Violence is the new Republican grift

Republicans know more death enhances their power

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 25, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

A supporter of President Trump holds a flag and gun outside the Arizona State Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza for the Washington Post/Getty Images)
A supporter of President Trump holds a flag and gun outside the Arizona State Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza for the Washington Post/Getty Images)

Carl Schmitt was a German legal philosopher and political theorist, a critic of democracy and liberalism, and a rabid antisemite who served as the chief legal adviser to the Nazis and the Third Reich. One of his main arguments was that a leader ("the sovereign") who has been given legitimacy and power by the people (preferably "homogenous") can decide to create a "state of exception" in response to some type of "crisis". In essence, a leader can use the law (or work outside of it) as he sees fit in the interest of the public good — as he defines it. Schmitt also believed that violence was the basic essence of politics and power, and that political decision-making should be structured by the distinction between friend and enemy (meaning the Other).

For obvious reasons, Schmitt's theories about a state of exception, violence, totalitarianism, and nationalism were highly appealing for the Nazis and other such antidemocratic and illiberal movements and leaders.

Steve Bannon, Trump's former advisor, a Jan. 6 coup plotter and insurrectionist, a self-described "Leninist" who is also a neofascist that wants to tear down "the existing order", most certainly has a deep familiarity with Carl Schmitt. Michael Flynn, the now disgraced former United States Army general, a key figure in the Jan. 6 coup attempt, and an expert in counter insurgency and psychological operations and regime change, most certainly knows Carl Schmitt's work and theories. The members of the right-wing brain trust that inhabit such places as the Federalist Society, the Claremont Institute, and the various other think tanks, research institutes and Koch-funded university departments and professorships who are doing the intellectual and legal work of undermining America's multiracial pluralist democracy most certainly also know Carl Schmitt.

Most Republican and other right-wing elected officials and members of the political class and media machine likely do not know who Carl Schmitt is. That is most certainly true of Donald Trump, a man who is proudly ignorant and does not read. It is almost certain that the average Republican voter, and other rank-and file-members of the MAGA movement do not know who Carl Schmitt is. But that does not matter because they are most certainly compelled to embrace Schmitt's arguments in favor of violence against some type of "enemy" such as Black and brown people, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, Democrats, liberals, progressives, and others deemed to not be "real Americans." 

In all, violence in its many forms (which includes random violence, terrorism, hate crimes, intimidation, and vigilantism) is central to the Republican fascists and larger white right and "conservative" movement's project to end America's multiracial pluralistic democracy by gutting the rule of law and the country's democratic and other societal institutions.

Trump's greatest appeal is how he gives his followers and others in the MAGA movement's orbit permission to be their worst true horrible selves. Violence bonds members of a social group together; this is especially true of political personality cults such as the Trump MAGA movement. Healthy democracies discourage and outlaw political violence because it is antithetical to normal politics with its rules-based deliberation and collective decision-making and other ways of attempting to be legitimate sources of authority among the governed.

Trump continues to valorize the Jan. 6 terrorists as "heroes" and "political prisoners" who are victims of the deep state and the Biden administration.

The coup attempt on Jan. 6 was part of a much larger strategy of using violence, threats, and intimidation to undermine American democracy and to create a space for Trump-GOP fascist MAGA movement and larger white right to expand their power and influence. To that point, the Republican Party and its voters have not disavowed political violence as seen on Jan. 6 and beyond. In fact, public opinion polls and other research show the opposite: A significant percentage of today's Republican voters increasingly see right-wing political violence up to and including a coup to remove President Biden from office and/or a sustained insurgency or second Civil War as legitimate means of getting and keeping political power.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Republican-controlled legislatures and state houses are continuing to pass laws that encourage (and make it "legal") for drivers to run over protesters (as applied in red state America this legal violence can generally only be used to maximum effect against black and brown people and others who are deemed to be "un-American" because they are too "Woke", members of "the left" or otherwise not sufficiently "patriotic" because they dare to exercise their civil rights such as free speech and freedom of assembly.

Republican legislators in Texas are creating a type of "militia" that will be empowered to patrol the Southern border. If created, members of this "militia" would be granted immunity from civil or criminal prosecution. Given how Texas has historically treated Hispanics and Latinos and other non-whites, human rights organizations have warned that these militias will be de facto death squads.

Trump continues to valorize the Jan. 6 terrorists as "heroes" and "political prisoners" who are victims of the deep state and the Biden administration.

