea among his supporters that there’s a “deep state” coup being plotted against him or that his removal from office will ignite the same kind of bloodshed that led to the deaths of 600,000 Americans in the years 1861 to 1865, he’s stoking violence against non-white minorities with his racially dehumanising language, referring to immigrants as “invaders”, “criminals”, “animals” and worse.

Four days after a Trump-supporting white nationalist, who also referred to immigrants as “invaders”, drove 10 hours from Dallas to El Paso to murder 21 Hispanic Americans, ABC News conducted a nationwide review of criminal cases in which Trump was “invoked in direction connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault”. “In nine cases, perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically attacking innocent victims,” it found. “In another 10 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And, in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behaviour.”

By comparison, ABC News could not find a single criminal case filed in either a federal or state court relating to an act of violence which was carried out in the name of Trump’s predecessors, President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush.

“It’s time we recognise that Trump’s unique social media presence is a weapon of radicalisation,” observed Republican Rick Wilson in the wake of the attack in El Paso. “No one else in the American political landscape stokes the resentments, fears, and prejudices of his base with equal power.”

Notably, far-right groups and individuals are not only responsible for 100% of all terrorist attacks that have occurred on US soil since the end of 2017, but they are also taking Trump’s warnings – or rather, invitations – of a violent insurrection seriously.

“This is where we are,” tweeted the Oath Keepers, an anti-government, right-wing fringe organisation. “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see them as illegitimate too.”

Alarmingly, the Oath Keepers, which boasts more than 28,000 heavily armed members, is but one of dozens of popular right-wing militia in the United States today, with many or most identifying Trump’s political opponents and critics to be enemies of the state.

When Trump warned of “migrant caravans” headed towards the country’s southern border, the Oath Keepers and another militia group called the Minuteman Project mobilised members to participate in an “urgent call for Texas border observation duty”. 

Mary B. McCord, a former Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the US Department of Justice, writes: “Now that the President has invoked the idea of civil war, there is a risk that armed groups will take heed of this language too, whenever the President suggests that it is time.”

Whatever happens in the next 12 months leading to the 2020 presidential election, the headline-grabbing events of the past week – including attacks on migrants, right-wing terror plots against synagogues, black churches and mosques, and warnings of civil war – threaten to be a glimpse of the terrifying future which awaits.


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