Calmes: Will GOP leaders trigger more Jan. 6-style violence?

Wasn’t January 6, 2021 proof enough for Rep. “My Kevin” McCarthy and other Republican officials that words matter?

This anti-government rhetoric, echoes of Donald Trump’s grievances, and war metaphors are the triggers – no pun intended – for a small battalion of armed extremists to stand down, awaiting any perceived signal to literally go into battle for the defeated President?

That someone might get killed?

Obviously, Republicans haven’t learned that lesson.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

The only surprise bigger than news of Monday’s FBI search of Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago was the instant cars circling under what is now considered the Republican Party establishment. At least after the Capitol riot, McCarthy, Senator Lindsey Graham, and other toadylicks reprimanded Trump for his incitements before quickly backtracking. This week they went straight to boot licking.

Here’s McCarthy in a fast-off-the-block tweet this echoed Trump’s provocative charge that Democrats had “weaponized” law enforcement in an unprecedented “heist”:

“I’ve seen enough. The Justice Department has reached an intolerable state of armed politicization,” McCarthy wrote.

Reflecting on how desperate he is for Trump’s support to become speaker of the House should the Democrats lose their majority in November, he added: “If the Republicans retake the House, we will immediately oversee that department, the facts.” follow and leave no stone unturned. Attorney General Garland, save your documents and clear your calendar.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis abused the “arming of federal agencies against political opponents of the regime” by the Biden administration and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (he of the Jan. 6 fist salute to militants) required the fall, “at least”, from Atty. General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (a Trump-appointed agent). Little better than all those beatings on the chest was the virtual silence of other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a healthy political party, leaders would have stood up to Trump long ago and said stop – stop undermining our democracy and rousing the madmen. In that case, Republican officials should have urged Americans to let the rule of law take its course. They could have determined that the FBI had a search warrant that had been approved by a judge who was satisfied by the government’s evidence that there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.

would, should, could. But the Republicans didn’t and don’t do it.

The same Republican officials who for years supported, or even encouraged, the autocratic “lock ‘er up” chants are now outraged that Trump is being given the benefit of the rule of law. The leaders of the ostensible Law and Order Party, who agreed that then-President Trump was infiltrating the nation’s key law enforcement agencies, are now dutifully repeating his claims that it is Joe Biden who is politicizing the Justice Department and the FBI.

But they are strident words to many of the former president’s fanatical supporters who — thanks to Trump and other elected Republicans — believe Biden is an illegitimate president and the federal government a rogue operation. Traffic on right-wing social media pages this week has been rife with calls for “civil war” and “murders,” NBC News reported.

All Thursday I received the usual fundraising emails from Trump Inc., who are now asking for donations to fight “this INFINITE WITCH HUNT.” The emails goaded supporters, “If they’re after HIM, they REALLY want YOU.” Meanwhile, a gunman was shot dead by police Thursday after attempting to breach an FBI compound in Cincinnati.

In Florida, the judge who approved the Mar-a-Lago search warrant reportedly received violent, anti-Semitic threats from right-wing extremists. Fox News said Garland, Wray and FBI agents received more death threats than usual. And Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and vocal Trump critic, published a recording a profane, racist caller who said he and his wife and children should have their heads cut off.

Historians, political scientists and journalists studying Republican voters and far-right groups are increasingly alarmed. Kathleen Belew, historian at Northwestern University tweeted from white power groups and the militant right: “YES, they HAVE been waiting for a moment like this.”

Months before the 2020 election, Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry M. Bartels reported on a poll of Republican voters that found that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

“How concerned should we be,” he wrote of Trump at the time, “that a president who attacks “essential institutions and traditions” of democracy has found millions of supporters willing to condone major violations of democratic norms, including recourse on violence in pursuit of political goals?”

With great concern we found: Six months later, pro-Trump insurgents looted the Capitol.

Bartels and his student Nick Carnes have been studying Republicans in Congress recently, and he tells me their preliminary findings challenge the conventional wisdom that these political elites support Trump and Trumpism because of pressure from party voters. “We expect that to a surprising (and perhaps frightening) degree, they’re participating out of genuine conviction.”

Another important aspect, according to Bartels, is the importance of leadership. “Nobody has a firm grip on the destructive forces that are stirring up contemporary American democracy,” he wrote in an email. But he said Republican leaders in particular “still have a lot of leverage and bear a lot of responsibility for how these forces evolve.”

As a matter of fact. The message to these “leaders” is exactly what White House Counsel Pat Cipollone is saying said Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows 19 months ago, according to testimony by former Meadows assistant Cassidy Hutchinson, when Meadows and Trump did nothing during the hours of melee in the Capitol.

“Blood will be on your grasping hands.”

@jackiekcalmes Calmes: Will GOP leaders trigger more Jan. 6-style violence?

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