The Myth of Civilized Democracy

The world changes. Yahoo News shouldn’t be a reputable news organization. It’s the name. Is this a news service for goofballs, about goofballs? No, the original Yahoo search engine turned into an information service, and aggregating news links to other news organizations just wasn’t enough. Now they have their own reporters. They write their own news stories, and they get their own scoops now and the, and Jana Winter is one of their investigative correspondents, and Winter digs up a bit of distressing news:

 “How long before a politician is killed for mandating vaccines?” someone posted on a social media platform being monitored by law enforcement. The responses were numerous and discussed targeting U.S. and Australian politicians, U.S.-bound migrants and mass transit and passenger rail systems with chlorine gas and or explosive-laden unmanned aircraft systems in response to vaccination mandates.

The online posts discussing targeting politicians, migrants and mass transit systems in response to vaccination mandates, were flagged by the Department of Homeland Security and sent to law enforcement for further investigation, according to internal intelligence reports obtained by Yahoo News.

These online potential threats were being tracked for an updated National Threat Advisory System Bulletin on “the heightened threat environment ahead of the holiday season.” The holidays do drive people crazy. But these people were crazy already. And now it’s the mask rules. And the vaccine mandates. That tipped things over the edge:

The DHS issued the new threat bulletin on Wednesday, the fourth such warning put out since January 2021. “These threats include those posed by individuals and small groups engaged in violence, including domestic violent extremists (DVEs) and those inspired or motivated by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences,” the bulletin states.

The bulletin cites the pandemic and public health measures as among the factors contributing to those threats.

And that means new targets:

According to internal law enforcement raw intelligence and other reports obtained by Yahoo News, those online posts currently being monitored include threats to doctors and hospitals administering COVID vaccines; threats to infrastructure and houses of worship; fundraising campaigns launched by known white supremacist and other extreme groups; and calls to kill politicians who are in favor of COVID restrictions.

The day before the DHS issued the updated threat bulletin, the agency flagged several online threats made by domestic extremists in raw intelligence reports that were forwarded to the FBI and other agencies for further investigation.

Kill the doctors? Sure. Just get yourself a ghost gun:

In one, a person described as a suspected “Racially Motivated Violent Extremist” encouraged violence against the government and shared links to 3D printing files for firearms in a popular instant messaging channel. The administrator of that same channel also encouraged violence against the U.S. government and shared links for printing 3D firearms and firearm components and a QR code leading to a website hosting files with detailed instructions on how to print weapons for use against an unspecified government target.

Print your own untraceable gun. Or set up a training facility:

Law enforcement is also tracking online posts by a white supremacist group soliciting cryptocurrency to purchase of a plot of land for training, according to a summary of the Open-Source Intelligence Report dated Nov. 10 and sent to law enforcement for further investigation.

The money, the online post says, would fund the white supremacist group’s “survivalism training” and “networking opportunities,” which have direct and indirect costs such as “travel expenses, e.g., gas money, airfare, lodging.” The post also said donations would be used for “ongoing long-term projects such as purchasing land for communal bugout locations” and developing those plots of land.

In late October and early November, the DHS compiled raw intelligence reports on potential threats that they expected – “a known domestic violent extremist encouraging violence against doctors who administer vaccines” – a suspected “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist encouraging attacks against multiple critical infrastructure sectors” – a “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist promoting arson or attacks against critical infrastructure, law enforcement officers and places of worship” – which probably surprises no one

But it could be nonsense. But it might not be nonsense:

One senior law enforcement official involved in aspects of investigating potential online threats said the challenge is figuring out what digital chatter should be taken seriously and what is just talk. In either case, the official said, law enforcement is worried about the winter ahead with rising COVID cases.

“Now we have Delta-plus, which has already hit the U.K., and we’re going to have to start shutting things down if it spreads here, which it will,” the official said. “More restrictions will make the antigovernment nuts even crazier, and that’s when we’re really worried something will happen.”

