The moment that crystallized Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s decision not to seek reelection came when the Ohio Republican arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport earlier this year. He had voted in favor of impeaching Donald Trump for the president’s role in the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and when he landed in Cleveland, two police officers were waiting to escort him and his family.

“That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’ ” Gonzalez told the New York Times. A former professional football player, he came to realize that the danger lingering around his decision was making his position untenable.

He’s not the only one. Other Republicans, recognizing the potential threat they faced, reportedly succumbed to the pressure and declined to vote to impeach Trump. Given the choice between their own safety and joining a minority of colleagues in speaking out against Trump, they chose the former — largely understandably. According to the U.S. Capitol Police, there were about 3,900 threats against elected officials made in 2017. In 2018, more than 5,000. In 2019, nearly 7,000. Last year, more than 8,600. And in the first 2½ months of 2021, over 4,100 — more than in the entirety of 2017.

On Monday, PRRI released polling that asked Americans to evaluate a disconcerting statement. Did they agree that, “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country”?

About 1 in 5 Americans said they agreed. Among Republicans, the figure was 3 in 10. Among those who said that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump (which, of course, it wasn’t), the figure was close to 40 percent.

The attack on Jan. 6 was almost entirely a function of people who fell into that latter category.

Unless you listen to people like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, of course. Part of the problem with the increase in political violence and threats is the willingness of people on the right, including in right-wing media, to downplay or deny what happened.

So, hours after PRRI’s report was released, the first part of Carlson’s new “documentary” on the Jan. 6 attack aired. In it, one of the organizers of the day’s rallies, Ali Alexander, was allowed to claim that his “Stop the Steal” group was one of “the most law-abiding movement that this country has seen in modern times.” Alexander had, on Dec. 8, 2020, tweeted that he was “willing to give my life for this fight” — that is, for the fight to keep Trump in office despite his loss. At another point in the Carlson film, a writer for the conspiracy-theory outlet Gateway Pundit claimed that the violence was actually a function of left-wing agitators.

The intended effect here is clear. Carlson wants people to believe that the violence that day was not Trump supporters following Trump’s lead. It was, instead, Trump opponents who are trying to make Trump look bad. It’s cover for those who engaged in the violence. By downplaying what they did, their allies can amplify the idea that their arrests are somehow politically motivated and that those responsible are simply “political prisoners.”

We see other whitewashing elsewhere. When, for example, an advocacy organization for school administrators wrote a letter expressing alarm at a surge in threats following increased protests (again amplified by right-wing media) at school board meetings, a response from the Justice Department was cast as the Biden administration targeting parents broadly. Over and over, it was asserted by those on the right that federal law enforcement was trying to crack down on parents in general and not, as the memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland made clear, on those making violent threats against administrators.

This is another way in which violent threats are sanitized: efforts to respond to them are cast as overreactions. (The trailer for Carlson’s “documentary” suggests that a similar effort to recast critiques of Jan. 6 will be part of future segments.) Suggesting that the Biden administration is targeting those who simply criticize him instead of those who break the law by making a violent threat blurs the clear line between making violent threats and simple political criticism. It risks treating the former as being akin to the latter.

The Washington Post’s analysis of the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack includes an anecdote that is pertinent here. The outgoing Republican chairman of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors, Clint Hickman, learned from law enforcement that the Capitol had been attacked. The police suggested that he not stay at his home, given concerns about how the violence might spread.

“If President Donald Trump’s supporters were willing to attack the Capitol,” Hickman thought, according to The Post’s reporting, “who knows what they might do on a residential street in Phoenix.”

Hickman was by no means alone. Myriad elections officials around the country who had done little more than administer fair elections that Trump lost were targeted with violent threats and bitter accusations. The Post collected some of them.

Part of this is simply blind fury. Part of it is probably about making those officials — like those on school boards and like Gonzalez — rethink whether they want to serve in public positions at all.

Trump, of course, has encouraged condemnation of public officials, although he has not overtly rationalized violent threats against them. He has repeatedly identified officials by name, including fairly low-level officials who might otherwise go unnoticed. He has no more qualms about the uncertainty and danger those officials face than he did about the dangers faced by members of Congress on Jan. 6. There’s little indication his most fervent allies do either.

It’s obvious to see how this is dangerous. Failing to condemn violent threats and actions or treating them as isolated, unconnected incidents is one thing. Rationalizing them is another. Treating violence as part of the system, instead of a risk to it, means treating it as acceptable. And accepting violence as part of American politics is the slipperiest slope imaginable.