Many Americans are terrified of what would happen if Donald Trump won a second term in office. But perhaps we should be nearly as scared of what will happen if he loses in November.

More specifically, a victory by Democrats at the federal and state level could produce a backlash in which Trump’s fervent supporters, not to mention those on the far-right fringe, conclude that the ordinary avenues to political influence are hopelessly corrupted and therefore other, more radical means must be employed.

We may be getting a small window into how things could devolve in that direction in Virginia, a perfect place to witness how frustration at the loss of power can manifest itself in disturbing and even dangerous ways.

The state was long a conservative bastion (even if it sometimes elected Democratic governors). But in recent years, an influx of immigrants and the growth of urban and suburban areas in the northern part of the state — particularly the suburbs around D.C. — turned it from red to purple to blue, an evolution that culminated in the Democratic takeover of the state legislature this past November.

Now, that Democratic-led government is considering a raft of progressive legislation, including measures to curb the proliferation of guns. The reaction from pro-gun forces inside and outside the state, already intense, may be growing volatile:

Gun rights advocates and militia members from around the country are urging thousands of armed protesters to descend on Virginia's capital later this month to stop newly empowered Democrats from passing gun-control bills.
What began as a handful of rural Virginia counties declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” has jumped the state’s borders and become an Internet phenomenon. Far-right websites and commenters are declaring that Virginia is the place to take a stand against what they see as a national trend of weakening gun rights. [...]
And so a Nevada-based group called the Oath Keepers said it’s sending training teams to help form posses and militia in Virginia. The leader of a Georgia militia called Three Percent Security Force has posted videos and calls to arms on Facebook, urging “patriots” to converge on Richmond. The right-wing YouTuber “American Joe Show” warned without evidence that Virginia will cut the power grid to stop the army of protesters — one of a host of false and exaggerated rumors spreading online.

The Oath Keepers are just one of a number of far-right extremist groups taking an interest in Virginia’s gun laws and this protest in particular, so much so that traditional gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association seem to be growing unsettled about the image being presented by a bunch of camo-wearing cosplay warriors toting AR-15s around the capitol grounds.

For now, those extremists are only trying to intimidate people with the threat of murderous violence, not actually engaging in it (and yes, when you show up at a protest with your AR, you are most definitely threatening violence). But what will happen if 2020 sees Trump turned out of office and Democrats gain more victories on the state level?

There will certainly be a conservative backlash, a new tea party of people angered by the failure of the political system to produce the results they favor. But it will be different this time, because the president has spent years telling them that any outcome they don’t like — in particular, any victory by Democrats — is itself proof that the system is corrupt, perhaps irredeemably so.

In Trump’s formulation, it is simply impossible for Democrats to win fairly. He has warned that if he is turned out of office through impeachment, the result will be a violent revolt by his supporters — and he is most definitely not saying they’re the ones who would be in the wrong

Therefore, some will conclude, not only would a Democratic victory not need to be respected, it will be the final evidence that ordinary political action — voting, protesting, lobbying — is pointless. Furthermore, they will have convinced themselves, and Trump will have convinced them, that the results of a Democratic victory will be not merely four years of policies they don’t like, but an utter cataclysm. It will be the end of America as they know it, and for some the only appropriate response will be violence.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that this will be the thinking of your average Republican voter. But it doesn’t take a large group of extremists who decide to commit to actions that for now they are only threatening to bring us to a level of domestic right-wing terrorism we haven’t seen since the Jim Crow era.

We’re already getting used to the early hints — a mass shooting here, a mass shooting there, the inevitable discovery of online rants in which the shooter laments that the white race is being replaced and only a spasm of violence will wake America up to the crisis. But what if it were even more frequent? And what if it were not a series of lone shooters but an organized effort by militia groups, carefully planned and executed? And what if it were directed not just at random malls and synagogues but at politicians and legislatures and the government itself?

I’m not arguing that a Trump defeat will inevitably bring us to this nightmare of constant terrorism. But it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine it will.

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