They should be worried. Everything has changed. The New York Times’ Lisa Lerer and Astead Herndon cover that. The Republican Party has changed:

At a conservative rally in western Idaho last month, a young man stepped up to a microphone to ask when he could start killing Democrats.

“When do we get to use the guns?” he said as the audience applauded. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a “fair” question.

In Ohio, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for Senate blasted out a video urging Republicans to resist the “tyranny” of a federal government that pushed them to wear masks and take F.D.A.-authorized vaccines.

“When the Gestapo show up at your front door,” the candidate, Josh Mandel, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, said in the video in September, “you know what to do.”

And in Congress, violent threats against lawmakers are on track to double this year. Republicans who break party ranks and defy former President Donald J. Trump have come to expect insults, invective and death threats – often stoked by their own colleagues and conservative activists, who have denounced them as traitors.

Democrats don’t do such things. This is asymmetrical.

From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party. Ten months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right-wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power.

In Washington, where decorum and civility are still given lip service, violent or threatening language still remains uncommon, if not unheard-of, among lawmakers who spend a great deal of time in the same building. But among the most fervent conservatives, who play an outsize role in primary contests and provide the party with its activist energy, the belief that the country is at a crossroads that could require armed confrontation is no longer limited to the fringe.

So, the violent overthrow of the duly elected government, the result of democracy in action, may be necessary to save democracy. That certified result cannot be right. Get your guns. Democracy doesn’t work, which is new:

Political violence has been part of the American story since the founding of the country, often entwined with racial politics and erupting in periods of great change: More than 70 brawls, duels and other violent incidents embroiled members of Congress from 1830 to 1860 alone. And elements of the left have contributed to the confrontational tenor of the country’s current politics, though Democratic leaders routinely condemn violence and violent imagery.

But historians and those who study democracy say what has changed has been the embrace of violent speech by a sizable portion of one party, including some of its loudest voices inside government and most influential voices outside.

In effect, they warn, the Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool.

That menace sure beats rounding up enough votes to win elections outright. Total intimidation is a better tool. This is new:

Omar Wasow, a political scientist at Pomona College who studies protests and race, drew a contrast between the current climate and earlier periods of turbulence and strife, like the 1960s or the run-up to the Civil War.

“What’s different about almost all those other events, is that now, there’s a partisan divide around the legitimacy of our political system,” he said. “The elite endorsement of political violence from factions of the Republican Party is distinct for me from what we saw in the 1960s. Then, you didn’t have – from a president on down – politicians calling citizens to engage in violent resistance.”

And one man made that legitimate:

From his earliest campaigning to the final moments of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s political image has incorporated the possibility of violence. He encouraged attendees at his rallies to “knock the hell” out of protesters, praised a lawmaker who body-slammed a reporter, and in a recent interview defended rioters who clamored to “hang Mike Pence.”

Yet even with the former president largely out of the public eye and after a deadly attack on the Capitol where rioters tried to overturn the presidential election, the Republican acceptance of violence has only spread. Polling indicates that 30 percent of Republicans, and 40 percent of people who “most trust” far-right news sources, believe that “true patriots” may have to resort to violence to “save” the country…

Trump did his job well, and Jesus did the rest:

Such views, routinely expressed in warlike or revolutionary terms, are often intertwined with white racial resentments and evangelical Christian religious fervor – two potent sources of fuel for the GOP during the Trump era – as the most animated Republican voters increasingly see themselves as participants in a struggle, if not a kind of holy war, to preserve their idea of American culture and their place in society.

Notably few Republican leaders have spoken out against violent language or behavior since Jan. 6, suggesting with their silent acquiescence that doing so would put them at odds with a significant share of their party’s voters.

They know better. Don’t ever denounce Jesus. But this will not end well:

Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, this week tweeted an anime video altered to show him killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swinging two swords at Mr. Biden.

Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the left-leaning group New America who has studied political violence, said there was a connection between such actions and the growing view among Americans that politics is a struggle between enemies.

