People need to get out more. Conservatives need to hang with the inner-city kids and their moms, or visit with a Honduran family on a Sunday afternoon after church, or visit an actual mosque to see what’s up, and just chat with folks. Liberals need to sit a spell with a few rednecks, drink some beer, or sip something stronger, and talk about the kids and the weather. Mellow out. Country music isn’t that bad. These people aren’t your enemy. And the country isn’t seething in anger. Folks are just living their lives. And their lives aren’t political. Life is good.
And that means the big-city newspapers should send their reporters out in the field, perhaps out in actual fields, to see what’s up in the real America, the warm-hearted good America, where things aren’t all that bad. That’s what the New York Times did. The Times sent Lisa Lerer and Reid Epstein out there. Cool. But they found this:
In Cleveland County, Okla., the chairman of the local Republican Party openly wondered “why violence is unacceptable,” just hours before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. “What the crap do you think the American revolution was?” he posted on Facebook. “A game of friggin pattycake?”
Two days later, the Republican chairman of Nye County in Nevada posted a conspiracy-theory-filled letter on the local committee website, accusing Vice President Mike Pence of treason and calling the rioting a “staged event meant to blame Trump supporters.”
And this week in Virginia, Amanda Chase, a two-term Republican state senator running for governor, maintained that President Trump might still be sworn into a second term on Jan. 20 and that Republicans who blocked that “alternative plan” would be punished by the president’s supporters.
“They’ve got Mitch McConnell up there selling out the Republican Party,” Ms. Chase, who spoke at the protest in Washington last week, said in an interview. “The insurrection is actually the deep state with the politicians working against the people to overthrow our government.”
Okay. Scratch the warm-hearted good America theory. This is Donald Trump’s America:
Interviews with more than 40 Republican state and local leaders conducted after the siege at the Capitol show that a vocal wing of the party maintains an almost-religious devotion to the president, and that these supporters don’t hold him responsible for the mob violence last week. The opposition to him emerging among some Republicans has only bolstered their support of him.
And while some Republican leaders and strategists are eager to dismiss these loyalists as a fringe element of their party, many of them hold influential roles at the state and local level. These local officials are not only the conduits between voters and federal Republicans, but they also serve as the party’s next generation of higher-level elected officials, and would bring a devotion to Trumpism should they ascend to Washington.
Yes, this is the future:
The continued support for the president is likely to maintain Mr. Trump’s influence long after he leaves office. That could hamper the ability of the party to unify and reshape its agenda to help woo back moderate suburban voters who play a decisive role in winning battleground states and presidential elections.
At the same time, stepping away from the president could cost the party his supporters – millions of new working-class voters who helped Mr. Trump capture more votes than any other Republican presidential candidate in history.
Republicans need those moderate suburban voters more than ever. Go after them and lose those millions of new working-class voters forever. Choose. And by the way, get rid of the usual Republicans while you’re at it:
Several House Republicans also called for Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a high-profile voice for impeachment, to step down from her leadership position in the party’s caucus.
Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state representative, described Ms. Cheney and other Republicans who voted for impeachment as “artifacts,” saying they were out of step in a party that has embraced a more populist platform opposed to foreign interventions and skeptical of free trade.
“She’s like a fossil,” he said of Ms. Cheney. “The party is completely and totally realigned. Mitt Romney wouldn’t win in a primary today. He would not be able to be elected dogcatcher today.”
Republicans now understand the problem:
In the New Jersey State Senate, Republicans were split on a resolution condemning Mr. Trump for inciting the crowd that attacked the Capitol. The majority of Republicans chose to abstain, and many used their time on the floor to try to flip the debate to the protests against racial injustice over the summer, and had to be reprimanded by the Senate president for veering off topic.
They squirmed. They had nowhere to hide. The country had changed:
The siege at the Capitol last week has drawn an even brighter line dividing the party. State legislators from more than a dozen states attended the protest, with at least one facing criminal charges for breaching the Capitol as part of the riot. Meshawn Maddock, an activist who is poised to be the incoming Michigan Republican Party co-chairwoman, helped organize busloads of supporters from her state to travel to the Capitol. In the days after the violence, she joined a conservative online group where some participants openly discussed civil war and martial law.
