Fear of Violent Retribution

Image by Darren Halstead.

A bit of recent history seems worth recalling as the nation careens towards an election that seems somewhat likely to put a man Noam Chomsky once rightly called “the most dangerous criminal in human history” back in the world’s most powerful office.

It’s quite possible that the fascist monster Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump would have been precluded from running for the presidency again but for some Republican US Senators’ fear of violent retribution if they had voted to convict him after he was impeached for the second time by the US House of Representatives on January 13, 2021

The impeachment vote came one week after Donald “Will Be Wild” Trump triggered the Capitol Riot of January 6, the attempted physical cancellation of the 2020 presidential election. The charge was “incitement to insurrection.”

The vote to impeach Trump on this extremely well-founded accusation passed 232 to 197.  The margin would have been higher but for the physical intimidation of House Republicans. As VOX reported after the historic House vote:

“There is a disturbing reason Republicans in Congress are giving for refusing to break with President Donald Trump: They fear for their lives. According to Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), this is a major reason why more House Republicans aren’t voting to impeach Donald Trump in the wake of the attack on the Capitol. ‘The majority of them are paralyzed with fear,’ Crow said in a Wednesday MSNBC appearance. ‘I had a lot of conversations with my Republican colleagues last night, and a couple of them broke down in tears — saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment.’

Tim Alberta, Politico’s chief political correspondent, found in his own reporting that ‘Crow was right….I know for a fact several members *want* to impeach but fear casting that vote could get them or their families murdered,’ Alberta writes. ‘Numerous House Republicans have received death threats in the past week.’

This fear has not only affected the impeachment vote. Rep. Pete Meijer (R-MI) has said that he personally knows several House Republicans who wanted to vote to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win but were afraid for their lives if they chose to do so.

‘I had colleagues who, when it came time to recognize reality and vote to certify Arizona and Pennsylvania in the Electoral College, they knew in their heart of hearts that they should’ve voted to certify, but some had legitimate concerns about the safety of their families,’ Meijer told Reason magazine’s Matt Welch. ‘They felt that that vote would put their families in danger.’

The comments from Crow, Alberta, and Meijer illustrate a devastating truth: The Capitol Hill attack was, in large part, a success.

The violent seizure of the Capitol demonstrated to legislators that crossing Donald Trump puts them in the literal crosshairs. This was explicitly part of the point for some: In online comments cited in an FBI document on the violent threats before the attack, one person wrote that ‘Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in.’

‘We get our President or we die,’ they added. ‘NOTHING else will achieve this goal.’

Convincing Congress to install Trump for another presidential term was always an unattainable goal. But influencing legislators to vote differently in the future, in ways more congenial to the Trumpist movement, was not.” 

Under the ancient US Constitution, impeachment in the House sends the case to trial in the US Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to remove a sitting president.  Trump’s second Senate trial following an impeachment took place in early February of 2021, after he had begrudgingly left office, refusing to attend Biden’s inauguration and clinging to his absurd Hitlerian claim that the 2020 election had been stolen.

Why the second post-impeachment Senate trial after Trump’s first presidency was concluded? Because conviction would have forbidden the orange-hued, Hitler-channeling beast from holding future public office in the future – a very worthy goal, to say the least.

And why did the verdict not reach the two-thirds (67 Senate votes) required to bring about that outcome?  Along with former Republifascist Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s false argument that an ex-president could not be impeached (made even as Malevolent Mitch said that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” [Jan,6]), fear of violence was a factor in the upper chamber of Congress as well as in the lower one. As he explained in his 2023 memoir A Reckoning, former US Senator Mitt Romney heard from Republican colleagues that it was just too dangerous to vote for conviction. When one Republican senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning towards convicting the vicious ogre Trump, a group of fellow Republican senators strongly counseled him to reconsider. “You can’t do that,”  Romney recalled one of these senators saying. “Think of your personal safety, think of your children.” The senator decided to shield himself and his family from bloody retribution by voting not-guilty.

Since January 6, Romney has spent a reported $5000 per day for private security to protect himself and his family from lethal MAGA revenge

Ever since the first Trump’s Rittenhousean presidency, itself replete with horrific murders committed by right-wing extremists (in Charlottesville, Virginia, El Paso, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylannia, Austin, Texas, and Kenosha, Wisconsin), the threat and reality of fascist political violence has become a largely normalized part of US political life.  As The New York Times recently reported:

“One Friday last month, Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, spent a chunk of his day in court securing a protective order. It was not his first. Mr. Raskin, who played a leading role in Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment hearing, said he received about 50 menacing calls, emails and letters every month that are turned over to the Capitol Police… Mr. Raskin was far from the only government official staring down the uglier side of public service in America in recent weeks. Since late March, bomb threats closed libraries in Durham, N.C.; Reading, Mass.; and Lancaster, Pa., and suspended operations at a courthouse in Franklin County, Pa.

And Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, refused to rule out violence if he were to lose in November. ‘It always depends on the fairness of the election,’ he said in an interview late last month…This was just a typical month in American public life, where a steady undercurrent of violence and physical risk has become a new normal. From City Hall to Congress, public officials increasingly describe threats and harassment as a routine part of their jobs. Often masked by online anonymity and propelled by extreme political views, the barrage of menace has changed how public officials do their work, terrified their families and driven some from public life altogether…By almost all measures, the evidence of the trend is striking. Last year, more than 450 federal judges were targeted with threats, a roughly 150 percent increase from 2019, according to the United States Marshals Service. The U.S. Capitol Police investigated more than 8,000 threats to members of Congress last year, up more than 50 percent from 2018. The agency recently added three full-time prosecutors to handle the volume…More than 80 percent of local officials said they had been threatened or harassed, according to a survey conducted in 2021 by the National League of Cities.

