After Donald Trump’s Florida residence was searched with a legal warrant last week, his supporters have erupted with “unprecedented” violent threats against the FBI and the Department of Justice and, with a handful of exceptions, Republicans are intentionally looking the other way.
The FBI Agents Association called for leaders to condemn the threats, stating, “this is not a partisan or political issue. It is a matter of public safety and basic decency” – but have largely been met with silence from the political party that once championed “law and order.”
Calls for dirty bombs, assassinations and civil war – these don’t seem to bother Republicans who have joined with right-wing media voices to describe the Mar-a-Lago search as “tyranny,” “corrupt,” “an abuse of power,” akin to the Gestapo, and on and on.
When a man fired on an FBI office in Ohio last week, and was killed by law enforcement before he harmed anyone, Republicans said nothing. A Pennsylvania man was arrested after posting threats to “slaughter” FBI agents he referred to as “police state scum,” and Republicans said nothing. When Breitbart, likely the recipient of a leak by Trump or his allies, published the search warrant in full with names of personnel involved in the search, not one Republican stepped up to decry the danger Breitbart had put those men and women and their families in.
In the face of this, Mike Pence, the former vice president targeted for death by rioters during the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, is the only high-profile Republican who has spoken out.
“Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop,” Pence said Wednesday. “Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.”
Pence seems as isolated and alone as he was hiding on a loading dock during the insurrection, when then- President Trump sicced a mob on him. Hours after Pence spoke, former chief strategist Steve Bannon called him “a disgusting coward,” insisting that the party must defund the FBI because it is a “police state.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania are two of the few Republican elected officials defending the FBI. Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, urged his colleagues to “understand the weight of your words and support law enforcement no matter what.” Fitzpatrick said on CBS Sunday he has “been notified by the bureau that my own life was put in danger recently by some of these same people.”
Only a few other Republicans have directly addressed the threats. Sen. Marco Rubio maligned the judge who signed the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, and then retreated when that judge, one of his own constituents, came under anti-Semitic attacks and threats that prompted his temple to cancel several services and events. Rubio was finally roused to tweet that people threatening violence should be arrested.
Sen. Lindsey Graham and Reps. Rodney Davis and Louis Gohmert all disavowed violence and Rep. Mike Turner made an effort to distance himself from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “Defund the FBI” hat and her new side hustle selling merch emblazoned with an upside down American flag that says “Enemy of the State.” When pressed in an interview on CNN Thursday, Turner said only, “We condemn any and all violence.”
An effort to push back on dangerous threats this is not. Nor is Trump’s bizarre attempt to pass the buck for stoking so much rage. Trump himself has referred several times to the threatening environment, in a message through an intermediary to Attorney General Merrick Garland, and then in an interview with Fox News Digital. His message to Garland was that people were angry because his residence was searched. “The country is on fire,” Trump reportedly said, and asked “What can I do to reduce the heat?” Most assumed this was, in itself, an implicit threat.
Trump told Fox News that he hasn’t heard back from the DOJ, adding, “If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that.” Yet throughout the interview he complained bitterly about how he had been wronged, why people are so angry and – once again – attacked the FBI.
Ever the victim, Trump seems to think someone in the DOJ should be calming down his supporters. Never did Trump criticize threats or violent exhortations from his followers. He said “the temperature has to be brought down,” but made no appeals for peace. Nor did he explicitly disavow violence. We have recently learned, in brutal detail from revelations in the January 6 hearings last month, that Trump enjoys having enraged people fighting for him.
Knowing how much further this will go, and how much more dangerous this can become, Republicans have not only refused to collectively denounce threats to the FBI, but some are doubling down.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said he bore no responsibility for any violent reaction to GOP attacks on the FBI and DOJ. “None whatsoever,” he said, adding “I don’t know why that person [in Cincinnati] went [to the FBI office]. That was wrong for the person to go in all shapes and forms.”
His number two, the GOP whip, actually attacked the FBI agents on Fox News, calling them “rogue,” which hardly squares with Garland’s acknowledgment that he personally approved the warrant. Rep. Steve Scalise, who almost lost his life in a politically motivated shooting, stunned Steve Doocy, host of Fox & Friends.
“Steve, who went rogue? They were following a search warrant!” Doocy said, to which Scalise responded, “We want to find that out. We want to find that out.”
McCarthy and Scalise are more invested in their disdain for the FBI than their concern with the potential for violence. The time for wake-up calls has come and gone. “We’ve allowed this to fester for years and then it went into overdrive under Trump and since January 6th,” said Doug Heye, a former RNC spokesman who also worked in Congress. “Too many people either benefit from it or want to hit the snooze button hoping it just doesn’t happen soon.”
Republicans are no longer defenders of the rule of law, or of law enforcement. They are simply reflexive defenders of Trump. Whatever responsible people remain in the GOP, and Trump is not one of them, should consider their role in any injuries or deaths that result when any branch of government holds Trump to account in the weeks and months to come. The troubles he has created aren’t going away, and Fitzpatrick and those currently serving at the FBI shouldn’t have to pay the price for them.
A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. This piece originally ran at RealClearPolitics.
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