In hindsight, I suppose it was obvious the 2016 election would wrap up with something like this:
On November 8th, I'm voting for Trump.
On November 9th, if Trump loses, I'm grabbing my musket.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) October 26, 2016
That's Joe Walsh, a Republican former one-term congressman from Illinois, appearing to urge his followers to take some sort of weapon-related action the day after Donald Trump loses.
Walsh later told NBC Chicago he was referring to “civil disobedience.” But it's hard to see how he meant it that way, given that the very term “civil disobedience” carries the connotation of nonviolence, and Walsh specifically mentioned he'd be grabbing a musket. Then there's the source himself, who has a history of inflammatory comments, often tinged with violence and racial hatred: After the Dallas police shooting, he promised “war” and told President Obama to “watch out.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) July 8, 2016
But this story isn't just about Walsh. His “musket” comments are a familiar undercurrent among some Trump supporters, and even Trump himself: Raise the possibility of violence if they don't win.
Now that it's looking like a Trump win is unlikely, you could argue that his supporters are following those conversations to their logical conclusion. You could also argue that Trump is feeding this narrative with his frequent proclamations that the election is “rigged." If you are among the 84 percent or so of Trump supporters who believe that is a legitimate issue, then it's an easy step from there to assume the riggers will have what's coming to them. (The presidential election is not rigged.)
Which all means that with 12 days left, we've come to this: The Trump campaign's long-running habit of talking about violence in the context of elections is suddenly mainstream.
For evidence, we point you to an extraordinary New York Times article out Wednesday. (You should definitely click over and read the whole thing.) Basically, reporters spoke to Trump supporters in six states and found that the conversation of guns and violence was everywhere:
- Jared Halbrook, a 25-year-old from Wisconsin worried that a stolen election by Hillary Clinton could lead to “another Revolutionary War.”
- Here's 75-year-old Roger Pillath: “I’m looking at revolution right now.”
- And 42-year-old Paul Swick, who estimated he owns “north of 30" guns, said: “If [Clinton] comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road.... “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.”
Trump himself has done little to dispel this notion of bloodshed. He has arguably even exacerbated it. As I wrote earlier this month:
No presidential candidate in modern history has driven the conversation about guns and voting as far as Donald Trump has. He's suggested “Second Amendment people” may be the only check on Hillary Clinton's ability to appoint a Supreme Court nominee, he's boasted he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing voters.
The presidential campaign has been nasty on both sides. But Trump's eyebrow-raising rhetoric when it comes to guns stands out. It's part of the reason some election officials in swing states are suddenly fretting that their states allow guns in polling places. (Most states don't have laws about guns in polling places.)
Most of the Trump supporters' conversations with the New York Times were in the context of them feeling threatened — whether by a Democratic president taking their guns, or by a “rigged” election, or by race- or politics-related violence coming to their doorstep. Walsh's tweet definitely stands out for his seemingly unprovoked call to arms.
But it is one prominent and forceful example of an undercurrent that is becoming visible among some Trump supporters about the possibility of violence on or shortly after Election Day.
With less than two weeks to go, that's the prism through which some Americans are viewing this election. And looking back, it's fairly easy to see how we got here.