On Monday, we learned that the FBI has identified plans for pro-Trump protests on and leading up to the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, not only in D.C. but at all 50 state capitals. Then on Tuesday, HuffPost reported that Capitol Police had briefed members of Congress on multiple potential plots that could once again threaten them:
And another demonstration, which three members said was by far the most concerning plot, would involve insurrectionists forming a perimeter around the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court, and then blocking Democrats from entering the Capitol ― perhaps even killing them ― so that Republicans could take control of the government.
We don’t know how developed these plots are; it’s possible that it was just some people talking online about something they wouldn’t actually carry out. But that will not be the end of it.
Once President Trump leaves office and it becomes apparent to even his most ardent supporters that there will be no last-minute intervention to give him a second term, their rage will only increase, as will their hatred for democracy.
In the post-9/11 era, we came to think of terrorism as a threat with a kind of tangible and graspable nature. Al-Qaeda and ISIS were organizations with membership rolls, with cooks and drivers and accountants. With the creation of a comprehensive enough security apparatus, we believed, they could be held at bay and ultimately defeated.
The right-wing domestic terrorism threat, on the other hand, exists on a much more fluid spectrum. There are people who plot specific acts of violence, such as those who wanted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). There are those who indulge in violent rhetoric and may commit acts of violence when swept up in a crowd, like many who stormed the Capitol. Then there are those who promote and encourage violence even if they might not commit it themselves. Such as the president and certain members of Congress.
That’s part of what makes this threat so challenging. Law enforcement might be able to break up some cells and stop some attacks before they happen. But the insurrectionist movement overlaps with the Republican Party. And they see what happened last Wednesday not as a horror, but as a triumph.
This will be the face of the opposition to the Biden presidency, an incarnation that will make the tea party look civil and restrained. It is enraged and unhinged, consumed with lunatic conspiracy theories and, most important, utterly opposed to the fundamental precepts of a democratic system, especially the one that says sometimes your side wins and sometimes it loses.
Just as there is a spectrum of opinion within the opposition about what kind of crimes are justified, there will be a spectrum of activities it will engage in over the course of the next few years. There will be peaceful protests — angry and loud, but still peaceful. Then there will be more direct threats that don’t actually devolve into violence, as when right-wing protesters angry about public health measures entered the Michigan Capitol carrying assault-style rifles as a signal of their willingness to kill the officials who were trying to save them from a pandemic.
Then there might be more direct, organized assaults on government buildings at the federal, state and local level. Future elections could be accompanied by violence at polling places and the offices where ballots are counted. We could even see bombings and assassinations.
If I had said that a week ago, you might have thought I was being hyperbolic. But after what we saw at the Capitol, would anyone say it’s impossible?
Because the new opposition is so prominent within their party, Republicans have to find a way to deflect their own responsibility for it. Which is why their response is already following this sequence:
- Condemn the violence itself
- Sympathize and justify the sentiments that produced the violence
- Blame Democrats for everything
Throughout the Trump presidency, the abuser’s trope of victim-blaming (“Look what you made me do”) was a staple of conservative rhetoric, as they sought to blame the left for Trump’s very existence. You were too politically correct, you said stupid things, you hurt our feelings, and “This is how you got Trump.”
So too will they try to put responsibility on Biden and congressional Democrats for the extremists in the GOP ranks. Our side might be full of crackpots, they’ll say, but it’s only because they’re legitimately concerned that passing a public option or increasing taxes on the wealthy would be the death knell of liberty. If only Democrats would promote “unity” by both pretending the Trump presidency never happened and shelving their own agenda, none of this would be happening.
Case in point: On “Fox & Friends,” Brian Kilmeade blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for future violence because she is moving forward with impeachment. “This country is ready to explode,” he said. “You saw what happened. You see the anger that the 74 million people feel.”
The anger is a given; if it turns murderous, that’s the Democrats’ fault.
Here’s the core of what brought us to this point: With the enthusiastic help of his party, Trump spent four years convincing his followers that the American political system is irredeemably corrupt and any election that does not produce the result they want is fraudulent by definition. Once they accepted that belief, Trump’s defeat would inevitably produce violence, as at least some of them conclude that ordinary politics — voting, organizing, lobbying, peaceful protest — will never give them what they want, and violence is the only alternative.
We’ve only begun to feel the consequences. This is going to be a very dark time for our country.