With rhetoric about violence, GOP dips toes in dangerous waters

Gun Rights

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries published a simple message to Twitter on Monday, which ideally wouldn’t have been necessary. “Political violence has no place in a democratic society,” the New York Democrat wrote. “Those who promote it are not strong. It’s a sign of weakness.”

Unfortunately, Jeffries’ message was far from a random observation. The Democratic leader almost certainly felt compelled to write the missive because of what he and the rest of the political world have heard in recent days from a variety of Republican voices. The New York Times reported:

The federal indictment of former President Donald J. Trump has unleashed a wave of calls by his supporters for violence and an uprising to defend him, disturbing observers and raising concerns of a dangerous atmosphere ahead of his court appearance in Miami on Tuesday. In social media posts and public remarks, close allies of Mr. Trump — including a member of Congress — have portrayed the indictment as an act of war, called for retribution and highlighted the fact that much of his base carries weapons.

On Friday morning — after the former president announced his indictment, but before the document itself was unsealed — NBC News reported that “some users on fringe and pro-Trump internet message boards have posted some violent rhetoric in response to his indictment,” according to research from a non-profit organization called Advance Democracy Inc.

It wasn’t long, however, before the focus shifted from the online fringe to more prominent voices on the right.

Rep. Clay Higgins helped get the ball rolling with an online message published on Thursday night, after Trump broke the news. “President Trump said he has ‘been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM,’” the Louisiana Republican wrote. “This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors. Hold. rPOTUS has this. Buckle up. 1/50K know your bridges. Rock steady calm. That is all.”

Multiple observers raised concerns that the far-right congressman was pushing the envelope in needlessly provocative ways — one House Democrat said law enforcement needed to be aware of Higgins’ rhetoric — and my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained, “Experts who specialize in extremism decoded Higgins’ latest tweet and noted that it resembles language that armed forces tend to use in wartime.”

The Louisianan ultimately issued a clarification of sorts, though it’s impossible to know how many on the right saw the first message and not the second.

Higgins wasn’t alone. On Friday afternoon, far-right Rep. Andy Biggs said the indictment meant that the United States has reached “a war phase.” The Arizona Republican’s spokesperson soon after said he wasn’t being literal.

Speaking of Arizona, failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was even less subtle on Friday night. “I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland and Jack Smith and Joe Biden — and the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up as well, this one is for you,” the Republican said. “If you want to get to President Trump, you are going to have go through me, and you are going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA.”

Lake added to applause, “That’s not a threat; that’s a public service announcement.”

The Times’ report went on to note, “Experts on political violence warn that attacks against people or institutions become more likely when elected officials or prominent media figures are able to issue threats or calls for violence with impunity.”

If there are any lingering doubts about that, see Jan. 6, 2021.

To be sure, we’re on familiar ground. Around the time of Trump’s first indictment, the Republican suggested his followers should take to the streets to express their outrage, and there were fears about possible political violence. Such concerns quickly evaporated: The former president’s calls for protests were largely ignored. To date, the charges in New York have not sparked any attacks.

But the absence of violence in one instance hardly guarantees that another instance will be equally serene.

Trump has already encouraged his followers to assemble in Miami tomorrow, and a Washington Post report noted, “Federal and local authorities on Sunday amped up security preparations ahead of Donald Trump’s first appearance in federal court on criminal charges here, monitoring online threats and potential gatherings of far-right extremists while marshaling more police officers to be on duty.”

The article added, “Authorities were monitoring plans for pro-Trump rallies in Miami, including one outside the federal courthouse on Tuesday purportedly organized by a local chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, some leaders of which were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

In the first 2020 presidential debate, the then-president told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” briefly jolting American politics and sparking celebrations among extremists.

Watch this space.

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