The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Don’t ignore the danger signs presented by Donald Trump’s militant supporters

Then-presidential nominee Donald Trump made a controversial comment about rival Hillary Clinton during a rally in Wilmington, N.C., on Aug. 9, 2016. (Video: The Washington Post)
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“Lighting a fuse for rebellion on the right: Loose alliances of protesters join under tea party umbrella,” front page article in the New York Times on Feb. 16, 2010.

“Trump backers see revolution if Clinton wins: Dark fears and talk of a stolen election,” front page article in the New York Times on Oct. 28, 2016.

What those two stories have in common is that they are historical bookends. The former sounded an alarm. The latter is the result of an alarm ignored. We cannot afford to make that mistake again with a threat to democracy like Donald Trump on the ballot.

The 2010 Times story was about how the legitimate concerns of folks feeling “taxed enough already” and suffering severe economic hardship in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse were being co-opted by the likes of birthers and other conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. One passage of note highlighted the concern of Tony Stewart, a civil rights activist in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, whose work helped bankrupt the Aryan Nations through a 2000 lawsuit.

When the Tea Party uprising gathered force last spring, Mr. Stewart saw painfully familiar cultural and rhetorical overtones. Mr. Stewart viewed the questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace as a proxy for racism, and he was bothered by the “common message of intolerance for the opposition.”
“It’s either you’re with us or you’re the enemy,” he said.
Mr. Stewart heard similar concerns from other civil rights activists around the country. They could not help but wonder why the explosion of conservative anger coincided with a series of violent acts by right wing extremists. In the Inland Northwest there had been a puzzling return of racist rhetoric and violence.
Mr. Stewart said it would be unfair to attribute any of these incidents to the Tea Party movement. “We don’t have any evidence they are connected,” he said.
Still, he sees troubling parallels. Branding Mr. Obama a tyrant, Mr. Stewart said, constructs a logic that could be used to rationalize violence. “When people start wearing guns to rallies, what’s the next thing that happens?” Mr. Stewart asked.

The Times report also featured a quote from a “multiracial” woman from Coeur d’Alene named Rachel Dolezal, then the curator of the Human Rights Education Institute, discussing tea party rallies in her area. “To her,” the Times reported, “what stands out are the all-white crowds, the crude depictions of Mr. Obama as an African witch doctor and the signs labeling him a terrorist. ‘It would make me nervous to be there unless I went with a big group,’ she said.”

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[The damage Rachel Dolezal has done]

The grass-roots energy the tea party provided the Republican Party turned into political power with the GOP takeover of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. The burn-this-mutha-down ethos the new members brought with them led to a flirtation with federal default in 2011, a government shutdown in 2013 and the 2015 retirement of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the then-beleaguered speaker of the House who tired of riding the tiger — which devoured the GOP through the nomination of Donald Trump for president in 2016. And now, Trump is the reckless human wrecking ball laying waste to the American and global establishment.

With Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynistic campaign for the White House, the fringe became mainstream. Stephen Bannon, his campaign chairman, gave the white supremacy of the so-called alt-right movement a home on Breitbart.com. “Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told conspiracy theorist Jones when he appeared on his radio show last December. “I will not let you down.”

By then, the king of the racist birther movement was already championing immoral and unconstitutional policies. Things like deportation of undocumented immigrants and their American-born children or a proposed ban on Muslims from entering the United States. And Trump threatens to upend the world order with loose talk about nuclear weapons and not honoring U.S. commitments to NATO.

[A scary Tea Party]

Six years after the alarm was sounded, we are a week away from a presidential election where an extremist candidate vows to jail Hillary Clinton, revels in chants of “lock her up” at his rallies, talks incessantly about the election being “rigged” and undermines the foundation of the Constitution by casting doubt on whether he will accept the election results, leading to threats of revolution by Trump’s supporters if he loses to Clinton.

Jared Halbrook of Wisconsin told the Times that a Clinton victory would cause folks to “march on the capitols” and “to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there.” He added ominously, “If push comes to shove [and Clinton] has to go by any means necessary, it will be done.”

Paul Swick warned against Clinton trying to take his guns. Not that she has advocated doing so. “If she comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road,” Swick told the Times. “I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won’t hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But sometimes reformation comes through bloodshed.”

[Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy]

It would be unfair to say that these revolutionary sentiments reflect all or a majority of Trump’s supporters. One can be mad as hell at Washington and want to blow things up without actually taking up arms. But we must not ignore the clear warning signs. Republicans turned a blind eye to the extremists glomming onto the tea party six years ago only to watch them take over their party. The nation must not repeat that mistake now. #staywoke

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

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MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

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