Many continue to defend their role in the event.
“Those who hold sway in Congress today look out on much of the country with disdain. Trump has never done that,” said State Representative David Eastman of Alaska, who attended the protest. “I, along with nearly a million other Americans, was glad to travel to D.C. to hear the president speak and thank him for his four years in office. Those in today’s ruling class will never truly understand why.”
They do need to get out more, but as Politico reports, they do need to be careful:
Lawmakers who interacted with the pro-Trump protesters who rioted at the Capitol last week could face criminal charges and will almost certainly come under close scrutiny in the burgeoning federal investigation into the assault, former prosecutors said.
“This is incredibly serious,” said Ron Machen, a former U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. “Although you would need compelling evidence before charging a member of Congress with anything related to the breach of the Capitol that day, this has to be investigated.”
Unlike with the president, there’s no Justice Department policy shielding members of Congress from legal accountability while in office.
“I’d say those are potentially viable prosecutions,” added Peter Zeidenberg, another former federal prosecutor in Washington. “I’d say those guys should be worried.”
And this isn’t hypothetical:
The role members of Congress may have played in facilitating the deadly attack drew intense attention this week after Democratic lawmakers alleged that some of their Republican colleagues facilitated tours of the Capitol on January 5 – one day before demonstrators engaged in the assault that terrorized lawmakers, ransacked congressional offices and left as many as five people dead.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) sent a letter Wednesday formally asking the Capitol Police and congressional officials to investigate the tours, which she said were unusual. In a Facebook video, she said the visits amounted to “a reconnaissance of the next day.”
“The tours being conducted on Tuesday, January 5, were a noticeable and concerning departure from the procedures in place as of March 2020 that limited the number of visitors to the Capitol,” Sherrill and 33 colleagues wrote. “The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
Sherrill suggested that access raised the possibility that the visitors were casing the building for the assault that unfolded the next day.
That’s becoming more obvious and awaiting smoking-gun proof soon, and there’s implicit reverse proof:
The chief organizer of Stop the Steal, one of the groups behind the Jan. 6 protests that ended in a violent assault on the Capitol, has claimed to be working with several Republican members of the House to organize the event. But it remains to be seen whether any coordination ahead of last week’s rally extends to complicity in the storming of Congress.
Democrats have raised several potential means for punishing GOP lawmakers who may have been involved in either fomenting or directing the riot – from congressional investigation to criminal sanction.
And then there’s the president:
Some lawyers have said that inflammatory speeches by President Donald Trump, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) to the crowd that joined in the riot a short time later may be protected by the First Amendment. Fiery speeches are not uncommon at political events and making speakers responsible for all actions taken by audience members could chill public debate, scholars argue.
But ex-prosecutors say any criminal case against Trump or lawmakers would not be based solely on the speeches, but on other public and private communications – emails and texts exchanged with organizers and supporters in the days leading up to the rally and on the day of the shocking attack. Investigators will be looking for discussion of a physical assault on the Capitol building and for indications that individual members were specifically targeted.
Suddenly, America is a dangerous place:
A rehearsal for Joe Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed because of security concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.
After last week’s riots in Washington, security officials have locked down the Capitol complex, and the National Guard is expected to deploy more than 20,000 troops to assist with security. Top lawmakers and Homeland Security officials have been alarmed about the rising threats around the inauguration, and the FBI warned this weekend of armed protests in all 50 states.
The rehearsal is now planned for Monday, the people said.
The president-elect’s team has also canceled an Amtrak trip from Wilmington to Washington planned for Monday because of heightened security concerns.
Biden could get killed out there. Anyone could get killed out there. But don’t start any panic:
The presidential inaugural committee declined to comment on the changes, and the Secret Service and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies did not respond to requests for comment.
