No U.S. lawmaker rhapsodizes about political violence as enthusiastically as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. On Saturday, the Georgia Republican raged: “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killings.” After the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, Greene suggested the United States is embroiled in “civil war.”
Now Greene’s flirtations with political violence have drawn scrutiny from the New York Times, which just published a new examination of violent political rhetoric. In the piece, Greene’s spokesman insists Greene is “vehemently opposed to political violence,” and that Democrats are the ones “acting like a regime launching a war on their opposition.”
The term “regime” is a mainstay of Greene’s political vocabulary, and right-wing authoritarian nationalists in Congress and the media are using it more and more prominently. Understanding the term is essential to grasping what’s happening with today’s MAGA-fied right and why some experts fear we may be hurtling toward rising political violence and instability.
Greene is on the leading edge of this trend. After the Mar-a-Lago search, she suggested that only “countries during civil war” typically see such “rogue” behavior by the state. Soon after, the term “regime” quickly became central to the right’s Mar-a-Lago narrative as a way to express that thought.
We were told that Trump is being victimized by “regime apparatchiks,” that the “regime” inflicted “revenge” on him, and that the “regime” was “weaponizing” the state against political opponents. The Republican who ventured that last claim was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (who is seeking disaster aid from this same “regime”), showing how this term has gone mainstream in the GOP.
It’s telling that all the “regime” talk exploded after the Mar-a-Lago incident. After all, the search was authorized by a judge who saw probable cause to believe that three federal statutes may have been violated. It ended up recovering reams of classified documents that Trump hoarded, after his own lawyers suggested to investigators that none remained.
To call this the work of the Biden “regime” is really to say that the act of applying the law to Trump will be treated as fundamentally illegitimate. When Greene claims this is the stuff of civil wars and rogue regimes, she really means that holding Trump accountable to the law should be regarded by his supporters as an act of war.
You also see this at work when Greene rages that the “Biden regime” is persecuting defendants in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and when Green and others call them “political prisoners.” That, too, is another way to say that applying the law to Trump supporters who tried to violently disrupt his lawful, democratic replacement in office should also be regarded as an act of war.
And you see it when Greene seethes that “Biden has declared every freedom-loving American an enemy of the state.” That’s a reference to Biden’s speech slamming MAGA Republicans as a danger to democracy for campaigning on a vow to overturn future elections. That’s an obviously correct assessment, but to Greene and her Trump-supporting ilk, this wasn’t just a speech; it was the state declaring war on them.
All this opens the door to justifying extraordinary measures in response. And at bottom, the “regime” chatter is really central to that final move.
Conservatism scholar Joshua Tait explains how this works in his etymology of the “regime” term for the Bulwark. The word, Tait notes, is meant to invoke a sense that a range of U.S. institutions — the administrative state, the media, universities, etc. — have been irredeemably captured by the left, creating a “regime” that in some vague sense exercises hidden but tyrannical control.
As Tait writes, in this formulation, Trump is the tribune of “the people” — selectively defined — who is waging war on their behalf against this disguised tyranny. The “regime” has fought back with more oppression, which proves the truth of the original formulation in a conveniently self-reinforcing loop.
“What do people ultimately do to regimes?” Tait asks rhetorically. “They topple them.” To call the legitimately elected Biden administration “the regime,” Tait argues, “is an implicit call to overthrow it.”
Steven Levitsky, a scholar of democratic breakdown, sees this as roughly analogous to Latin American countries in which the concerted delegitimization of elected governments was followed by coups.
“To call a democratically elected government a ‘regime’ is to deliberately undermine its legitimacy and justify authoritarian and violent acts against it,” Levitsky tells me.
The mainstreaming of the term among Republicans bodes badly for what’s to come, Levitsky warns. This comes after a large swath of Republicans went all in with Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and then with placing him beyond accountability for the mob’s coup attempt, and as political violence is increasingly glorified in GOP politics.
Now the term “regime” is being employed strategically to justify the further abandonment of democracy, Levitsky notes: “This is clear evidence that a big sector of the party is now on authoritarian terrain.”