"Some folks need killing!": It's time to take MAGA threats of violence literally and seriously

A leader of Project 2025 declares the authoritarian "revolution" will be "bloodless" only "if the left allows it"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 8, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Kevin Roberts, Mark Robinson and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kevin Roberts, Mark Robinson and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Attempts by Donald Trump and his MAGA minions to create plausible deniability of their violent intentions are getting less plausible by the day. Take for instance the uproar caused last week when Kevin Roberts, the head of the Heritage Foundation, threatened a violent crackdown if Trump returns to the White House.

"We are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be," Roberts told host of Real America's Voice Dave Brat, a former congressman who spent his brief time in government claiming the attendees of the Women's March are much more dangerous than white supremacists. Roberts' right-wing group is the primary driver of Project 2025, an initiative that has done the organizing and policy work to turn Trump's dreams of being a far-right dictator into a reality. 

The word "if" is meant to be doing a lot of work there. From Trump on down, the MAGA protocol when issuing violent threats has been to couch them in ambiguous wording. For instance, Trump dropped one "peaceful" in his speech telling the MAGA crowd to "march on" the Capitol on January 2021. Another gambit is to claim the threat is a "warning," as if any violence that could result when Trump doesn't get his way is random and not the direct result of his "warnings." And, of course, there are the fake claims of "self-defense," where Trump and his allies voice violent fantasies justified by imaginary victimization at the hands of "antifa." 

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The Republican candidate for governor in North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, let loose with this recommendation at a recent campaign stop: "Some folks need killing!" Robinson hollered this in a thoroughly paranoid and overheated speech inside a church, calling "killing" a "matter of necessity!" But even here, we can see Robinson trying to construct some wiggle room for himself, by being vague about which people "need killing." Greg Sargent at the New Republic explained:

Robinson’s call for the “killing” of “some folks” came during an extended diatribe in which he attacked an extraordinary assortment of enemies. These ranged from “people who have evil intent” to “wicked people” to those doing things like “torturing and murdering and raping” to socialists and Communists. He also invoked those supposedly undermining America’s founding ideals and leftists allegedly persecuting conservatives by canceling them and doxxing them online.

It's a favorite trick of Trump's, to claim his violent intent is aimed only at a few extremists. For instance, Trump called his fellow Americans "vermin" and implied they needed elimination, but caveated it by saying he's talking about "Communists, Marxists, Fascist and Radical Left Thugs." Anyone who is reassured by this, however, should note that these are the words Trump uses to describe anyone to the left of Steve Bannon, so really, it's not a small group at all. 

Roberts, similarly, appears to be trying the "self-defense" tactic with this "if." But in his excitement over the Supreme Court granting Trump the powers of a dictator, Roberts gives up the wiggle room used to deny that threats are threats. The "choice" offered Trump's opponents is to bend the knee or face the sword. Most people, even journalists wishing to avoid arguments over what a fascist "really" means with their barely-coded threats, can see that there is no choice at all. 

Even after the events of January 6, there's often a media skittishness around discussing Trump's eagerness to use violence to silence his political opponents. Understandably so, because every time the press points out that Trump uses unsubtle language and gestures to threaten violence, a sea of disingenuous actors rise up to berate journalists into exhaustion with bad faith claims that Trump is merely "joking" or being "metaphorical." Report accurately that Trump warned of a "bloodbath" if he loses or that he posted an image depicting President Joe Biden being kidnapped, and prepare for the dogpile of gaslighting Republicans declaring they only see someone suffering "Trump derangement syndrome." Of course it is all lies, but journalists fear being seen as hyperbolic or biased, so the bullying works. 

The idea that only pants-wetters would see violence in Trump's rhetoric goes back to the 2016 campaign when journalist Salena Zito wrote in the Atlantic that Trump supporters take their leader "seriously but not literally." Since then, Zito has been exposed as a shoddy "journalist" who, uh, massaged the truth to create Trump-friendly narratives in the press. Her gambit was, in retrospect, obvious enough in its purpose: To browbeat into silence anyone who might raise the alarm about Trump's violent rhetoric, out of fear of being ridiculed as someone who can't take a joke. 

It's become an article of faith in GOP circles that January 6 wasn't violent or was the FBI/antifa or that Trump didn't do it — the excuse changes by the minute. That allows Republicans to ignore the dispositive fact that Trump literally means the terrible things he says, to the point where Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., smoothly lies to cameras by denying Trump's criminal behavior. But, as Roberts's threat of violent suppression of "the left" shows, the ability of Republicans to pretend it's all just a laugh is eroding quickly. 

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As Kristy Parker, former federal prosecutor and counsel at Protect Democracy told the "Daily Blast" podcast, even with this new "immunity" ruling by the Supreme Court legalizing most — if not all — crimes committed by (Republican) presidents, there are still lingering limits on what illegal actions Trump could take in office. For instance, Trump's wild threat to falsify charges of "TREASON" against former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for daring to speak out against him. Trump wants "TELEVISED MILITARY TRIBUNALS," likely because that sounds scarier and more extra-legal than a jury trial.  But, as Parker says, you still have judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement who will resist the command to throw out the rule of law in order to railroad an innocent woman. 

That is why Roberts is issuing his threat. As the 900-page playbook published by Project 2025 can tell you, their definition of "the left" is anyone who might resist far-right agenda — especially federal employees who insist on obeying the law instead of Trump. Any judge or prosecutor who refuses to falsify charges or evidence against Cheney would be reimagined as someone who is not "allowing" the "second American Revolution." Roberts is pre-emptively blaming the victim for the bloody "revolution" he is imagining. But, of course, the responsibility lies solely on the shoulders of those who are using threats of violence to scare people out of sticking by their oath of office. 

We should take this seriously, and not just because January 6 proved that MAGA means all the violent talk. Both the comments by Robinson and Roberts show that the MAGA threats are losing the thick swaddling of plausible deniability that they used to have. They're barely trying to pretend there's an "if" in there at all. The yearning to unleash violence on the majority of Americans who oppose the fascist project is right there on the surface. It's very much like MAGA activists know they're on the brink of being able to go hog wild, and can no longer contain their excitement. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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