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'Declaration of War': Right-wing calls for violence are coming from the mainstream
Post-indictment calls for violence aren't just coming from the fringe — they're also coming from mainstream right-wing figures. And they're on the rise.
Following the news of Trump’s indictment on Friday, Trump supporters took to social media to express their outrage and, almost immediately, to start calling for violence and war. But these calls didn’t just come from far-right extremist figures or the fringes of social media — they also came from mainstream right-wing politicians and media figures, including sitting members of Congress. Trump himself joined in, as well, sharing (“re-truthing”) a flurry of posts on Truth Social, including several posts targeting special counsel Jack Smith and one post that declared, “THIS ISN’T A GAME. THIS IS WAR.”
Since these posts first started appearing on Friday, the frequency and intensity have only increased. Even more worrying is the fact that mainstream Republican politicians and other influential right-wing figures are continuing to post disinformation and incendiary rhetoric about the indictment and those involved in investigating and charging Trump — rhetoric that is associated with support for violence. Furthermore, when public figures and elites spread such propaganda, it not only increases its reach, but also typically leads to anti-government attitudes and increased acceptance of violence as a solution to political problems.
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Taken together, the involvement of mainstream politicians in promoting incendiary disinformation associated with violence, issuing calls for people to take up arms, and directing Trump supporters to show up at the Miami courthouse where Trump will appear on Tuesday paints an alarming picture that could easily be the backdrop for a future violent attack. That’s on top of the hundreds of posts from anonymous Trump supporters, who have flooded social media with talk of guns, civil war, assassination, and more. Next Tuesday is not going to be the next January 6th, but it doesn’t have to be — we could still see serious damage inflicted on American democracy, and potentially American citizens, if even one person decides to show up with a gun.
‘We have now reached a war phase'
In addition to Trump, a number of other prominent right-wing political figures used social media over the past two days to issue veiled threats and declarations of war in response to the 37-count indictment handed down on Friday.
On Twitter, former Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake involved the NRA and warned that Republicans have a lot of guns and are prepared to use them to defend Trump, while also doubling-down on election-related lies and falsely claiming that voting machines were rigged on Election Day.
Taking it up a notch, GOP Rep. Clay Higgins issued what appeared to be a battlefield command for Tuesday, when Trump is scheduled to appear at a Miami courthouse.
“President Trump said he has ‘been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM,’” Higgins tweeted. “This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors. Hold. rPOTUS has this. Buckle up. 1/50K know your bridges. Rock steady calm. That is all.”
Journalist and academic Jeff Sharlet, whose work focuses on American militia movements, noted that Higgins is using military language to refer to orders to stand by and prepare to take action such as seizing bridges in the area:
“Take this seriously,” Sharlet tweeted, explaining that the term ‘Perimeter probe’ indicates that Higgins thinks Friday’s indictment will precede a bigger attack, while his instructions to “Hold” are the equivalent of Trump’s infamous “stand back and stand by” comments. The phrase ‘buckle up,’ according to Sharlet, means “prepare for war,” and ‘1/50 k’ refers to military scale maps.
“‘Know your bridges,’” he wrote, is “militia speak for ‘prepare to seize bridges.’”
As a reminder, Higgins is the on the House GOP Homeland Security Committee, which is tasked with “ensur[ing] that the American people [are] protected from terrorist attacks.”
Among the most explicit calls for violence came from GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, who tweeted, “We have now reached a war phase. Eye for an eye.”
GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert fired off numerous tweets on Friday about what she called the “sham indictment,” which she blamed on the “Deep State” and a federal government “weaponized” against Trump and Republicans. Also on Twitter, Karoline Leavitt, the spokesperson for Make America Great Again Inc., and Kingsley Cortes, digital media strategist for the right-wing Center for Renewing America, joined in the calls for “war.”
“War is the remedy our enemies have chosen,” Cortes tweeted, “and I say let us give them what they want.”
