What's ahead for Trump: There's "literally no downside" to encouraging violence

After four indictments. he's completely fueled by rage. We have to be ready for the likely consequences

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 17, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, returned a sweeping indictment of Donald Trump and 18 other individuals involved in his 2021 coup attempt, including attorneys Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, along with former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, for multiple alleged crimes related to their plot to nullify the 2020 presidential election by overturning the results in Georgia.

Trump himself was charged with "soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents." The former president and his 18 co-defendants have also been charged under Georgia's racketeering laws because of the complex nature of their alleged conspiracy. Those charges carry a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

The Georgia indictment also includes new information that Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election continued for many months into 2021, long after the events of Jan. 6 and Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger a few days before that.

At MTN, former federal prosecutor Ron Filipkowski offered this conclusion about the Georgia indictment:

I come to this with a unique perspective. I was involved in Republican politics for decades and monitored this scheme as it was unfolding in real time. I am also a former federal prosecutor in Georgia, and am one of the few lawyers in America who has defended a huge, complex RICO jury trial and won.

The bottom line is that the proof in this case is overwhelming. The fact that this trial is going to be public and televised will be extremely valuable. The American public can see and hear and all facts, and don't have to rely on media filters. The evidence in this case is devastating for Trump and his co-conspirators. I fully expect many of them to cut deals to testify against Trump, where even more incriminating evidence will come to light.

This is Donald Trump's fourth indictment for serious crimes, which include allegations of financial fraud and stealing classified documents as the Jan. 6 coup attempt and events around the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump now faces He now faces 91 total charges in two states and two federal court districts. Hypothetically, he potentially faces multiple long prison sentences and, at age 77, a somewhat realistic prospect of dying behind bars.

At the American Prospect, Harold Meyerson offers this observation about what the Georgia indictment tells us about the state of today's Republican Party:

With 19 indicted conspirators and 30 unindicted conspirators, there are now almost as many Republicans caught up in Fulton County's wheels of justice as there are Republican candidates for president. At some point, we may want to indict those candidates (among whom only Chris Christie and, lately and reluctantly, Mike Pence, have noted that Trump appears to have broken the law), too. On the charge of contributing to the erosion of American democracy, any number are guilty as sin.

While reading the Georgia indictment, I was reminded of my July 2022 conversation with retired U.S. Army Gen. Russel Honoré, who told me that he saw Trump as "a political thug who basically said, 'Hey, I'm the president. I'm empowered to do anything I want to do'…. Had Donald Trump not been president he probably would have been arrested on Jan. 6 for his role in what happened with the coup and the attack on the Capitol."

Only one outcome is likely: Trump will escalate his behavior all the way to a final act of personal and collective destruction.

Now that that is actually happening — Trump has until Aug. 25 to surrender in Atlanta for arraignment — how will the twice-impeached, four-times-indicted former president respond? First of all, Trump has shown himself through his public and private behavior to be a sociopath, if not a full-on psychopath. He is also a white supremacist, a woman-hater, a confirmed sexual predator, a megalomaniac and various other bad things. That's who the man is; he will not and cannot change, and it's foolish to suggest otherwise. As he faces the increasing pressure of multiple prosecutions and the 2024 presidential campaign, only one outcome is likely: He will escalate the worst of his behavior, perhaps all the way to a final act of personal and collective destruction for himself and his followers.

Ever since his Aug. 1 indictment in Washington on the Jan. 6 federal case, Trump has attempted to intimidate, bully and attack many of his perceived enemies, including special counsel Jack Smith, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Judge Tanya Chutkan, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and various potential witnesses and potential jury members. Trump's allies in the Republican Party, throughout the right-wing propaganda machine and among the public have almost unanimously rallied to his defense, amplifying the ex-president's lies, distortions, threats and false claims of innocence.