That might keep things calm, but there’s always one more unnerving story. The Associated Press ran this one:
A retired Air Force officer who was part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended “to take hostages,” a prosecutor said in a Texas court on Thursday.
“He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer said of retired Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr. without providing specifics.
The prosecutor had argued that Brock should be detained, but Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton said he would release Brock to home confinement. Cureton ordered Brock to surrender any firearms and said he could have only limited internet access as conditions of that release.
“I need to put you on a very short rope,” Cureton said. “These are strange times for our country and the concerns raised by the government do not fall on deaf ears.”
The government did raise concerns:
Weimer read a termination letter from Brock’s former employer that said he had talked in the workplace about killing people of a “particular religion and or race.” Weimer also read social media posts in which Brock referred to a coming civil war and the election being stolen from President Donald Trump.
Weimer said Brock’s posts also referenced the far-right and anti-government Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, a loose anti-government network that’s part of the militia movement. The Oath Keepers claim to count thousands of current and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members.
That’s a bit of a worry, and NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin offers this:
After last week’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, members of Congress are expressing something once unthinkable: that some of their own colleagues may be endangering their lives. Not in a rhetorical sense, but in a direct and immediate way.
“It’s the most poisonous I’ve ever seen,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said in an interview. “There’s the overall sense that maybe if some of them have guns – and likely the ones who are more into conspiracy theories and QAnon with the pedophilic satanic rings – are we safe from them?”
The odds are against that:
Since the deadly riot Jan. 6, lawmakers have suggested – not, so far, backed up by evidence – that far-right colleagues may have helped plan or guide the attack. There are particular concerns about some newly elected members who have espoused extremist views, including comments supportive of the QAnon lie that accuses perceived enemies of Trump of being part of a child-abusing cult.
It’s more than that. Those enemies of Trump murder those little children and then drink their blood and chop up their little bodies and eat them. Those enemies of Trump are cannibals. Tom Hanks is one of them. Lady Gaga is one of them and Hillary Clinton started it all. And by the way, at least one third of the bureaucrats working in government are actually lizard-people from outer space. That’s the real deep state.
These people carry guns:
One House freshman is pushing to carry firearms on Capitol grounds, and another one recounts being armed during the attack, further putting their colleagues on edge. With the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., security officials have installed metal detectors outside the House floor, causing tension among some Republicans and effectively suggesting that members themselves may pose a danger.
Democrats are outraged at 147 Republicans who they say abided by the rioters’ calls and voted to overturn the election results even after the violent attack, which left five people dead and forced lawmakers to hide in their offices and safe rooms.
And now no one trusts anyone:
With lawmakers traumatized, hundreds of members of the National Guard sleeping in congressional hallways and warnings from authorities about continued threats, suspicion and rumor are running rampant.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has said she feared for her life, in part because she doubted the motives of unnamed colleagues who were sheltering with her.
“There were QAnon and white supremacist sympathizers, and frankly white supremacist members of Congress, in that extraction point who I have felt would disclose my location and would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped, etc.,” Ocasio-Cortez, a highly visible progressive and frequent target of conservative media, said in a speech Tuesday streamed live on Instagram.
She was mocked for that. What if her colleagues told the mob exactly where she was and watched as they beat her to death? Politics is dangerous. She should have known that. She should stop whining, or maybe not:
A trio of GOP freshmen have drawn particular attention and concern from colleagues: Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Some lawmakers have suggested that Boebert, a Second Amendment advocate and past QAnon sympathizer, may have deliberately revealed Pelosi’s location during the attack on Twitter. Boebert also tweeted “Today is 1776” the morning of the rally.
The concerns are not limited to Democrats. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., called Boebert “culpable” in the attack in an interview with National Journal, citing her tweet about Pelosi.
Boebert has denied any involvement in the assault, including claims that she sought to draw attention to Pelosi’s whereabouts, saying her tweet was posted after Pelosi had moved on and did not mention her secure location.
Does that make everything all better? Sarlin asks around:
It’s hard to find historical precedent for this level of visceral worry about danger among lawmakers.