The MAGA Inc. War Room also released a statement on “Biden’s abuse of power,” which declared that the US justice system must be “confronted and destroyed,” while right-wing media figure Wayne Allen Root published an article titled, “Indictment of Trump is a Declaration of War.” Similar rhetoric was featured in posts across numerous social media platforms, including Twitter, Truth Social, The Donald, and The Great Awakening. Replies to these posts often included comments about guns, taking up arms, civil war, and the Boogaloo (an anti-government militia that started as a far-right meme referring to a coming civil war), as well as killing or otherwise getting rid of government officials.
Meanwhile, on Fox News, a lineup of frenzied Trump supporters issued dire warnings about American democracy dying at the feet of the indictment.
Former Trump aide Stephen Miller claimed on Fox that “history will record today as the day that we ceased to be a democratic republic,” while former Trump acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker referred to Friday’s news as “a really sad day for our country” and “the stuff of banana republics.”
“It is a dark day in America,” added Fox host Sean Hannity, a Trump adviser and ally. “There is no equal justice. There is no equal application of our laws. Our system of justice has now been weaponized beyond belief and this country is in serious trouble."
‘Buy a gun or help organize your local militia today’
One of the most alarming social media posts in response to the indictment news was found on The Donald, where one user posted a picture of Attorney General Merrick Garland, writing: “The Second Amendment was written to protect us from domestic terrorists like Merrick Garland. Get ready for war.”
In another, similar post about Garland on The Donald, one user wrote:
“America cannot allow this cowardly thug to destroy our democracy. This is what the Second Amendment was made for. Buy a gun or help organize your local militia today.”
While the threat remains somewhat vague — i.e., there are no specific instructions about the type of weapon, nor are there directions regarding the timing or location to carry out violence — it still clearly raises serious concerns about the safety of the attorney general, especially given that Trump and his allies in Congress and the media have spent the past two days pushing incendiary propaganda targeting the Justice Department and the Biden Administration. All it takes is one person to perceive this as a call to violence endorsed by the president. In fact, this very thing has very happened before, when members of a militia who were convicted of a hate crime against a Muslim argued that they should be granted leniency because they were doing what Trump would have wanted them to do when they carried out the hate crime. This was just after Robert Bowers committed the deadliest anti-Jewish hate crime in U.S. history after being inspired in part by a conspiracy theory spread by Trump.
More recently, in August 2022, an armed man who tried to attack an FBI field office in Cleveland was found to have an extensive posting history on Truth Social, much of which echoed Trump’s own claims about election fraud and “FBI corruption.”
‘LOCK, LOAD, FIRE’
On Truth Social, Trump posted his own statements weighing in on the indictment, as well as articles from right-wing websites like Gateway Pundit and right-wing media figures like Mark Levin, who declared “This is war!” during a Fox News interview on Friday.
In several posts, Trump directly targeted special counsel Jack Smith, calling him “deranged” and a “Trump hater” who filed “fake charges” after being pressured by the Biden administration. As we’ve seen time and time again, when Trump singles out someone like this, the result is almost always a flood of threats from his supporters. It’s hard to believe that Trump does not know this by now, and thus it raises the question of whether his posts targeting the special counsel are meant to incite violence, or at least threats and intimidation, against him.
Notably, Trump also used his indictment to fundraise for his presidential campaign on Truth Social (top left, below).
Also on Truth Social, Trump reposted a meme with a caption stating, “THIS IS NOT A GAME, THIS IS WAR.”
A sponsored ad for firearms that appeared directly underneath that post set a more sinister tone: “LOCK, LOAD, FIRE,” the advertisement read. This text was displayed next to a pair of hands holding a gun. The advertisement was for the Girsan MC 14 T, a weapon that the manufacturer says is “a perfect handgun for concealed carry.”
Looking at the media and social media activity of the past two days — while placing it in the context of the past several years of far-right violence — we can make a few inferences based on the available evidence.