This is our pathological political life in Trump, Kyle Rittenhouse, and Peyton Gedron’s Amerika – a “democracy” where public and elected officials are under constant physical threat and where elected officials in the far-right Republican Party refuse to cast votes to convict a wannabe fascist strongman and forbid him from becoming president again because they fear that they and their families might be murdered.

That’s mafia state and Nazi shit.  Seriously.

Meanwhile, Genocide Joe, the head of the other major US party – the dismal Weimar/Vichy Dems – has egregiously failed to use his executive branch power to jail the tangerine-tinted tyrant who tried to overthrow previously normative bourgeois democracy and rule of law. Just like Biden failed to use his presidential capacity to guarantee women’s abortion rights in all fifty US states after the Trump-crafted Christian Fascist Supreme Court illegitimately cancelled Roe v Wade last summer.

Speaking of Christian fascism, forced motherhood, the Supreme Court, and the violent Trumpist movement, and the trumping of the rule of law consider the flags of Sam Alito.  We have recently learned that the far-right high court justice Sam Alito flew an upside-down US flag, a symbol of the fascist Stop the Steal movement, outside his house in Alexandria, Virginia on January 17, 2021.  As the Times reports:

“…Trump’s supporters, including some brandishing the same symbol, had rioted at the Capitol a little over a week before. Mr. Biden’s inauguration was three days away. Alarmed neighbors snapped photographs, some of which were recently obtained by The New York Times. Word of the flag filtered back to the court, people who worked there said in interviews…While the flag was up, the court was still contending with whether to hear a 2020 election case, with Justice Alito on the losing end of that decision.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Times has just reported that Alito  flew another and arguably more menacing January 6 flag at his New Jersey shore beach home in the summer of 2023. His banner choice last summer was the “Appeal to Heaven flag,” also known as “the Pine Tree flag.” It is a symbol of Christian white nationalism and frankly of Amerikaner neofascism.  It has been flown at the home of Leonard Leo, the wealthy Christian white nationalist who has long funded the Christian fascist takeover of much of the federal judiciary. Leo “served” as Trump’s top advisor for Supreme Court appointments during the MAGA Dear Leader’s first presidency.

I looked briefly at MSNBC last night and witnessed talk show host Chris Hayes wondering incredulously why Alito might have felt compelled to be so open about his ideological orientation. The answer is simple.  Alito might sit on a court that that is supposed to be “above politics,” but the cold fact is that he is a far-right operative in a highly protected and powerful position who is not at all ashamed to advertise his role as a leader in a fascist movement that seeks to replace previously normative bourgeois electoral democracy, civility, parliamentarianism, and rule of law with the authoritarian white nationalist rule of men.  Recall that Alito is the primary author of a profoundly reactionary, legally distorted, and patriarchal decision, Dobbs v Jackson, that cited a 12th-century religious penalty for abortion — not a criminal statute — in a section purporting to provide legal precedent for denying women the right to control their own reproductive lives.

Arch-patriarchy is a consistent theme connecting various strands of fascism past and present.

In other news, the State of Louisiana – home of Christian-Republi-fascist US House Speaker Mike Johnson (who flies the Appeal to Heaven flag outside his office) – may soon require all K-12 schools in its jurisdiction to post the genocidal, proto-fascist Holy Bible’s Ten Commandments in all of their classrooms.

So much for the separation of church and state.

In coming weeks, the illegitimate right-wing Trump Court will rule on two key Jan. 6 cases, including Trump’s openly absolutist claim of immunity for his actions. Its rulings will influence whether the malignant fascist atrocity Donald “Retribution” Trump can be held at all accountable for trying to cancel the last US presidential election and whether he will win the next one in less than six months.

If the US governance order possessed a modicum of decency, the fascist “justice” Sam “Stop the Steal” Alito would have to recuse himself from both cases.  So would his fellow Republi-fascist Supreme Court (in)Justice Clarence Thomas, the debt-plagued recipient of luxuriant gifts/bribes from super-wealthy right-wing donors. This epically corrupt far-right lacky is married to a leading Trumpist election subverter and denier.

Not that the other major party is any kind of role model for democratic decency. From coast to coast, Democratic university presidents and mayors have this spring demonstrated their own brand of capitalist-imperialist authoritarianism by joining with their ostensible Republi-fascist opponents in calling out riot police to crush campus protests of the US-Israel Crucifixion of Gaza. The bloody-jawed corporate warmonger and fake progressive Biden has complemented the funding, equipping, and military and diplomatic protection he has offered to Zio-fascist Israel as it inflicts a Holocaust on ordinary Palestinians by justifying this revolting homeland repression with vicious, neo-McCarthyite lies accusing student protesters of antisemitism.

It’s just another in a long line of signs that the whole damn US capitalist-imperialist system is rotten to the core.

Genocide Joe or Fascist Don? F that “democratic choice.”

Revolution anyone?

This essay appeared previously on The Paul Street Report.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).