“It was going to be an armed revolution. People died that day … There was a gallows that was set up … This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.”
So said Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, who testified under oath recently before the January 6 committee.
The Oath Keepers, for those keeping a domestic terrorist scorecard, claims tens of thousands of members, most of whom seem to be former military or law enforcement personnel. The group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, has been charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in allegedly attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power during the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes is in jail awaiting trial later this year.
A new civil war. Crazy, right?
Not so fast. Researchers at the University of California-Davis recently gathered opinions about political violence from a representative sample of 8,620 Americans. A top line result: one in five Americans believe, at least some of the time, that political violence is justified. Half of those surveyed believe an American civil war is coming and 40% admitted to believing that a strongman leader may be necessary to replace our clunky democracy.
“This is not a study that’s meant to shock,” Rachel Kleinfeld, a political violence expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Science magazine. “But it should be shocking.”
It should be shocking, and we must not ignore the conflict agitators festering in plain sight, some clearly hoping to ignite – and benefit by – the war they desire.
Gun violence has undergone a dramatic increase, with homicide rates in American cities rising 44% between 2019 and 2021. Every day – every hour – brings a new outrage fixed squarely on the ridiculously widespread availability of guns. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that angry people with a grievance see a gun as an answer.
Unhinged political characters are everywhere fanning flames. Dan Cox, an election denying, Trump-endorsed crackpot, was nominated by Maryland Republicans to be their gubernatorial candidate this week. The party previously supported moderately conservative Larry Hogan. Hogan, twice elected in a strong Democratic state, has called the Republican who wants to replace him a “conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job.”
All the major Republican candidates for governor in Wisconsin have, as writer Bill Lueders noted recently, “staked out fervently regressive, delusional, and extreme positions.”
Blake Masters, the likely Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, has had to refute an anti-Semitic essay he wrote several years ago in which he both distorted American history and used a “particularly representative and poignant quotation” – his words – from, of all people, Hermann Goering, the second most powerful Nazi who committed suicide rather than face execution for his World War II crimes.
“People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,” Masters quoted Goering as saying, perhaps not realizing that even nitwits can stumble on a telling quote. “That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
And, of course, the 35-year-old venture capitalist has already said if he loses the Republican primary in August voter fraud will be the cause.
In Idaho, the most extreme Republicans, as the Idaho Statesman noted, engaged during their recent convention in a political orgy of “fear, control and cruelty.” The party elected a radical rightwing chair who openly espouses the lunatic theory that Donald Trump won the last election. Dorothy Moon, the new chair, meets the Republican definition of diversity. She’s an election denier, a John Bircher, a defender of anti-government extremists like Ammon Bundy and served as a character witness for a fellow Republican convicted of raping a legislative staffer.
Moon, being unhinged is her default position, told the Republican convention, after easily dispatching an old-line party functionary, “We have to make sure with the Democrats coming at us with full force that we have our barriers up, our guns loaded and ready to keep this state free.”
She will, of course, say she was speaking metaphorically, but she wasn’t. The gun imagery pointed at a political opponent and tied to “freedom” is part and parcel of the wingnut playbook. Moon’s defenders will say the meaning of her threats have been distorted. She didn’t really mean anything by “our guns are loaded.” Just like her party’s Dear Leader didn’t really egg on his supporters to hang Mike Pence.
Welcome to the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan.
The writer and former Naval War College instructor Tom Nichols says he remains a conservative, but no longer considers himself a Republican because the GOP has fallen “to a bunch of kooks, opportunists, racists, and aspiring fascists.” Nichols suggests a critical question.
Where are the conservative adults who possess the character and guts to stand athwart this degradation of decency and reality? No senior elected Idaho Republican, for example, has uttered a word about their party going over a cliff into la la land with a crank at the wheel.
The party elite stir themselves to go after Joe Biden on inflation or “the crisis at the border,” but they can’t bear to look into their own garbage strewn back yard.
What are they waiting for? The civil war?
The modern Republican Party – “kooks, opportunists, racists, and aspiring fascists” – doesn’t really advocate public policy positions, it enables extremists, while making the party a clear and present danger to American democracy.
The investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol has revealed how close the violent events of that day were to ushering in our civil war moment. Sadly, the violent impulses of so-called “Christian nationalists” were barely tweaked by the real time reality of America turning on itself. If anything, the impulses have grown over the last year and a half. Many Americans believe the worst is yet to come.
It has never been more incumbent on any American who truly loves the country, values the Constitution and the rule of law and abhors violence to drop what they are doing and become urgently engaged in the work of saving our democracy from the radicals who aim to destroy it. Push back against this nonsense in your circle of friends and family. Defend the teachers, librarians, police officers and health care workers who are under assault. Preach the gospel that holds that while our democracy is far from perfect it is demonstrably better than a demagogue in a blue suit.
There are more people of good faith and common sense than there are wannabe insurrectionists. Don’t be complacent. Don’t give in. Celebrate democratic values. Vote the crackpots out. The country you save will be your own.
Some reading for the weekend …
“I said, Don, it’s time for you to reveal”: 50 years later, the truth behind American Pie
I’m old enough to remember seeing Don McLean perform while I was in college and his most famous song had just been released. Now a new documentary tells the story of that enduring tune.
“The first part of the film covers McLean’s early life, including his time as a paper boy in the suburb of New York City where he grew up. In an extensive interview for the film, McLean talks about delivering the paper that carried news of the crash, something he alludes to towards the start of the song’s lyrics. At the time, Buddy Holly was his musical idol. If his death instigated the song’s words, a more personal loss altered the course of McLean’s life.”
An Innocent at Rinkside
William Faulkner and hockey don’t go together … but they do.
The novelist saw his first hockey game in 1955 and wrote about it for Sports Illustrated.
“To the innocent, who had never seen it before, it seemed discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools.”
Where Was Kevin McCarthy?
Amanda Carpenter on the certifiably loathsome leader of the House Republicans.
“Thousands of witnesses have voluntarily complied with the [January 6] committee’s requests for testimony; McCarthy is one of the few who have resisted. The committee asked him for a voluntary interview in January 2022, and after he declined, the committee issued a subpoena seeking his testimony. In response, McCarthy’s lawyer sent the committee an 11-page letter on Friday, questioning the committee’s legality and constitutionality and making other specious arguments previously rejected by the courts.”
Imagine what this guy will do as Speaker of the House.
Be well. See you again soon.