The Theater of the Deplorable

The GOP ignores warnings of violence

On Wednesday, Republican members of the United States Senate spent much of the day mocking concerns about domestic political violence — and attacking efforts to confront a wave of new threats.

Republicans berated Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday over the Justice Department’s initiative to address threats of violence and harassment directed at school administrators, teachers and school board members, incidents that have increased as education has become a culture war battleground.

All of this took place three years — to the day — after one of the worst incidents of political violence in the nation’s history. On October 27, 2018, a gunman who was upset about immigrant “caravans” murdered 11 Jews in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The alleged synagogue gunman, Robert D. Bowers, is suspected of blanketing the Gab social media site with anti-Semitic postings.

One post links the Central American caravan – which Trump has used to bolster fears of a wave of unlawful migrants – to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helps resettle refugees in American communities.

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Bowers is suspected of writing hours before authorities said he opened fire at Tree of Life.

Ten months later another gunman shot and killed 23 people in a Wal Mart in El Paso, Texas. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he declared, echoing Trumpian rhetoric.

A year ago this month, 13 men were arrested for plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

And on January 6, five people died during an attack on the nation’s Capitol, in an attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Those should have been sobering moments — reminders that conspiracy theories, hate, and lies can have horrific consequences. Conservative leaders could have called out the inflammatory rhetoric and pushed back on the overheated rhetoric of MAGA World.

Instead, they chose denial, evasion, and silence. And, as a result, we’ve blown past all those alarms, even as new threats targeting elections and school officials are reaching a new pitch of intensity.

How bad is it?

"I am a hunter -- and I think you should be hunted," a woman can be heard saying in a voicemail left for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in September. "You will never be safe in Arizona again."

Or there's the man who spit, "Die you bitch, die! Die you bitch, die!" repeatedly into the phone, in another of several dozen threatening and angry voicemails directed at the Democratic secretary of state and shared exclusively with CNN by her office.

Officials and aides in secretary of state offices in Arizona and other states targeted by former President Donald Trump in his attack on last year's election results told CNN about living in constant terror -- nervously watching the people around them at events, checking in their rearview mirrors for cars following them home and sitting up at night wondering what might happen next.

This Philadelphia official also recounted threats to murder his children:

And, ICYMI: “When do we start killing people?”


Then there are the schools.

Earlier this month AG Garland directed the F.B.I. and U.S. attorneys to meet with local law enforcement agencies to open “dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response” to a rising tide of threats against school board members and educators.

“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” Garland wrote. “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

That led to Wednesday’s Theater of the Deplorable.

Lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were among those lashing out at Garland on Wednesday, but Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) appeared to deliver the strongest statement, saying Garland "should resign in disgrace" over the memo.

Garland had been careful to draw a distinction between legitimate criticism and threats of violence. But the GOP appears to be all-in on the educational culture war, so expect the temperature to keep rising.


Here’s what I wrote three years ago for The Weekly Standard:

In a nation of more than 300 million, there are more than a handful of unbalanced individuals who might take all of this both literally and seriously.

That is what makes these times so dangerous and Trump’s behavior so reckless. Leadership matters.

In an age without gatekeepers, guardrails, or adults in the room, overheated rhetoric is a dangerous accelerant; if our opponents are Nazis, or every election is Flight 93, then violence becomes justifiable and perhaps inevitable. 

Some of us are old enough to remember the 1960s, when riots and assassinations made violence and political murder seem almost commonplace. I can remember exactly where I was when John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed; I was in Chicago for the riots that surrounded the 1968 Democratic Convention. A would-be assassin tried to kill Gerald Ford in 1975; another nearly killed Ronald Reagan in 1981. 

Since then, we have lived through a period of relative peacefulness, but the potential for violence has always been there, just beneath the surface. In the years since that spasm of violence, we have not evolved into a more peaceful species, and both history and human nature tell is that tribal hatreds can easily become tribal violence, which is why the norms of civility matter.

