In a sane world, a partisan Republican reaction to the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home on Monday would be something like this: We don’t believe Trump did anything wrong. We’re skeptical about the Department of Justice’s actions, but we’ll wait to see the evidence before we make any sweeping claims or definitive judgments. Unfortunately, the reaction online, in the right-wing media, and even among lawmakers has been far from sane. It’s been unhinged and ominous.
MAGA-world denizens have called for violence and civil war, so much so that the phrase civil war was trending on Twitter Monday night. One user on Trump’s social-media platform, Truth Social, said, “Fuck a civil war, give them a REVOLUTION. We out number all of the 10 to 1.”
We’re seeing references to “lock and load” and statements like this: “It certainly feels like they’re treating it as a hot civil war. When this is all said and done, the people responsible for these tyrannical actions need to be hanged.”
Ben Collins, who covers disinformation, extremism, and the internet for NBC News, wrote on Monday evening, “The posts on these pro-Trump forums tonight are as violent as I’ve seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even moreso.”
Commentators in right-wing media, meanwhile, have been using extraordinarily reckless and inflammatory language.
The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote “This. Means. War”—which was “quickly amplified by a Telegram account connected to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s onetime political adviser,” according to The New York Times. Bannon called the FBI “the Gestapo” and said, “We need to choke down the FBI and choke down the Justice Department.” Another former Trump adviser, Michael Caputo, said, “With this militant raid on President Trump’s home, we have become Russia. The FBI is the KGB.” And Fox’s Dan Bongino called the FBI’s action “some third-world bullshit.”
Dinesh D’Souza, a right-wing provocateur who received a pardon from Trump for campaign-finance violations, said, “The FBI, an organization set up to fight organized crime, has become the most powerful organized crime syndicate in the world. We now need to carry the fight against organized crime to its logical conclusion: Shut down the FBI and prosecute this gang of dangerous criminals.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that the FBI might have planted evidence against Trump. When asked by Charlie Kirk, a talk-show host, why the FBI would do this, Gingrich said, “We’d be better off to think of these people as wolves”—wolves who “want to eat you, wolves who want to dominate.” According to Gingrich, the FBI has “declared war on the American people at such a level and with such total dishonesty.” We are seeing “the ugly face of a tyranny.”
One of the most popular figures on Fox News, Jesse Watters, hinted that the FBI was setting up Trump. “How do we know they’re not planting evidence right now?” he asked. Watters added, “I’m angry. I feel violated. The whole country feels violated. It’s disgusting. They’ve declared war on us and now it’s game on.”
Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser who now hosts a show on Salem Radio, said the FBI’s actions were “a declaration of war.” Monica Crowley, a right-wing commentator who worked in the Trump administration, tweeted, “This is it. This is the hill to die on.” Another popular right-wing talk-show host, Mark Levin, made this claim: “This is the worst attack on this republic in modern history, period.” For good measure, he added, “This is a Stalinist hunt.” And Stephen Miller, who worked closely with Trump in the White House, called the FBI’s action an “abomination” and made this historical comparison: “We are truly living in a situation where the FBI has become a Praetorian Guard from Rome where they take it unto themselves to decide who wields power in this country.”
Bannon, busily making the rounds, told the conspiracist Alex Jones, “I do not think it’s beyond this administrative state and their deep-state apparatus to actually try to work on the assassination of President Trump.” This charge was echoed by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who said he is worried Democrats might try to assassinate Donald Trump. “I’m gonna tell you something: I’m not into conspiracies; I’m not into anti-government rhetoric,” Kerik said. “This is the first time in my lifetime that I would say I am deathly afraid for Donald Trump. I would not put assassination behind these people.”
Many Republican candidates and lawmakers have been just as inflammatory as these more peripheral figures. Kari Lake, running for governor in Arizona, called the FBI’s search of Trump’s home “one of the darkest days in American history: the day our government, originally created by the people, turned against us.” She added, “This illegitimate, corrupt regime hates America and has weaponized the entirety of the federal government to take down President Donald Trump.”
Representative Lauren Boebert said of the FBI’s search, “This is gestapo crap, and it will not stand.” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene insisted, “This is the rogue behavior of communist countries, NOT the United States of America!!! These are the type of things that happen in countries during civil war.” She also called for Congress to “DEFUND THE FBI!” and said Republicans, if they seize control of the House, should take on “the enemy within.”
Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said, “Joe Biden’s FBI and Department of Justice have been fully weaponized against their political opponents.” She characterized what the FBI did as “an absolute outrageous abuse of power and unAmerican.” And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused the Justice Department of “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”
Senator Ted Cruz said the FBI’s action was “corrupt & an abuse of power.” Senator Rand Paul said what the FBI did “truly is an attack on our constitutional republic.” Senator Marco Rubio said, “Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships. But never in America.” And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed, “The raid of [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” On and on and on it goes.
The worst may be yet to come. Already, Trump is laying the groundwork for his followers to dismiss any evidence of wrongdoing that the FBI may have uncovered. He released a statement yesterday noting that the FBI “would not let anyone, including my lawyers, be anywhere near the areas that were rummaged” and alluding to the possibility of agents “planting” evidence. Did we expect anything else from him?
The decision by the Department of Justice to search Trump’s home may have been unwise. And at this point we don’t know the precise subject of the search or what crime the FBI is investigating. But we do know that a federal judge signed off on the warrant, which means he had reason to believe that the FBI would find evidence of a crime at Trump’s home. We also know that FBI Director Christopher Wray was nominated by Trump.
Clearly, at this early stage, the responsible reaction to what the FBI did is to withhold judgment, to wait and see, to base one’s assessment on the facts and the evidence as they become known. But such an approach is alien to the modern-day GOP. The entire incentive structure is to use language that is intemperate, belligerent, conspiratorial, even crazed. This week has once again proved that there’s no rhetorical line Trump Republicans won’t cross, no outlandish charge they won’t make. It’s now all about one-upmanship, with each person trying to make a more freakish claim than the next.
This debasement of language comes at a considerable cost. George Orwell believed that political language mattered because politics mattered, and that the corruption of one leads to the corruption of the other. And in some cases, the misuse of words can lead to political violence. We saw that on January 6, 2021. My fear is we’re edging ever closer to that. Some people on the right—enraged and inflamed, caught in an echo chamber of undiluted anger and massive lies—clearly hope for it. They are perpetually frenzied and hyper-agitated, convinced they are in an existential struggle against a wicked foe.
In the face of this, virtually the entire Republican Party is egging them on. Based on no evidence right now, Republicans are promoting a narrative that the events of this week prove that the United States government and its chief law-enforcement agency are Nazi-like, corrupt to the core, at war with its own citizens. This can’t end well.
If political violence comes, the Republican Party will be its authors and finishers. In his 1838 Young Men’s Lyceum speech, in which he warned about mob violence and people who disrespected America’s laws and courts, Abraham Lincoln said, “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Today it is Lincoln’s party that wants America to die by suicide.