Violent rhetoric from Trump supporters in his defense disturbs experts

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona) at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona) at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

The federal indictment of former President Donald Trump has sparked calls from his supporters for violence and an uprising in his defense, unnerving observers and raising fears of a dangerous atmosphere ahead of his Miami court appearance on Tuesday. .

In social media posts and public remarks, close Trump allies — including a congressman — described the indictment as an act of war, called for retaliation and pointed to the fact that a much of its base bears arms. Allies have painted Trump as a victim of an armed Justice Department controlled by President Joe Biden, his potential challenger in the 2024 election.

The calls to action and threats were amplified on right-wing media sites and were met with supportive responses from social media users and cheers from the crowds, which were conditioned for several years by Trump and his allies to see every effort to hold him back. responsible for attacks on him.

Sign up for The Morning of the New York Times newsletter

Political violence experts warn that attacks on individuals or institutions become more likely when elected officials or prominent media figures are able to issue threats or calls for violence with impunity. The pro-Trump crowd that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was drawn to Washington in part by a Twitter post from Trump weeks earlier, promising he would be “wild.”

The former president alerted the public to the indictment Thursday night in posts on his social media platform, attacking the Justice Department and calling the case ‘THE BIGGEST WITCH HUNT EVER. “.

“An eye for an eye,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, wrote in a Twitter post Friday. His warning came shortly before special counsel handling the case, Jack Smith, addressed the public for the first time since taking over the investigation into Trump’s withholding of classified documents.

On Instagram, the fiancée of Trump’s eldest son, Kimberly Guilfoyle, posted a photo of the former president with the words “Retribution Is Coming” in capital letters.

In Georgia at the Republican state convention, Kari Lake, who refused to concede the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election and is a staunch Trump supporter, pointed out that many Trump supporters possess firearms.

“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland, Jack Smith and Joe Biden – and the guys out there in fake media you should listen too, this one’s for you,” Lake said. “If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans like me. And I’ll tell you, most of us are NRA cardholders.

The crowd cheered.

Lake added, “It’s not a threat, it’s a public service announcement.”

Political violence experts say that while aggressive language from prominent individuals does not directly end in physical harm, it does create a dangerous atmosphere in which the idea of ​​violence becomes more accepted, especially if such rhetoric is n is not controlled.

“So far, politicians who have used this rhetoric to incite people to violence have not been held accountable,” said Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department official who has studied links between extremist rhetoric and violence. “Until that happens, there is little deterrence to using this type of language.

The language used by some right-wing media figures was more austere.

On Pete Santilli’s talk show, the conservative provocateur said if he was the commandant of the Marine Corps, he would order ‘every Marine’ to catch Biden, ‘throw him in zip ties at the back of a ruined van”. and “get him out of the White House.”

One of his guests, Lance Migliaccio, said if it was legal and he had access to it, he would “probably come in and shoot” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and someone Trump has identified as one of his enemies.

So far, reactions from Trump supporters have been more intense and explicit than those expressed after Trump was indicted in a separate case by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in late March.

Shortly before that indictment, Trump posted a post on Truth Social, his social media platform, which included a photo of him holding a baseball bat to one side and Bragg in an adjacent photo. Dueling crowds of pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters appeared in lower Manhattan when Trump was arraigned there in April.

On Saturday, in his first public remarks since the last indictment for seven counts related to withholding classified documents and attempting to obstruct justice, Trump attacked those investigating him as being engaged in a “insane persecution”.

The FBI has been the target of much criticism from far-right Republican lawmakers and supporters of the former president. In the wake of heated partisanship, FBI field offices report all threats related to their personnel or facilities to Washington headquarters, in an unusual move. A law enforcement familiar with the decision said the FBI was trying to rein in the number of threats across the country directed at the agency.

Despite all the security precautions taken for Trump’s appearance on Tuesday, security experts said the rhetoric and ensuing threats were unlikely to subside and would likely become more pronounced as the case progressed and the 2024 elections are approaching.

“Rhetoric like this has consequences,” said Timothy J. Heaphy, the lead investigator for the House Select Committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Trump’s efforts to stay away. the White House after his presidency. “People we interviewed for the Jan. 6 survey said they came to the Capitol because politicians and the president told them to be there. Politicians think that when they say things it’s just rhetoric, but people listen to them and take them seriously. In this climate, politicians need to realize this and be more accountable.

On Instagram on Saturday morning, Trump posted a mashup video of himself swinging a golf club on the course and an animation of a golf ball hitting Biden in the head, superimposed over footage of Biden falling at an event. public in recent days after tripping. something on stage.

It was not the first time that right-wing figures have issued calls for war or violence in support of the former president, or the first time that Trump has appeared to call on his supporters to rally on his behalf.

In the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol, the idea that a civil war was approaching was widespread in right-wing circles. Extremist leaders like Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militia, and Enrique Tarrio, president of the Proud Boys, often rallied their groups with inflammatory references to the cleansing violence of the American Revolution. Both men were convicted of sedition in connection with the attack on the Capitol.

More broadly, on far-right websites, people shared tactics and techniques for attacking the building and discussed building gallows and trapping legislators in tunnels.

The recent outburst of warrior language in response to Trump’s indictment echoed what transpired among Republican officials and media figures last summer after the FBI searched Mar-a- Lago, the private club and residence of Trump in Florida, as part of the investigation of the documents and transported away approximately 100 classified documents.

“This. Means. War,” The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote at the time, setting the tone for others. Hours later, Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed House candidate in the state of Washington, took part in a podcast led by Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former political adviser, and said, “This shows everyone what a lot of us have been saying for a very long time. . We’re at war.”

Indeed, days after the heated language that followed the Mar-a-Lago raid, an Ohio man armed with a semi-automatic rifle attempted to break into the FBI’s field office near Cincinnati and was killed in a shootout with local police.

circa 2023 The New York Times Society

Leave a Comment