Take Trump’s ‘Warning’ of Violence for What It Is—a Threat

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

If a guy told you he’s going to punch you in the face, and he told his buddies to punch other people in the face, and then he warned everyone else that they were going to start punching people in the face, and they ultimately did punch many people in the face—you’d probably take their word for it if they threatened to do it again, right?

That’s what Donald Trump and his MAGA militias are doing right now.

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The ex-president—still unwilling to admit he lost an election that was at least as fair as the one he won four years earlier—might yet face the first meaningful legal consequences of his decades-long career of naked corruption. I’d still bet on him slithering out of accountability, again, but it’s possible that his asinine pilfering of highly classified documents as a private citizen, and then refusing to give them back to the federal government after months of promising he would, could be Trump’s Waterloo.

The guy who made a million “Lock Her Up” chants bloom during the 2016 campaign (over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, with which she shared some classified material) now says law enforcement holding him accountable for high crimes would be nothing less than a politically motivated banana republic-style prosecution of an ex-president.

And, were he to be prosecuted for essentially stealing state secrets, Trump predicted we’d see “problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before,” adding, “I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.” (Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s more prominent on-again, off-again sycophants, also warned that a Trump indictment could lead to “riots in the streets.”)

But, these are merely “warnings”—predictions of what could happen—they’re not incitements to violence, right?

If only there was some past behavior we could draw upon to make the appropriate determination.

You could break Google by trying to do a basic search on all the times Trump has encouraged his supporters to act violently—whether it be MAGA rally attendees sucker-punching protesters, cops abusing detained people, or eager foot soldiers in his coup attempt.

But to cite just one example—specifically because it’s in the context of Trump issuing a “warning,” ostensibly meant to prepare the public for the consequences of someone doing something he doesn’t like—let’s go back to Nov. 2, 2020: the day before the election.

Trump, the sitting president, tweeted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow Pennsylvania to receive absentee ballots for three days after Election Day (a common practice in many states)—would “induce violence in the streets.”

Was this a warning? Or was it a threat?

Trump appeared to make his intentions clear when he added, “Something must be done!” and called the Supreme Court’s decision “dangerous.” Lest the meaning be lost on anyone still dense enough to think Trump’s just talking shit and shouldn’t be taken literally, he added, “And I mean physically dangerous.”

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A couple months later, at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, we learned once and for all that Trump should be taken seriously AND literally. When he “warns” of violence, he’s implicitly activating that part of the MAGA base, and they take him literally.

That’s why—with scores of GOP candidates for U.S. Senate, governorships, and state election offices refusing to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and indicating they won’t abide by any unfavorable results in the 2022 election—Trump and his allies’ “warnings” cannot be waved off (AGAIN) as harmless trolling.

During Trump’s rise to power in 2015 and 2016, I was explicitly told by my editor at a right-leaning news outlet to not cover violence at Trump rallies—under the specious logic that such incidents were just a liberal media-hyped “sideshow” distracting us from the “real issues.” Subsequent events proved the witless folly of such naivete, and vindicated those of us who took the man seriously and literally, and also observed the violent fervor of many of his supporters for what it was.

After seven years of this guy fomenting violence and creating previously unthinkable situations (the open embrace of far-right conspiracy movements and paramilitary organizations, the storming of the Capitol, the destruction of the tradition of peaceful transfer of power—I could go on), you’d simply be a fool to not think Trump-incited political violence isn’t going to happen again.

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That’s why Republicans and right-leaning commentators with a shred of integrity should respond forcefully and resolutely to such “warnings” that they won’t be a party to fascistic blackmail. At some point, you can’t (in good conscience) sit on your hands and blame the libs for making you anti-anti-Trump. It’s OK to be a pro-democracy conservative.

This a perfect chance for the non-fascistic right to, at last, put some meaningful daylight between itself and the unhinged loser who would sooner scorch the Earth than concede defeat. This is a moment to, with a clear voice, declare all political violence morally unacceptablenot just when it’s BLM or antifa. And it’s an opportunity to defy a movement that stands for nothing but the defense of its cult of personality, and has literal blueprints for how to conduct street violence in service of the dear leader.

Non-MAGA conservatives, libertarians, and right-leaning independents: If you’re a patriot—hell, if you simply believe in the rule of law—do the right thing. Stand up and be counted. Because they’re going to do it again.

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