“When you start dehumanizing political opponents, or really anybody, it becomes a lot easier to inflict violence on them,” Dr. Drutman said.

“I have a hard time seeing how we have a peaceful 2024 election after everything that’s happened now,” he added. “I don’t see the rhetoric turning down, I don’t see the conflicts going away. I really do think it’s hard to see how it gets better before it gets worse.”

That’s rather obvious:

Democrats are seeking Mr. Gosar’s censure, arguing that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence and jeopardize the safety of elected officials.”

The ranking GOP lawmakers, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Mr. McCarthy, who initially condemned the Jan. 6 attack and said “violence is never a legitimate form of protest,” more recently has joked about hitting Nancy Pelosi in the head with a gavel if he were to replace her as speaker. Like nearly all of the members of his caucus, Mr. McCarthy has said nothing about Mr. Gosar’s video.

For his part, Mr. Gosar suggested that critics were overly thin-skinned, insisting that the video was an allegory for a debate over immigration policy.

Perhaps so, but something is up:

The increasing violence of Republican speech has been accompanied by a willingness of GOP leaders to follow Mr. Trump’s lead and shrug off allegations of domestic violence that once would have been considered disqualifying for political candidates in either party.

Herschel Walker, the former professional football player running for Senate in Georgia, is accused of repeatedly threatening his ex-wife’s life, but won Mr. Trump’s endorsement and appears to be consolidating party support behind his candidacy. Mr. Trump also backed the Ohio congressional campaign of Max Miller, who faces allegations of violence from his ex-girlfriend, the former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. Mr. Miller has sued Ms. Grisham for defamation.

And Sean Parnell, a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania who was endorsed by Mr. Trump, appeared in court this week in a custody fight in which his estranged wife accuses him of choking her and physically harming their children. He denies it.

Sean Parnell may change his mind and deny none of it and say he’s a “real man” just like pussy-grabbling Donald Trump. He’d win big:

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, declined to repudiate Mr. Parnell. Asked on CNN whether Mr. Parnell was the right candidate for the job, he said, “We’ll see who comes out of the primary.”

It’s a new world out there:

Violent talk has tipped over into actual violence in ways big and small. School board members and public health officials have faced a wave of threats, prompting hundreds to leave their posts. A recent investigation by Reuters documented nearly 800 intimidating messages to election officials in 12 states.

And threats against members of Congress have jumped by 107 percent compared with the same period in 2020, according to the Capitol Police. Lawmakers have been harassed at airports, targeted at their homes and had family members threatened. Some have spent tens of thousands on personal security.

“You don’t understand how awful it is and how scary it is until you’re in it,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who praised a Republican colleague, Representative Fred Upton, for publicly sharing some of the threats he received after voting to approve the infrastructure bill.

That made Fred Upton a traitor. That made Debbie Dingell too, once removed, but evil. Tucker Carlson wouldn’t mind at all if someone slit her throat:

Ms. Dingell, who said she was threatened by men with assault weapons outside her home last year after she was denounced by Tucker Carlson on his Fox News show, shared a small sample of what she said were hundreds of profanity-laden threats she has received.

“They ought to try you for treason,” one caller screamed in a lengthy, graphic voice mail message. “I hope your family dies in front of you. I pray to God that if you’ve got any children, they die in your face.”

That’s not exactly democracy in action, or maybe that’s just free speech. But it doesn’t matter. What we thought of as democracy is over:

Bradford Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, which advises lawmakers on issues like running their offices and communicating with constituents, said he now urged members not to hold open public meetings, an American tradition dating back to the colonies, because of security concerns. Politics, he said, had become “too raw and radioactive.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea right now,” Mr. Fitch said. “I hope we can get to a point where we can advise members of Congress that it’s safe to have a town-hall meeting.”

Nope, town-hall meetings are gone forever now. The Republican Party changed. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman explains why:

There may not be negative political consequences, or if there are, then they are minor enough that the party will tolerate them, given the benefits it gains from tacitly (or not so tacitly) encouraging and even fetishizing violence as a reasonable tool to use to achieve political ends.