Trump's fundraising and campaign emails consistently depict him as a MAGA martyr or messiah who is sacrificing himself for the good of the country, or at least on behalf of "patriots" and "real Americans" in their struggle against "Stalinist" or "Communist" or "Marxist" enemies. Those imaginary foes are seen as part of a shadowy "deep state" cabal that involves the Biden White House, the Justice Department, the Democratic Party as a whole, virtually all of the "fake news" media and, of course, George Soros.

In a series of posts on his Truth Social platform last Thursday, Trump went deep into incoherent invective, even by his standards:

What Crooked Joe Biden, who can't string two sentences together, has done to our once great Country through his Open Borders CATASTROPHE, may go down as the greatest and most damaging mistake ever made in USA HISTORY. It is not even believable that such incompetence and stupidity could have been allowed to happen. OUR COUNTRY IS BEING DESTROYED BY A MAN WITH THE MIND, IDEAS, AND I.Q. OF A FIRST GRADER. THIS INVASION OF OUR COUNTRY MUST STOP IMMEDIATELY. IT CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE!

I think that Crooked Joe Biden is not only dumb and incompetent, I believe he has gone MAD, a stark raving Lunatic, with his HORRIBLE AND COUNTRY THREATENING ENVIRONMENTAL, OPEN BORDERS, & DOJ/FBI WEAPONIZATION POLICIES. HE IS A MENTAL CATASTROPHE THAT IS LEADING OUR COUNTRY TO HELL!

I asked Dr. Justin Frank, a former professor of psychiatry at George Washington University and author of the bestselling book "Trump on the Couch," for his insights into Trump's reactions. He responded by email, saying that these enraged posts offer more evidence that Trump is a threat to the public and needs to be confined:

Judge Tanya Chutkan believes Trump poses a serious risk to legal proceedings. As a physician and psychoanalyst, I couldn't agree more. Medical care has three basic stages: prevention of illness, treatment of acute illness and treatment of chronic illness. ...

The threat to American democracy's health from Donald Trump is real; already we are dealing with chronic political illness that continues to proliferate untreated. ... Now we have a courageous judge trying to prevent further damage to the body politic at the hands of Trump and his mob, who are actively intimidating witnesses, prosecutors and judges. Yet the remedy of surrounding courthouses with police protection is weak tea, as we've already seen when it comes to preventing the kind of violence Trump engineered on Jan. 6, 2021.

But where is the prevention? The disgraced former president continues to play both ends against the middle, trying to intimidate some while provoking others. He remains a dangerous, mutating virus that requires preventative measures. If only there were a vaccine for "Virus 45" that spews threats that continue to poison our national sanity itself. He should be held in custody before trial, if at all possible. He has been granted bail his entire life. It doesn't work. As President George W. Bush once said, "Containment doesn't hold water." I'm inclined to agree; it certainly has no effect on Donald Trump. 

Trump's escalating threats in response to the prospect of real accountability also reinforce my own recent observation that Trump is a constant gardener of violence who has planted many seeds. Those seeds will continue to sprout and blossom all over the country. One such sprout appeared in Utah, where a man named Craig Robertson had threatened to assassinate Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and other people he believed to be Trump's enemies. Last week Robertson was killed by FBI agents when they attempted to apprehend him at his home.  

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According to former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi, Robertson was facing charges for "three distinct federal violations related to making various and repeated ominous threats on two different social media platforms," and had allegedly "made a detailed description of how he'd like to kill Bragg, including where he'd hide out and what weapon he'd used to kill him." Not long before the FBI came to his house, Robertson wrote, "Hey FBI agents, you still monitoring my social media? Checking to make sure I have a loaded gun handy in case you drop by again." Apparently he did: Robertson reportedly pointed a .357 pistol at agents before they shot him. The raid is being investigated internally by the FBI.

Law enforcement, terrorism and national security experts continue to warn that far-right fascists and MAGA true believers pose the greatest threat to America's domestic security. Potentially, there could be tens of thousands of people affiliated with the white right who are prepared to engage in acts of political violence in support of Trump and his movement.

