Robert Reich
The Coffee Klatch with Robert Reich
The Trump Republican violence machine

The Trump Republican violence machine

Why have violent attacks and threats of violence escalated across America?

Among the many ironies and hypocrisies leading up to the 2022 midterms, one deserving special mention is Trump’s and the GOP’s unremitting claim that America has become more violent and dangerous under Biden and the Democrats.

“Our country is now a cesspool of crime,” Trump said in a recent speech to the America First Policy Institute. “We have blood, death, and suffering on a scale once unthinkable because of the Democrat Party’s effort to destroy and dismantle law enforcement all throughout America.”

The truth is that although Americans experience far more gun violence than the inhabitants of other advanced nations, that’s largely because of widespread gun ownership — championed, encouraged, and defended by Republican lawmakers.

As to recent violence, shootings are down 4 percent this year compared to the same time last year. In big cities, murders are down 3 percent. If the decrease in murders continues for the rest of 2022, it will be the first year since 2018 in which they fell in the U.S.

The larger threat of violence is coming from Trump Republicans whose incendiary statements are fueling violence and threats of violence across America. In the year and a half since a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, such threats and attacks have escalated.

Yesterday, a federal jury found Barry Croft and Adam Fox guilty in a plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer at her summer home and to blow up a bridge that would stop rescuers from reaching her. They hoped to spark a second American Revolution. 

The Trump Republican violence machine is affecting — and sometimes intimidating —  election workers, flight attendants, school board officials, librarians, members of the Biden administration, and members of Congress.

In Houston, a former Marine stepped down as the grand marshal of a July 4 parade after a deluge of threats that focused on her support of transgender rights. A few weeks later, the gay mayor of an Oklahoma city quit his job after what he described as a series of “threats and attacks bordering on violence.” His tires were slashed, he was harassed by residents at a council meeting, and followed near his home. “I was afraid what would they do next if I don’t step down.”

As I mentioned yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci and his family have received credible death threats and required a security detail. In December, authorities in Iowa arrested a California man with an assault rifle and ammunition, and a “hit list” that named Dr. Fauci and Joe Biden, among others. Congresswoman Liz Cheney has also received credible death threats, and also has a security detail.

Threats have been issued against the federal judge who authorized the warrant to search for classified material at Mar-a-Lago, and against his family.

(In that search, F.B.I. agents carted away boxes of highly sensitive documents.)

During that search — from which F.B.I. agents carted away boxes of highly sensitive material — Trump described his home as “under siege.” In the wake of the search, Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social, erupted in calls for violence. Twitter saw a tenfold increase in posts mentioning “civil war” (according to Dataminr, a tool that analyzes Twitter data). There was also a spike in social media users calling for “violence toward law enforcement,” as Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Stephen Lynch, chairman of its National Security Subcommittee, noted in a letter last week to eight social media companies.

Republican lawmakers have fueled the fire. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, has accused the Justice Department of being “weaponized” against Trump. Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, have drawn comparisons between the F.B.I. and the Nazi secret police. Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed House candidate in Washington State, charged (on a podcast run by Stephen Bannon) that “we’re at war.” Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, declared: “These tyrants will stop at nothing to silence the patriots who are working hard to save America,” adding that, “if we accept it, America is dead.”

The incendiary talk has led to violence. On August 11, a Trump supporter identified as Ricky W. Shiffer mounted an armed attack on an F.B.I. office in Ohio, and was killed. According to a subsequent review of his social media posts, Shiffer was incensed about the search at Mar-a-Lago and wanted revenge.

Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who studies political violence, has conducted half a dozen nationwide polls since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and repeatedly found that between 15 million and 20 million American adults believe that violence would be justified to return Trump to office.

Trump’s claim that America has become more violent and dangerous over the last year and a half is true. But this is not because of Biden and the Democrats. It is largely because of Trump — and the Republican violence machine he has created.

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