If there is anyone in the GOP who should understand how dangerous Donald Trump's yearnings for violence are, it should be former Vice President Mike Pence. Along with Republican members of Congress, Pence was in danger of bodily harm or death on January 6, 2021, after Trump sicced a murderous mob on the Capitol to intimidate them into stealing the 2020 election for him. Pence was in particular danger, as Trump lied to the crowd, telling them the vice president had the power to give him another term but was simply refusing to do so.
"Hang Mike Pence!" the insurrectionists chanted.
Pence and his family cowered in fear while everyone in the building was in danger that day, including now-Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The California Republican called Trump from his hiding spot during the riot, complaining, "They're trying to f—— kill me!"
"Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are," Trump reportedly told McCarthy.
If Kevin McCarthy was serious about opposing violence, he would criticize Trump's unsubtle encouragement of terrorism.
So one would think that Republicans would be a little more upset that Trump is doing it again, issuing all-caps posts on Truth Social demanding that his followers "PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!" in response to reports of an impending criminal indictment for the former president. "THEY'RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!"
While Trump hasn't explicitly called for violence in his relentless online screaming, there's no good faith denial that violence is his desire. Even mainstream media sources are pointing out that this language is, if anything, more over-the-top than the rhetoric he used to gin up a mob on January 6. Yet despite knowing how bad things can get, Republican leaders are giving Trump's incitement a boost of sweet, sweet validation. But hey, this time he's aiming his cannon of unhinged MAGA types at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, not Congress, so I guess their attitude is "YOLO!"
To be certain, many Republicans who are defending Trump are including ass-covering calls for non-violence. McCarthy told reporters, "We want calmness out there." Pence said he wanted people to protest in a "peaceful and in a lawful manner. Even the top Republican troll in the House, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, tweeted, "We don't need to protest."
None of these calls for peace should be taken at face value, however, because they are embedded in a larger rhetorical strategy of affirmation for Trump's lies and excuse-making for any violence that results. If McCarthy was serious about opposing violence, he would criticize Trump's unsubtle encouragement of terrorism. Instead, he's running cover for Trump with rambling comments claiming Trump was trying "educate people about what's going on" and that anyone who sees the obvious threat in Trump's comments is just "misinterpet[ing]" Trump.
McCarthy also validated Trump's lie that this is a "WITCH HUNT" by releasing a statement claiming the indictment —which, mind you, hasn't even happened yet — is "an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA." McCarthy's language echoed the demonizing language that Trump has been unloading on Bragg, all of which serves to paint a target on the district attorney's back. McCarthy's empty call for "calmness" is irrelevant here. By echoing Trump's lies and excusing Trump's inciting language, McCarthy is signaling tacit approval for MAGA violence — even if he can't admit as much to himself.
Whatever Pence thinks he's doing by pivoting to leftist "violence" that happens mainly in the fantasies of Republicans, the main effect of his words is to justify right-wing violence.
Pence is playing similar word games.
"At a time when there's a crime wave in New York City, the fact that the Manhattan DA thinks that indicting president Trump is his top priority just tells you everything you need to know about the radical left in this country," he said in response to the reports of an impending indictment. He also immediately undercut his call for "peaceful" protest by invoking the largely imaginary "violence that occurred in cities throughout this country in the summer of 2020."
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Whatever Pence thinks he's doing by pivoting to leftist "violence" that happens mainly in the fantasies of Republicans, the main effect of his words is to justify right-wing violence. We've heard this time and again from January 6 insurrectionists and their sympathizers, who argue that any violence they do is okay because of the supposed violence from the left. Of course, the vast majority of said "leftist violence" is simply made-up nonsense on Fox News, but that doesn't change how it's interpreted by right-wing audiences as permission for their own, very real, urges toward political violence.
It's the same story with Marjorie Taylor Greene.
These Republicans are winking at and excusing violence on behalf of a man who nearly got them killed by sending a violent mob after them on January 6.
Her throat-clearing about not protesting is less important than the fact that she's working overtime at generating conspiracy theories to rationalize any MAGA violence that does happen. When asked for comment from the Daily Beast, she rambled on about how "federal agents [who] infiltrate political movements and attempt to incite political violence." The message to any would-be terrorists: If you commit an act of violence, don't worry because Greene is ready to step in and paint you as a hero and a victim — just as she's done with the January 6 insurrectionists.
On Monday, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, upped the ante again by kickstarting congressional harassment of Bragg.
The gaslight is thick, as usual, with Jordan. Not only did Trump almost certainly break the law, but his co-conspirator and former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for this crime. But the larger issue here is that Jordan is doing this in the midst of Trump doing everything he can to instigate violence against Bragg. He called Bragg, who is Black, "A RACIST, SOROS BACKED D.A., WHO LETS MURDERERS, RAPISTS, AND DRUG DEALERS WALK FREE" and repeatedly, falsely accused Bragg of being corrupt and on the take. The main impact of forcing Bragg to testify in a kangaroo hearing would be to spread his photo even further in the MAGA world, making him an even bigger target. Jordan and other Republicans no doubt know they're endangering Bragg's safety, but they simply don't care.
It cannot be stated enough: These Republicans are winking at and excusing violence on behalf of a man who nearly got them killed by sending a violent mob after them on January 6. They know he's chaotic and sociopathic and would sacrifice any one of them if he thought it would get him more power. Hell, he'd probably trade any of their lives for a free burger at McDonald's. But since they're all so convinced their own route to power goes through Trump, they will empower him to get away with crimes — even if he tries to use violence to escape accountability.