Trump’s Ability to Ignite a Vengeful Civil War Should Not Be Underestimated
CJ Werleman documents the violence which Trump supporters have already perpetrated around the 2020 Presidential Election and warns that the very real threat from right-wing terrorism is likely to be exploited by the President
Back in August, writing for Byline Times, I warned that US President Donald Trump would likely refuse to accept the will of American voter and declare that the 2020 Presidential Election to be rigged. This is exactly what has transpired since Joe Biden was declared America’s new President-Elect on Sunday.
I not only made a prediction about Trump’s post-election behaviour, but also that of his most ardent supporters, arguing that Trump’s refusal to concede defeat would incite and invite street-level violence and right-wing terrorism – a prediction shared by the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group comprising Republican and Democrat Party operatives and former government and military officials who secretly gathered earlier in the year to ‘game-out’ the aftermath of a contested election.
Despite Trump’s best efforts to nullify and overturn the will of the American people by spreading baseless conspiracies, firing critics within his own Government, intimidating elected Republican law-makers and filing a thousand lawsuits, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Biden won’t be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on 20 January 2021 – a view shared by the Attorney General for Pennsylvania, the state at the centre of Trump’s ‘Hail Mary’ ploy, who told The Washington Post that “there’s no legal mechanism” available for Trump or the GOP “to act alone and appoint electors. None”.
Even iconic Republican Party strategist Karl Rove, a man once dubbed “George W. Bush’s brain”, has said that the election result won’t be overturned and that “recounts occasionally change margins in the hundreds, never in the thousands”.
Then there’s the fact that election officials from both parties in every state have told The New York Times and other outlets that they have seen no evidence of voter fraud whatsoever, including Arizona’s Republican Attorney General who told Fox Business Network on Thursday that “there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change”.
It would appear that the willingness of the Republican Party leadership to ride the Trump train to its inevitable final destination is driven almost exclusively by its opportunistic motive to channel Trump voter anger into the coming Georgia Senate run-off elections to be held on 5 January.
Ultimately, the good news is that Trump will be removed from the White House on, or before, Inauguration Day. The bad news is that Biden will be faced with a country in which 75% of the more than 70 million who voted for Trump are left believing that the election was stolen from their beloved leader by a ‘deep state coup’, ‘liberal media plot’ or whatever.
With such a level of misguided and imagined grievance percolating in cities and towns across the country, it is reasonable to conclude that America is perched on a box of dynamite – with the most destructive President in history holding a lit match.
Consider the following:
3 November: A mob of furious Trump supporters surrounded and attacked a 20-year-old woman from Bakersfield, California, and spray-painted her car in a Starbucks car park.
4 November: Hundreds of Trump supporters, many of whom were armed, gathered outside the ballot counting centre in Maricopa, Arizona, forcing authorities to close the count of voters early and provide a police escort for election volunteers, so that they could return home safely.
5 November: The FBI arrested two men, both QAnon conspiracy theorists, for plotting to carry out an attack on the Philadelphia Convention Center, where votes were being counted on Election Day. The men also reportedly had an “AR-15 style weapon” in their truck, along with “approximately 160 rounds of ammunition”.
6 November: A Trump supporter was arrested in Los Angeles after threatening to avenge his defeat by doing “like a school shooter… If I go to hell I’m taking these motherf***ers with me”.
7 November: A Trump supporter was charged for storming a pro-Biden rally and assaulting a man in California.
7 November: The Proud Boys leader and other violent right-wing groups declared that Trump’s “stand-by order has been rescinded”, threatening violence against pro-Biden protestors.
9 November: A Republican City Commissioner in Philadelphia received dozens of death threats from Trump supporters after telling 60 Minutes that he had seen no evidence of election fraud.
9 November: Facebook banned pro-Trump group, Stop the Steal, after a number of the page’s members threatened to avenge Trump’s defeat with violence, with one post warning that it is “time to clean the guns, time to hit the streets”.
10 November: A Trump supporter in Minnesota was charged with assault after attacking an elderly couple with a golf club over their Biden-Harris 2020 lawn sign.
The above is a small sample of the unrest and agitation Trump’s claims of a stolen election are inciting around the country, but it is important to bear in mind that the FBI has warned that violent right-wing extremists post the biggest threat of “lethal violence” around the election, and that a recent nationwide review conducted by ABC News identified at least 54 criminal cases in which the perpetrator invoked Trump during their act of violence.
It is also worth remembering that a 19-year-old Trump supporter was arrested two weeks ago with a van full of guns, ammunition and explosives to carry out an assassination attempt on Joe Biden.
A recent poll found that nearly three-thirds of Americans described themselves as concerned or very concerned about post-election violence. This is with good reason, given that Trump has tacitly and implicitly encouraged violence against his critics and opponents and that violent right-wing extremists are responsible for nearly 100% of all terrorist attacks on US soil during the past two years – with more than half targeted at anti-Trump protestors.
Trump-supporting militias and armed groups scattered across the country are already threatening a “hot Civil War”.
While Hollywood actor Jon Voight, the father of Angelina Jolie, doesn’t speak for all Trump supporters, he accurately channelled their mood and Id in a self-produced video he posted on Twitter on Wednesday, in which he claimed that “leftists are evil, corrupt, and they want to tear down this nation”. He said Democrats have no idea of “the horror they will be in for” and described the conflict ahead as “the battle of the righteousness versus Satan”.
Most civil war or inter-group conflicts are fuelled by fears that one group poses an existential threat to the other. But, more importantly, as noted by social psychologists at the University of Massachusetts, “existential threat is a perceptual phenomenon”, meaning that the threat only has to be perceived or imagined for someone to experience a sense of existential threat.
The longer Trump drags the country through the muck and mire, convincing millions more that his defeat represents an attack against America and therefore Americans themselves, the greater the number his supporters will radicalise into violence – an expectation built on the premise that all terrorist ideologies are rooted in out-group targeted grievance.
How long before the US experiences its next catastrophic politically-motivated mass casualty attack or assassination, similar to the recent failed plot against the Democratic Governor of Michigan?
Biden’s victory may have restored hope, but Trump’s appetite for vengeance hangs like a dark and stormy cloud over America.