Experts on violence are projecting that the coming weeks will see an increase in heated political arguments online — including violent right-wing rhetoric about an impending “civil war” — due to the fast-approaching midterms and continued investigations into former President Donald Trump.
Analyses have shown a significant rise in far right violence over the past few years. Much of the right wing’s violent rhetoric has centered around Trump, with some of his loyalists suggesting that violence to protect him from an investigation into his removal of government documents from the White House would be justified.
According to a New York Times report, Twitter posts mentioning “civil war” increased by around 3,000 percent in the days after it was reported that the FBI conducted a search on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to retrieve thousands of White House documents, including some that were classified. Talk of civil war also increased on the social media platform after President Joe Biden made a speech in September publicly condemning “MAGA Republicans” who have been threatening democratic norms and institutions.
Far right leaders have likely only added fuel to the fire. Last month, for example, Trump falsely claimed that Biden had threatened his loyalists with military action.
“If you look at the words and meaning of the awkward and angry Biden speech tonight, he threatened America, including with the possible use of military force,” Trump said. (Biden made no such threats during his speech.)
Other Trump loyalists, including Republicans in Congress and former members of his administration, have also stepped up their use of violent rhetoric in recent weeks.
“Did you know that a governor can declare war? A governor can declare war,” Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn said at a recent campaign rally in Arizona. “And we’re going to probably see that.”
At a campaign event this month that was headlined by Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) alleged that Republicans were the victims of a violent, coordinated campaign being orchestrated by Democrats — a claim that has no basis in fact whatsoever, as none of the violence she described ever occurred.
“I am not going to mince words with you all. Democrats want Republicans dead and they have already started the killings,” Greene claimed.
Some have suggested that right-wing talk of civil war is allegorical, or that it alludes to a “cold” civil war, in which physical violence doesn’t actually take place.
“The question is what does ‘civil war’ look like and what does it mean,” Elizabeth Neumann, a security expert who served as assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, said to The New York Times.
But there’s reason to believe that this rhetoric will result in an uptick in violent, physical attacks. Beyond the statistics that show far right violence is increasing, research from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) at the University of Chicago shows that millions of Americans believe violence to achieve their political ends is sometimes justified, especially when it comes to defending Trump.
One in 20 U.S. adults, for example, believes that using violence to reinstate the ex-president into the White House midway through Biden’s first term would be justified, according to a survey CPOST conducted last month. That amounts to around 13 million Americans. Even more Americans — around 15 million — would support the use of violence to keep Trump from being prosecuted by the Department of Justice, according to the poll.
“We have not just a political threat to our democracy, we have a violent threat to our democracy,” said Robert Pape, the director of CPOST, in a recent interview.
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