Joanne Freeman, who is a historian at Yale University and the author of “The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War,” likened the atmosphere to the decades before the Civil War, when fistfights often broke out on the House floor and a Northern senator was caned by a Southern House member.
Freeman cautioned against drawing too many direct parallels, as it was a more violent time in America across the board. But, she said, the violence in Congress both reflected and encouraged violence outside its walls: It took place as slave owners were brutalizing Black Americans and engaging in limited warfare with abolitionists in the territories.
“Everything that happens in the Capitol and Congress has a symbolic representative nature, and that’s some of what we saw this week and some of what we’re responding to,” Freeman said.
The panicked white folks are fighting back? It’s more than that:
Two lawmakers, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., both claim that some GOP colleagues voted to overturn the election results or against impeaching Trump out of fear that their families’ lives may be put in danger. Other Republicans urged against impeachment in part to avoid inciting further violence, effectively conceding that pro-Trump extremists pose a continuing threat.
Meijer said in an appearance on MSNBC that he and other members were buying body armor.
“It’s sad that we have to get to that point, but our expectation is that someone may try to kill us,” he said.
Of course they will. This is Trump’s America:
Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor of sociology and international affairs at Princeton University who studies how democracies slide into authoritarianism, said the atmosphere was disturbingly similar to those in governments in which dissident politicians live in fear of death threats, including fears that pro-regime extremists might target them with tacit support from government leaders or state security.
“In the atmosphere of threat, a lot of people quit,” she said. “By the time you’re at the endgame, you only have the people who say they refuse to be bullied and will risk their lives and those that are so bullied they can’t even open their mouths.”
America is getting there, and Paul Waldman offers this:
Republicans are no longer just afraid that their base will force them to defend the politically indefensible or send them packing in a primary challenge.
They’re afraid that their base, or at least certain elements of it, will literally kill them.
In the GOP, that dynamic is now being shaped by QAnon, the new face of the Republican opposition…
This has now been incorporated into the thinking of every Republican as they navigate each new controversy: not just, “Will this vote anger my constituents and get me a primary challenge from the right?”, but also, “If I oppose my party’s base on this, will they murder me and my family?”
This is not an exaggeration or a metaphor. In December, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate said that if she didn’t support Republican efforts to nullify the state’s electoral votes, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”
With the attack on the Capitol, the murderous threat to the life of every elected official came home for members of Congress.
That’s America now. Suddenly people get it:
Just hours after Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol to overturn the election through violence, eight senators and 139 members of the House – fully two-thirds of the GOP caucus in the lower chamber – voted to reject legitimate electoral votes, essentially telling the rioters that they were right.
Why did they do it? Some might actually believe the conspiracy theories, while others are contemptible opportunists. But others did it because they feared for their lives.
Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.), one of 10 Republicans who later voted to impeach President Trump for inciting the riot, wrote about a Republican colleague who knew GOP efforts to overturn the election were wrong but joined them anyway. Why? “My colleague feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in. Profoundly shaken, my colleague voted to overturn.”
The same fears were at play a week later on the question of impeachment. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said on Wednesday that his GOP colleagues are “paralyzed with fear,” noting that in his conversations with Republican members, “A couple of them broke down in tears, talking to me and saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment.” Tim Alberta of Politico confirmed that, tweeting, “I know for a fact several members ‘want’ to impeach but fear casting that vote could get them or their families murdered.”
So, this is what’s out there:
For many months, the way QAnon and its beliefs about a global conspiracy of Satan-worshipping pedophile cannibals were steadily infecting the Republican Party was bizarre and disturbing. But now it is defining the party’s relationship with its base – and the threat of violence is at the core of that relationship.
The public confrontations we now see between conspiracy-minded Trump supporters and members of Congress now have an undercurrent of potential violence that they didn’t have before. Interactions that used to be spirited or even angry now hum with the threat that they could end in murder.
Suddenly, America is a dangerous place. But it wasn’t all that sudden. This took four years. And now it’s here forever.