Republican lawmakers push for national concealed carry and expanded "stand your ground laws." Based on what is known about how the easy access to guns and the encouragement to use them irresponsibly directly correlates to an increase in gun violence (including suicides and mass murders), the American right wing is trying to create a Hobbesian state of nature where violence and fear of death is everywhere and the rule of law is increasingly meaningless.

Social psychologists have repeatedly shown that the political decision-making of conservative-authoritarians is largely motivated by fear and death anxieties. The Republican Party's opposition to effective gun control is a strategic decision because they know that more death and more killing from guns and other causes (such as COVID) enhances their power and control over their public  – including support for a fascist leader or other demagogue such as Donald Trump.

The Republican Party's and "conservative" movement's policies are deeply unpopular with the American people. Thus, the Republican fascists and larger white right and "conservative" movement have increasingly concluded that violence is a necessary and required (and legitimate) way for them to impose their will on the American people in the name of "defending traditional values" and "real America" (which is not subtle code for "White America" and "White Christianity").

To that end, the Republican fascists and "conservatives" and the larger white right possess a deep attraction to and affinity for vigilante and other extra-legal and illegal violence as committed most recently by the likes of Daniel Penny (who choked a mentally ill homeless black man to death on a New York subway), Kyle Rittenhouse aka "the Kenosha Kid", George Zimmerman (who killed a black teenager Trayvon Martin for the "crime" of walking home and refusing to comply with a wannabe cop's orders) and too many others. Police officers who kill unarmed and otherwise vulnerable Black and brown people are also valorized by the American right wing.

Ultimately, right-wing vigilantism and other violent acts are encouraged by a vast right-wing machine that makes such people into stars and heroes and then lavishes them with money. At the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie issues a warning about the American right wing's increasing "blood lust" for vigilante violence in the Age of Trump and the country's worsening democracy crisis:

It's the same language, the same tropes, the same ideas. In listening to conservative fans of Rittenhouse, Perry and Penny, you would never know that there were actual people on the other side of these confrontations. You would never know that those people were, in life, entitled to the protection of the law and that they are, in death, entitled to a full account of the last moments of their lives, with legal responsibility for the men who killed them, if that's what a jury decides.

What you would know is that some Americans are "heroes" and "law-abiding citizens" and others are not. You would know that those Americans get the benefit of the doubt. And you would learn that to be seen as a problem by one of these law-abiding citizens is to be in jeopardy and even, potentially, to forfeit your claim to life. We see this in the worst of the discourse around Neely, who is framed not as a citizen with rights worth respecting but as a dangerous nuisance who deserved his fate.

One last point. DeSantis called Penny a good Samaritan. We also saw that language used in defense of Rittenhouse during his trial.

As media watchdog group Media Matters reports, there is a political machine that protects, funds, and elevates these right-wing vigilantes to hero and cult status:

With this wave of promotion — including personal donations from right-wing commentators Tim Pool, Candace Owens, and Tammy Bruce — Penny's defense fund has raised over $2 million on GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising site previously used by January 6 rioters. …

Penny is far from the first vigilante killer to receive the full backing of conservative media. After Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, at an August 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, right-wing media figures similarly jumped to his defense, soliciting donations and painting him as a victim who engaged in justified self-defense. Drew Hernandez — a frequent Tucker Carlson guest who has worked with Turning Point USA, Steve Bannon, and Infowars — even served as a witness for Rittenhouse's defense.

Since the Kenosha shooting, Rittenhouse has turned into a conservative icon and used his new platform to advocate for other vigilantes. Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight in April, Rittenhouse and Carlson petitioned Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to pardon Daniel Perry, another right-wing media darling who was found guilty of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester in July 2020 after prosecutors revealed a history of messages in which he called protesters "monkeys" and threatened to kill them.

With a campaign of support behind him, Penny has joined the ranks of George Zimmerman, Travis and Gregory McMichael, Andrew Lester, Byron Smith, and various vigilante patrols and right-wing militias whose extrajudicial violence has been excused by conservative media.

The above is reflective of how American society, historically and to the present, has a deep and pathological appetite for violence both at home and abroad. America is truly "exceptional" in that way as one of most violent societies on the planet.

Public health researchers and other experts have shown in great detail how violence spreads across communities and broader society like a pathogen or virus, that in many ways is preventable and can otherwise be contained and treated.

Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement and its forces want the American people to be sick and terminally ill with such violence and all the misery and death it causes. It is that sickness and death which the Republican fascists, the "conservatives" and the larger white right and their forces see as a pathway to unlimited power for all time and their dream-nightmare of a new American plutocracy. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega