The same violent anti-government rhetoric that led to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City has made a disturbing return to America in the wake of the FBI’s recent execution of a search warrant on former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago.
And top Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere appear willing to fan the flames, increasing the likelihood that more Americans will die. While most top Republicans stopped short of calling for violence, their incendiary rhetoric did nothing to quell the calls for violence from many other Trump supporters. FBI Director Christopher Wray was forced to address the issue, as some of the former president’s defenders were calling for everything from civil war to the assassination of FBI officials and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
There is certainly plenty of fault here that’s deserving of criticism— and 99 percent of it should be directed at Donald Trump. As has been widely reported by credible news sources, the execution of a search warrant came at the end of months of less drastic efforts by the Justice Department and the National Archives to recover boxes of documents, many of which were classified, which Trump appears to have removed illegally from the White House when he lost his bid for re-election. Trump, based on accounts from his own staff, has demonstrated open disdain for the Presidential Records Act as well as the need for secrecy as it relates to national security matters. Given that, there was very good reason to seek the return of the records that he removed in likely violation of federal law. While Trump did allow the National Archives to recover some documents earlier this year, sources with close access to the former president, indicated that many more documents remained at Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department subpoenaed those records months ago, but Trump failed to respond.
The irony is rich. Trump and his followers still chant “Lock Her Up” over Hillary Clinton’s much-less-egregious handling of potentially classifiable emails from her time as Secretary of State. Trump roundly criticized the FBI back in 2016 for not prosecuting Clinton. Yet, here he is found with boxes full of highly classified material, including some with the highest classification of all, he left just sitting around in closets.
Trump, of course, has never believed that laws apply to him. As he infamously stated, “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.” Sadly, Trump was probably right— and that speaks volumes about the people who still back the former president.
Critics of the Mar-a-Lago search are right when they claim that the execution of a search warrant at the residence of a former president is unprecedented in American history. But that’s a reflection on Donald Trump and his unprecedented lawlessness rather than on the Justice Department.
We don’t have to guess where the incendiary language used so cavalierly by Trump and his radical followers is likely to take this country. In the 1990s, in the wake of the deaths at Ruby Ridge and at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, anti-government rhetoric culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing, led by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two fanatics who would fit in perfectly with far too many of the former president’s supporters today. They killed 168 and wounded nearly 700 people, many of whom were children.
We’ve already seen an attempted armed assault on an FBI office in Cincinnati by a heavily armed Trump supporter. If the tenor of the comments reported on many rightwing chat groups is any indication, we can expect more such violence and attempted violence in the days to come.
It is apparently too much to expect cooler heads to prevail in a political party as divorced from reality as today’s Trump-addled GOP. Top Republican leaders have charged that President Biden has politicized the Justice Department, yet it was Trump, in fact, who routinely tried to use the Justice Department to leverage investigations into his political opponents and, most egregiously, to steal the 2020 election. The Biden White House, by contrast, stated unequivocally that they knew nothing about the Justice Department’s decisions regarding the search of Mar-a-Lago and Trump and his GOP mouthpieces have exactly zero evidence to the contrary.
Rather than urging a wait-and-see approach, top Republicans, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, were quick to charge, without evidence, that the Biden “regime” had weaponized the Justice Department and compared the situation to that of a “banana republic.”
It’s red meat, intended to delegitimize the current administration and stir up exactly the kind of extremism that’s become so apparent on social media in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search. DeSantis and others are playing with fire. They’re going to get people killed.