The Dangerous Extremists We’re Facing, Part 1

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post summarizes the Republican Party’s “violence problem”:

. . . Let’s take a quick tour around the day’s news.

In new audio released by . . .  ABC News, D____ T____ is asked about his supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” on Jan. 6 as they rampaged through the Capitol in search of the vice president. T____ was unconcerned, both because he thought Pence was “well-protected” and because the protesters were justified in their rage: “It’s common sense” that Pence should have attempted to overturn the results of the election so T____ could remain president, he said, so the rioters’ pursuit of Pence was understandable. . . . .

In other news, members of the House are debating what to do about Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who recently tweeted an animated video in which he is depicted killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Gosar’s defense is that the video was merely a symbolic representation “of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies.”

Meanwhile, in Kenosha, Wis., the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who became a hero of the right after he went to a protest with an AR-15-style rifle and killed two people, is nearing its end.

And if you’re a Republican who does so much as vote for a bipartisan bill to bring infrastructure spending to your district, you can expect death threats. The quickest way for Republican candidates to demonstrate their bona fides is by shooting guns in an ad.

The thread running through all these events and controversies is the belief that liberals are so wicked that violence and the threat of violence are reasonable responses to the possibility of them getting their way. Right along with that belief is a fantasy, that of a man (almost always a man) who rather than being an ordinary schlub at the mercy of a world in which he has no power is actually bursting with testosterone and potency, someone who can and perhaps should become a killing machine.

That’s the story of the Jan. 6 rioters, who believed they could break down doors and smash windows and the American system of government would bend to their will.

It’s Rittenhouse’s story, too: When you go to a protest with a rifle, you’ve cast yourself as a potential killer in a righteous cause, and a killer was what he became. He’s now being cheered on by all those who stockpile weapons and say our country is headed for a civil war.

And, of course, no one embodies that fantasy more than T____ himself. He may be a corpulent senior citizen who dodged the draft, but in his own mind he’s Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne, just waiting for the opportunity to display his deadly skills and save the day. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., he mused that had he been on the scene, “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” so brave and capable is he.

His most ardent supporters absolutely love that fantasy of T____ as someone who dishes out violence to their enemies. Check out the wares sold outside his rallies, and you’ll see him transformed on T-shirts and posters into a muscle-bound warrior wielding a rifle . . . 

There are moments when Republican politicians grow a bit uneasy at their supporters’ thirst for violence, particularly when it’s aimed at them. After Jan. 6, one Republican member of Congress wrote about a colleague who voted to overturn the election because they “feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in,” if they didn’t give in to the mob. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania state Senate said last December that if she didn’t support T____’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

But before the threats turn back on them, Republicans encourage those violent impulses and apocalyptic beliefs, figuring that they can be exploited without spinning out of control. Are local election officials and school board members being driven from their jobs by death threats? If it means they’ll be replaced by conspiracy theorists, Republicans are happy to watch it happen. . . . 


The New York Times has a report on the same topic. Some selections:

At a conservative rally in western Idaho last month, a young man stepped up to a microphone to ask when he could start killing Democrats. “When do we get to use the guns?” he said as the audience applauded. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a “fair” question.

In Ohio, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for Senate blasted out a video urging Republicans to resist the “tyranny” of a federal government that pushed them to wear masks and take F.D.A.-authorized vaccines. “When the Gestapo show up at your front door,” the candidate, Josh Mandel, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, said in the video in September, “you know what to do.”

 . . . School board members and public health officials have faced a wave of threats, prompting hundreds to leave their posts. A recent investigation by Reuters documented nearly 800 intimidating messages to election officials in 12 states. And threats against members of Congress have jumped by 107 percent compared with the same period in 2020, according to the Capitol Police

. . . Historians and those who study democracy say what has changed [in recent years] has been the embrace of violent speech by a sizable portion of one party, including some of its loudest voices inside government and most influential voices outside. In effect, they warn, the Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool. . . . 

Even with the former president largely out of the public eye and after a deadly attack on the Capitol where rioters tried to overturn the presidential election, the Republican acceptance of violence has only spread. Polling indicates that 30 percent of Republicans, and 40 percent of people who “most trust” far-right news sources, believe that “true patriots” may have to resort to violence to “save” the country — a statement that gets far less support among Democrats and independents.

Such views, routinely expressed in warlike or revolutionary terms, are often intertwined with white racial resentments and evangelical Christian religious fervor . . . as the most animated Republican voters increasingly see themselves as participants in a struggle, if not a kind of holy war, to preserve their idea of American culture and their place in society.

Notably few Republican leaders have spoken out against violent language or behavior since Jan. 6, suggesting with their silent acquiescence that doing so would put them at odds with a significant share of their party’s voters. . . .  The ranking Republican lawmakers, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


If that weren’t enough, the Times points out that the former president, who’s been accused of rape more than once, has endorsed several Republican candidates accused of domestic violence. Herschel Walker, running for the Senate in Georgia, “is accused of repeatedly threatening his ex-wife’s life”; Max Miller, running for congress in Ohio, “faces allegations of violence from his ex-girlfriend”; and Sean Parnell, a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, has been accused by his “estranged wife . . .  of choking her and physically harming their children”.

This is today’s Republican Party.