A new federal intelligence bulletin that I’ve obtained underscores the stakes of this omission: It flatly warns that the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent could be a key inspiration of domestic extremist violence going forward.
The Jan. 13 memo doesn’t cite Trump or his role in spreading this lie, but, of course, Trump has relentlessly promulgated it for months.
Here’s the key conclusion of the memo, a joint product of numerous agencies, including Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The acronym DVE refers to “Domestic Violence Extremists”:
Amplified perceptions of fraud surrounding the outcome of the General Election and the change in control of the Presidency and Senate — when combined with long-standing DVE drivers such as perceived government or law enforcement overreach, and the anticipation of legislation perceived by some DVEs to oppose or threaten their beliefs — very likely will lead to an increase in DVE violence.
The memo defines “domestic violence extremists” as U.S.-based actors who seek to realize political or social goals through “unlawful acts of force or violence.” This broad term encompasses those who are motivated by anti-government and anti-authority sentiment, among other things.
In other words, the memo concludes, we face a very likely escalation in political violence — violence designed to achieve political ends — and it flows in no small part from the lie that the election’s outcome was illegitimate.
Juliette Kayyem, a former Homeland Security official, notes that the memo underscores the dangerously irresponsible nature of Trump’s continued refusal to unambiguously declare the election’s outcome legitimate.
“The animating lie has not been remedied by Trump,” Kayyem told me, adding that Trump still refuses to counter “the very lie that led to this violence. And he has not done so yet.”
The memo, Kayyem continued, shows that “his own intelligence agencies” have concluded that “the lie that the election was stolen, which Trump continues to nurture, will motivate violence in the future.”
The intelligence memo was first leaked to the New York Times, but the Times report focused more on a different aspect of it. I obtained my own copy from a government source.
The memo repeatedly stresses the point about the election-fraud lie inspiring future violence. It notes, ominously, that “the capability and intent” of domestic violence extremists “to engage in violence at lawful gatherings very likely will increase throughout 2021.”
And it describes a key motivator of this as follows:
Ongoing false narratives by DVEs that the 2020 General Election was illegitimate, or fraudulent, and the subsequent belief its results should be contested or unrecognized.
Counterintuitively, the importance of this is underscored by none other than the 10 House Republicans who joined all House Democrats Wednesday to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection.
Notably, many of those GOP lawmakers’ statements, in one way or another, do articulate the key point here: that the election’s outcome was legitimate, and that Trump incited the violence by relentlessly promoting the falsehood that it was not.
It’s astounding that we must be thankful to those Republicans for being willing to say this, but unfortunately and consequentially, it remains the thing that many other Republicans still refuse to say.
It also bears repeating, of course, that well over 100 congressional Republicans supported Trump by voting to overturn the electoral vote count on the grounds that the outcome was corrupted or fraudulent.
If this memo turns out to be right, that driving lie could be the inspiration for more violence, and possibly even a sustained violent insurgency. And this points to another deep perversity here.
To wit: Republicans have justified their opposition to impeaching Trump over the insurrection with appeals to “unity.” But, as Kayyem notes, the memo suggests that the refusal to hold lies about the election’s legitimacy directly accountable for inspiring that assault could itself help feed conditions for more conflict and unrest later.
“The myth of unity without accountability as the best way to move forward threatens to breed more violence,” Kayyem told me.
The memo also makes other dispiriting points. It notes that many of these domestic violence extremists will view the assault on the Capitol as a “success,” and, that being the case, it could serve as a “significant driver” of future violence.
Dealing with this problem will be extremely treacherous. The new administration will have to make absolutely sure that such intelligence conclusions going forward are not politicized in any way to demonize nonviolent actors on the right.
And as Spencer Ackerman notes, we must not allow what he calls “Radical White Terror” to justify a major expansion of law-enforcement authorities or crackdowns on civil liberties. Avoiding this entails refraining from treating the assault on the Capitol as another 9/11.
One thing we know now is this. If the goal is to avert more violence and restore civil calm, as Republicans themselves claim, Trump and a lot more Republicans should declare unambiguously that Biden will legitimately be the next president.
They should also forthrightly debunk the big lie to the contrary, while acknowledging the true danger their party’s trafficking in it has posed: It didn’t just singularly cause the storming of the Capitol; it could also inspire a lot more civil violence to come.