In our Nietzschean win-at-all-costs politics that demands supermen rather than statesmen, civility is often derided as a pale and etiolated value… But the emphasis on civility is not a matter of soft-heartedness or even etiquette; it is a hard-headed recognition of human nature and the dangers of unbridled toxic tribalism.

We forget that at our peril. Our politics is always just a few steps away from The Lord of the Flies, as street fights break out between the Brown Shirts and the Reds, between the Proud Boys and Antifa in contests of street thuggery.

Unfortunately, we know where that leads.

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Meanwhile, in Wisconsin…

Via AP:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch downplayed threats against school board members, saying recently that she would “love” for those targeted with anger during the pandemic to have experienced what she and former Gov. Scott Walker did during the Act 10 union protests a decade ago.

Kleefisch, a Republican running for governor in 2022, has spoken out against violence targeting people in office. But she walked a fine line when speaking at an Oct. 11 “Pints and Politics” event organized by the Kenosha County Republican Party…

I would love for these folks to have gone through what Gov. Scott Walker and I went through during the recalls: The vuvuzelas and the drums, and the death threats, and the people who were showering inside the public restrooms, sleeping two-by-two in sleeping bags, banging on cars, threatening my children, spreading lies and intimidating us,” Kleefisch said in audio obtained by the liberal advocacy group American Bridge 21st Century and provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Imagine if school board members felt something like that. Instead, all they feel is the pressure of their actual constituents asking them to do their job.”

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Meanwhile, in Ohio:

The leading GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate endorses one the right’s worst dingleberry (h/t Tim Miller) bigots.

Our former colleague, John McCormack reminds us who Loomer is:


And after a white supremacist murdered 51 people in Christchurch New Zealand, she posted:

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Quick Hits

1. The GOP Is the Theranos Party

Christian Schneider, in today’s Bulwark:

Trump has become the ultimate political practitioner of a Holmes-style strategy of creating a false reality upon which he can never deliver. Holmes faces jail time for her deceit; Trump will be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, if he so chooses.

From the beginning, Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was rigged was as fanciful as Holmes’ claims that her machine could run dozens of blood tests with only finger stick.

2. Will Critical Race Theory Sink McAuliffe?

Mona Charen argues that Democrats need to tack to the middle on cultural issues.

The matter is clouded by imprecision, poor information, and deliberate incitement. McAuliffe is not wrong that Republicans are exaggerating the prevalence of CRT. And while it’s undoubtedly the case that some parents object to CRT because they are badly motivated, some are genuinely worried about exacerbating racism in the name of fighting it. Instead of denying that there’s any issue at all, McAuliffe could have stressed that there’s one right way and many wrong ways to teach history.

The right way tells the unvarnished truth about slavery, racism, and Jim Crow, while also emphasizing the success of the Civil Rights movement, affirmative action, and other efforts to combat the legacy of racism and discrimination. One wrong way to teach history is to airbrush the brutality of slavery, lynchings, and racism. Another wrong way amplifies race as the sum total of identity, encourages segregationist mindsets, and fails to account for progress.

3. Pro-Trump Professors Are Plotting an Authoritarian Comeback

Laura K. Field writes in The New Republic:

Since 2016, an array of little-known conservative intellectuals and think tank sorts have emerged as powerful voices in Trump’s Republican Party. Zealous opposition to immigration and so-called woke culture stoked their political ambition. They lent a veneer of much-needed respectability to the Trump administration. And now, despite some genuine theoretical differences, the group is coalescing around an illiberal political project—not just espousing typical conservative policy preferences, but standing against liberal, constitutional democracy in the traditional, nonpartisan sense.

Some of the most prominent intellectual voices on the right are openly consolidating around the notion that America needs a radical political transformation, away from rule by and for “We the People” and toward something more top-down and monolithic. At its essence, NatCon II is an opportunity for the big names in this movement to offer a dressed-up, sublimating version of Trumpism.

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Cheap Shots

Reassuring to know that the former national security advisor is… insane.

Murdoch’s choice, Part 1.

Murdoch’s choice, Part 2.