The warning stemmed from threats “fueled in large part by conspiracy theories and other false narratives” that are spread by “domestic extremist thought leaders,” among others, according to the official. This misinformation is “consumed by individuals who are predisposed to engage in violence,” the official said.
The bulletin itself was more direct: “Some conspiracy theories associated with reinstating former President Trump have included calls for violence if desired outcomes are not realized.”
There are two immediate reasons that this moment has become a focal point for an election that ended eight months ago.
The first is that one of Trump’s most fervent and vocal supporters, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, has repeatedly suggested that events in August would lead to Trump’s reinstatement, something that is not within the realm of possibility under any scenario. Lindell’s described route for Trump to return to the White House is, like his theory about how the 2020 presidential election was stolen, utter nonsense, unrooted from reality and heavily dependent on naive and uninformed analysis of complex systems with which Lindell is not familiar. He seems to think that he has evidence that the election was stolen (he does not) that will persuade the Supreme Court to intervene (it will not) and remove President Biden from office in Trump’s favor (it cannot).
Trump likes this idea, though, so he has been telling people about it. As is the case with Lindell, this is simply wish casting, hearing something that sounds pretty good and hoping that applying enough mental energy to it can make it happen. But both Trump and Lindell have substantial audiences who take these claims at face value, who either underestimate or fail to consider the extent to which this is impossible and untrue.
The other reason that August looms large is that the partisan review of the election results in Maricopa County, Ariz., may soon release its findings. There’s no mystery about what it will say, just about the scale of the allegations it will make and how much traction they will get despite the near-certainty that all of them will be quickly debunked.
From the outset, this effort — framed as a sober “audit” meant to assuage the concerns of people whose objections to the election results are rooted in frustration at the outcome and not any actual evidence — has been mired in obvious conflicts of interest and riddled with methodological flaws and bad assumptions. As with the broad claim that rampant fraud occurred in 2020, it’s barely worth even articulating the problems with the “audit” at this point: Either you accept that it is a fishing expedition being conducted by people whose primary credentials for being involved are a predisposition to erring on Trump’s behalf, or you will simply refuse to accept the obvious reality.
NPR has nonetheless provided such a walk-through, allowing you to decide whether to take seriously an effort approved by partisans, criticized by local Republican officials, mired with already debunked false claims, trudging through truly wild conspiratorial territory and led by a guy who still stands by the obviously false claims he made about the election before he was even tapped to run things in Arizona.
The problem isn’t that the audit will try to cast doubt on the election results; that’s a certainty. The problem is that it’s not clear what happens next. In June, I noted that the completion of the audit presented a moment similar to Jan. 6: months of allegations about fraud culminating in a moment at which something might be expected to be done. The scale here is obviously different, but it’s not clear that the expectations will be.
Trump and folks like Lindell have been both promising that something would shake loose and presenting Arizona as the moment at which the first shaking would occur. What happens when it doesn’t? It seems unlikely that Trump or Lindell will get the blame. So who will?
Over the weekend, Trumpworld saw some internal griping that seems useful to consider. Trump called in to right-wing yeller Dan Bongino’s Fox News show, where he kept the audience up to date on his various gripes. That, of course, included complaints about the election.
“It’s a disgrace what’s happening, and I don’t think the country’s going to stand for it much longer,” he said. “They’re disgusted. You have a fake election. You have an election with voter abuse and with voter fraud like nobody’s ever seen before. And based on that, and based on what happened, they’re destroying our country.”
When Fox News later published the interview to YouTube, it elided the claims about voter fraud, prompting Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington to object.
“This is just as bad as Big Tech,” she said. “They are putting President Trump’s honest statement, and the concerns of tens of millions of Americans, down the Memory Hole.”
The point, of course, is that it’s not an honest statement. It’s false, unsupportable garbage. People started attacking Bongino on social media, as though he had anything to do with clipping out the fraud parts, which of course he wouldn’t have done. But someone at Fox did, which is interesting. It’s hard not to assume that the network’s lawyers have strongly recommended it avoid such allegations, given the lawsuit it faces from a voting-machine manufacturer (that has also sued Lindell).
But it’s useful to recognize what Fox wasn’t worried about having people hear. In the clip posted to YouTube, Trump’s comments are trimmed to: “It’s a disgrace what’s happening, and I don’t think the country’s going to stand for it much longer. They’re disgusted. ... They’re destroying our country.”
That message was fine to broadcast to Fox’s audience, just not the falsehood on which it was directly predicated. It was okay for the former president whose dishonesty led to the riot on Jan. 6 to suggest that the country was rightfully losing patience at being destroyed, just not for him to repeat the already accepted rationale he was using as the basis for that sentiment.
It’s possible that we’ll get to the end of the month without incident, reaching Aug. 31 with all of this having been resolved quietly and peacefully. Biden will still be president, and perhaps Lindell and Trump will give up on their crusade. Maybe the Arizona claims will be presented and then go “down the Memory Hole,” as will almost certainly be deserved.
But then I remember an article I wrote on Aug. 31, 2020, called, “The dangerous overconfidence of Trump supporters.” I outlined what might happen in the aftermath of last year’s election:
“Biden’s campaign and other officials will encourage people to be patient, with hundreds of thousands of votes still outstanding. But what will many Trump supporters hear? They’ll hear the apparent loser of the race and his ‘allies’ in the media rejecting what they know to be true — that Trump won in a landslide. They’ll hear that Trump’s win — again upending his opponent’s national polling lead! — is being targeted with fraudulent mail ballots. They’ll hear that what Trump said would happen is, in fact happening.”“What happens next? If recent weeks are any indication, tension may erupt into violence.”
Maybe this time it won’t.