First, the involvement of members of Congress, prominent political figures, and Trump himself in promoting, inciting, and even hinting at violence is a risk factor for acts of political violence. Research shows that mainstream acceptance of violence and violent rhetoric among political elites is associated with increased incidences of political violence, anti-government attacks, and terrorism, as well as heightened polarization and the weakening of democracy. That’s because when violence is introduced even speculatively as a possible solution for political disagreements, it creates a climate of acceptance that can facilitate mobilization to violence. It can also embolden extremist groups if they believe they can engage in violence without facing consequences.
Secondly, the spread of conspiratorial content about the government persecuting Trump and the election being “rigged” or otherwise stolen is known to be a major instigator of political unrest and violence. When people feel that their vote no longer counts and that elections are being decided by secretive, unfair processes, they are more likely to consider violence as a potential course of action. This is reflected in a trend that emerged during the Trump presidency, in which general anti-government attitudes transformed into more concrete, anti-democratic values, with many anti-government groups demonstrating a willingness to use violence for their cause.
Third, some characteristics of the social media posts discussed above may be cause for concern. For example, a few prominent political figures shared posts on social media that went beyond vague calls for war or violence and actually included the time and location of Trump’s upcoming court appearance, as well as military-style orders for those who may engage in violence or other forms of unrest. Even Trump himself seemed to issue a specific call on Truth Social for his supporters to show up at the Miami courthouse for his Tuesday court date, which wouldn’t be surprising given his pattern of behavior when he feels threatened. Increased specificity in threats and pre-event planning is considered a risk factor when assessing the potential for extremist violence, so it’s important to look for details like date, time, location, or travel plans when analyzing social media posts. However, to date, I have not seen evidence of widespread planning or coordination among extremists in relation to next week’s court date.
That doesn’t mean that no threat exists, though.
There would be no clear beginning or end to this type of modern civil war — so for all we know, we could be in the beginning stages now. And from the looks of the social media posts from the past two days, it appears that some people believe we already are.
In fact, a very significant threat exists. Incidents of domestic terrorism increased by 357% between 2013 and 2021 — an uptick that was almost entirely due to rates of far-right violence — and recent assessments indicate that the threat has not dissipated. A joint intelligence analysis produced in June 2022 by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the National Counterterrorism Center found that the risk of major civil disruption and violence remain high, “fueled by various evolving ideological and sociopolitical grievances [that] pose a sustained threat of violence to the American public, democratic institutions, and government and law enforcement officials.” The report specifically states that “flashpoint events” — such as the indictment of a former president known for stoking violence and unrest — "may exacerbate these perceived grievances, further increasing the potential for [extremist] violence.”
It’s also not clear that anyone is up to the task or properly resourced to deal with this threat. The federal approach to addressing domestic terrorism remains fragmented and inefficient, and a report by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in November warned that both tech companies and federal agencies have failed to properly allocate resources and have not been systematically tracking or reporting data on domestic extremist threats.
We already know that even obvious threats can be missed, as they were on Jan. 6, but the outlook may be even worse for less-coordinated, smaller-scale violent events that are planned on fringe platforms and in private message groups, or that occur spontaneously with little to no planning. Furthermore, common depictions of “civil war” may not even portray the threat accurately. While many people think of a civil war in a traditional sense — i.e., as a mass event, with a clearly-defined beginning and end, involving large numbers of people across a wide geographic area — I think it is more likely that a civil war today would look like pockets of unrest and individual-but-still-connected acts of violence and terror. Instead of two sides fighting each other, it would involve many different movements and shifting alliances carrying out many different types of attacks, including mass shootings, attacks on the power grid, cyberattacks, and disruptions of critical supply chains. There would be no clear beginning or end to this type of modern civil war — so for all we know, we could be in the beginning stages now. And from the looks of the social media posts from the past two days, it appears that some people believe we already are.
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