I asked Michaela Millender, program officer at the Soufan Center and an expert on right-wing extremism, for her thoughts on the possibility of political violence in the unprecedented context of an ex-president (and current candidate) facing multiple criminal trials amid an election campaign. She responded by email that the atmosphere of heightened online threat, coupled with the Utah incident:

[R]eflect a broader environment of far-right extremism and hostility in the U.S. Particularly, the events highlight how radicalization incubated and facilitated online rarely stays there and often has real-world impacts. Increasingly, narratives that serve to radicalize individuals online are reiterated and amplified by politicians, mainstreaming extremist narratives and legitimizing them to disaffected individuals.

Although some who knew Craig Robinson, who has been described as an active church member, may find it unexpected that the person of faith they knew could make the alleged threats, the increasing influence of Christian nationalism on the far right makes the fact far less surprising. Increased calls for holy war, comparisons of the criminal case against former President Trump to the persecution of Jesus Christ, and growing anti-government sentiment within the Christian nationalist movement is spiritualizing aspects of the broader violent far right.

There is also a risk that the events in Utah could serve as another flashpoint for anti-government sentiment and violent extremist acts. There is precedent for this, as threats against the FBI and federal law enforcement spiked after the FBI's raid at Mar-a-Lago in 2022, for example. Although details are still emerging about the FBI raid in Utah, members of the far right have already taken it up as a data point to further prove — from their perspective — that the FBI is strategically targeting and killing critics of the Biden administration. For those on the far right, this affirms their perceived grievances and may motivate disaffected individuals to act on those grievances in violent ways.

I also asked Brynn Tannehill, author of "American Fascism: How the GOP Is Subverting Democracy," for her insights:

Violence from the MAGA wing of the GOP is a real threat. Something in excess of three-quarters of all terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 has come from right-wing sources, and only about 4% from the left. My sources tell me that federal law enforcement is concerned about what will happen after Nov. 7, 2024, regardless of who wins, but much more so if Trump loses. This weekend we saw Matt Gaetz standing on a stage with Trump arguing that the only path to meaningful change is violence.

Trump himself will do anything to stay out of prison, which is looking more and more likely if he doesn't win in 2024. He will absolutely attempt to incite violence again if he thinks his next stop is prison. What's he got to lose at that point? If he doesn't stage a coup, he's in prison for the rest of his life. If his coup fails, he's in prison for the rest of his life. If it succeeds, he's safe as long as he hangs on. For Trump, there's literally no downside to encouraging violence if he loses, and his followers are getting the message, just like the guy in Utah.

Right-wing media influencers are already embracing Craig Robertson as a hero and martyr, much as they embraced and mythologized Ashli Babbitt.

As reported by Media Matters, right-wing media personalities and other influencers are already valorizing Craig Robertson as a hero and martyr, much in the same way as they embraced and mythologized Jan. 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by Capitol Police while trying to break into the House speaker's lobby. In all probability, there will be more right-wing political violence and thuggery ahead, and the right-wing echo chamber — along with too much of the mainstream media — will claim that such events are the isolated actions of disturbed individuals, and that of course Donald Trump and his allies are not responsible. Such deflections and denials are a defining feature of "stochastic terrorism," in which political leaders encourage violence through direct or indirect appeals and then hide behind whatever rhetorical fig leaf is available. These days, the "lone wolves" are extinct. Political violence is the result of a process of radicalization, socialization and manipulation by leaders and other trusted figures and peers.

Trump's indictments have been quiet affairs to this point. But we still live in a worsening political environment where many people on the right perceive political violence as a legitimate or at least acceptable tool in obtaining and holding political power. Donald Trump and the other members of his widespread criminal conspiracy against democracy must be brought to justice. But we must all be prepared for the violence and mayhem that may result. How that violence is confronted will tell us a great deal about America's immediate future. 

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.

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Commentary Donald Trump Fascism Georgia Indictment Jack Smith Political Violence Stochastic Terrorism