After all, this is what Waldman sees:

In new audio released by Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Donald Trump is asked about his supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” on Jan. 6 as they rampaged through the Capitol in search of the vice president. Trump was unconcerned, both because he thought Pence was “well-protected” and because the protesters were justified in their rage: “It’s common sense” that Pence should have attempted to overturn the results of the election so Trump could remain president, he said, so the rioters’ pursuit of Pence was understandable.

And of course, they were looking for Pence because Trump himself told them that the vice president should be the focus of their anger: As he watched rioters break into the Capitol on television, Trump tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Ever since, Trump has tried to recast that assault not as an attack on American democracy but as a legitimate response to him losing the election.

And if Paul Gosar weren’t enough:

Meanwhile, in Kenosha, Wis., the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who became a hero of the right after he went to a protest with an AR-15-style rifle and killed two people, is nearing its end.

And if you’re a Republican who does so much as vote for a bipartisan bill to bring infrastructure spending to your district, you can expect death threats. The quickest way for Republican candidates to demonstrate their bona fides is by shooting guns in an ad.

There are a lot of those ads, but there’s a pattern here:

The thread running through all these events and controversies is the belief that liberals are so wicked that violence and the threat of violence are reasonable responses to the possibility of them getting their way. Right along with that belief is a fantasy, that of a man (almost always a man) who rather than being an ordinary schlub at the mercy of a world in which he has no power, is actually bursting with testosterone and potency, someone who can and perhaps should become a killing machine.

That’s the story of the Jan. 6 rioters, who believed they could break down doors and smash windows and the American system of government would bend to their will.

It’s Rittenhouse’s story, too: When you go to a protest with a rifle, you’ve cast yourself as a potential killer in a righteous cause, and a killer was what he became. He’s now being cheered on by all those who stockpile weapons and say our country is headed for a civil war.

And then there’s the Big Guy:

No one embodies that fantasy more than Trump himself. He may be a corpulent senior citizen who dodged the draft, but in his own mind he’s Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne, just waiting for the opportunity to display his deadly skills and save the day. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Trump mused that had he been on the scene, “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” so brave and capable is he.

Trump did say that – that he would have walked right in, no gun, no bulletproof vest, no nothing, and simply walked right up to that kid who was mowing down those high school students with waves of automatic fire, and grabbed that kid’s gun and slapped him around and stopped that nonsense right then and there.

His base cheered. Everyone else rolled their eyes. Waldman know his base:

His most ardent supporters absolutely love that fantasy of Trump as someone who dishes out violence to their enemies. Check out the wares sold outside Trump rallies, and you’ll see him transformed on T-shirts and posters into a muscle-bound warrior wielding a rifle; if he isn’t Photoshopped onto the glistening torso of Sylvester Stallone circa 1985, he’s riding a velociraptor while firing a gun.

Given that, everything falls into place;

There are moments when Republican politicians grow a bit uneasy at their supporters’ thirst for violence, particularly when it’s aimed at them. After Jan. 6, one Republican member of Congress wrote about a colleague who voted to overturn the election because they “feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in,” if they didn’t give in to the mob. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania state Senate said last December that if she didn’t support Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

But before the threats turn back on them, Republicans encourage those violent impulses and apocalyptic beliefs, figuring that they can be exploited without spinning out of control. Are local election officials and school board members being driven from their jobs by death threats? If it means they’ll be replaced by Trumpist conspiracy theorists, Republicans are happy to watch it happen.

And that end the American experiment:

There is a continuum of tolerance and encouragement; and, to be clear, not every GOP member of Congress is a dangerous clown like Paul Gosar. But they know who their supporters are. And far from discouraging those supporters’ most savage impulses, most Republicans hope to gain politically from them.

That hope is utterly repugnant and a threat to the very idea of a civilized democracy.

But what if civilized democracy was a myth all along? Credible threats of extreme violence work too. Maybe we were dreaming.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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