The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion After the Mar-a-Lago search, horrific violence follows reckless rhetoric

Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via AP)

The most responsible answer to the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida remains what it was: to wait for further information about exactly what was sought and why. The least responsible is to persist in the reckless rhetoric about “tyranny,” or “Third World” political persecution, or “regimes” that has flooded right-wing media and even the chambers of Congress — and so far has been followed by at least one attempted act of violence.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that Justice Department lawyers had filed a motion to unseal the warrant that authorized agents to seek out documents that the former president might have improperly retained after leaving the White House. It was made public on Friday, along with a list of the inventory that agents took from the home — which includes information related to extremely sensitive special access programs. The warrant cited possible violations of a provision of the Espionage Act that outlaws “gathering, transmitting, or losing national defense information,” as well as destruction of records and concealment or mutilation of government material. The Post has reported that some of the sought-after documents contain material related to nuclear weapons. These revelations don’t change the basic picture of the case: So far, everything appears to have been done by the book — but whether what is found will prove bombshell or bust is uncertain.

The proper response to this uncertainty is patience, from those inclined to believe the investigation will unveil some grievous offense to those inclined to believe the Justice Department has overreached. Thankfully, some Republicans are exhibiting signs of restraint; the party’s ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), spoke in a measured manner on Friday about his desire to ensure oversight of the Justice Department without lodging baseless accusations of abuse. Others, however, have taken cues from Mr. Trump’s conspiratorial ranting on his website Truth Social, throwing around terms such as “dictatorship” and “banana republic” to describe rule-of-law proceedings and lambasting the FBI.

Dana Milbank: GOP hysteria over the Mar-a-Lago search is an invitation to violence

These aren’t just words. They can have horrific real-world influence. On Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. The hours-long standoff that ensued ended on a rural stretch of road, where police fatally shot the man after he raised a gun at them. Reports so far suggest the man may have posted beforehand on Truth Social that he was sounding a “call to arms” after the search, and that others should “get whatever you need to be ready for combat.” Reports also suggest he may have been present at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

The events of Jan. 6 showed that the risk of political violence in the United States is real. By now politicians and pundits should be well aware of what can happen when they broadcast incendiary remarks: People already swallowed up by ecosystems of misinformation are listening, and they may be inspired to act. Sadly, the incitement about the FBI’s search still flowed — and one man is dead.

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Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

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