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Werleman’s Worldview: The New Age of Political Violence in America

The reaction of Donald Trump, Republican politicians and right-wing commentators to the FBI’s recent raid on the former president’s Florida home signals a crisis for the US, says CJ Werleman

Donald Trump Leaves Trump Tower in New York on 10 August 2022. Photo: Zuma/Alamy

WERLEMAN’S WORLDVIEWThe New Age of Political Violence in America

The reaction of Donald Trump, Republican politicians and right-wing commentators to the FBI’s recent raid on the former president’s Florida home signals a crisis for the US, says CJ Werleman

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One week after the FBI executed a search warrant on Donald Trump’s residence in Florida, the former US President appeared on Fox News to deliver a thinly-veiled threat against the US Department of Justice.

“People are so angry at what is taking place,” he warned. “The temperature has to be brought down.”

Trump made the statements amid a surge of threats against the country’s top law enforcement agency. Reading between the lines, he was suggesting that the same violent forces that attacked the US Capitol 18 month ago could turn their attention to the Federal Government should the Department of Justice continue to investigate him, along with his family and cronies.

Welcome to the new age of political violence in America.

While Trump has broken too many established political norms to count, he has firmly entrenched one – the normalisation of violence as a tool to achieve political ends.

He has been connected to more than 50 violent attacks across the country, according to a report by ABC News, and his campaign rallies have always been an “incubation ground for violence”, where he peppers threats against his political opponents with threats of physical harm.

We can no longer view the January 6 attacks as an isolated incident, but as the opening salvo of a protracted right-wing insurgency against the United States.

Last week, a Trump supporter and former US Navy veteran was killed when he tried to attack the Cincinnati FBI office. On Monday, a Trump diehard was arrested for threatening to “slaughter” federal agents, whom he called “police state scum”.

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On Friday, a mob of heavily-armed Trump supporters protested outside the FBI’s office in Phoenix, Arizona, with some holding signs reading: “Honour your oath: Arrest all traitors.” That same day, both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned their respective law enforcement officials that threats are being made “primarily online and across multiple platforms, including social media sites, web forums, video sharing platforms, and image boards”, according to CBS News.

These pro-Trump loyalists are only playing out what Trump and influential right-wing media personalities are pushing online and into conservative media outlets.

On the day the FBI executed its search warrant at Trump’s Mar-A-Largo resort, calls for civil war were overt and widespread – not only from fringe figures on the right but also from elected Republican law-makers.

“These are the types of things that happen in countries during civil war,” tweeted Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon called the FBI the “Gestapo”, while declaring “we’re at war!” 

Florida Governor Rick DeSantis, who is widely considered a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, referred to the US Federal Government as an illegitimate or foreign “regime” that’s being “weaponised” against its “political adversaries”. 

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland via Twitter, warning him to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” because Republicans will come for him if they retake the House of Representations in the November midterm elections. This is the highest-ranking Republican in Congress defying his constitutional oath in order to protect Trump – no matter the evidence against him. This is the promise of political war against all perceived and imagined enemies of the former president.

When the Attorney General called Trump out to make the warrant public, Trump released it to right-wing media outlet Breitbart without redacting the names of the FBI agents who executed the search warrant – which served no other purpose other than “opening them up to threats and harassment”, observes former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. This is exactly what happened after their identities were revealed.

Details of the FBI agents are now circulating among pro-Trump social media accounts, with many vowing acts of violent retribution against them and their families.

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The US is now faced with an increasingly grim reality – that millions of Americans are now willing to threaten violence, and even kill and die, for a failed president. A failed president who faces the very real prospect of prison time for espionage, mishandling classified material, inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and seditious conspiracy.

But it doesn’t matter to Trump loyalists whether he’s charged with a crime. Neither the law or democratic institutions hold much importance to those who are willing to take up arms or support violence against the former president’s enemies. Because “he has done things for such people that no one else could do,” observes Tom Nichols in The Atlantic. “He has made their lives interesting. He has made them feel important.”

“He has taken their itching frustrations about the unfairness of life and created a morality play around them and cast himself as the central character,” Nichols writes. “Trump, to his supporters, is the avenging angel who is going to lay waste to the ‘elites’, the smarty-pantses and do-gooders, the godless and the smug, the satisfied and the comfortable.”

Civil war, at least in the abstract, is exactly what they want – and many Americans believe they will get it, according to a recent poll conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School, which found that one-third of surveyed Americans aged 16 to 30 expect there to be ‘a civil war’ within their lifetimes, with roughly 25% believing at least one US state will secede from the Union.

The only thing that might hold the Union together is for the law to finally catch up with the man who has already done so much to tear it apart: Donald J. Trump.

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