The assault on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Wednesday was the culmination of a year of anti-democratic and white nationalist violence that steadily escalated and was directly incited by the US President.
Last February, FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a direct warning to Congress that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists” had become the main source of terrorist threats and national killings. Their fears intensified as 2020 progressed by the confluence of the pandemic and the brazen actions of Donald Trump, who exploited public anxieties about mask ordinances and Covid-19 lock downs to turn his base into a frenzy.
“FREE MICHIGAN!” scream in April, after Democratic state governor Gretchen Whitmer imposed stay-at-home orders to combat rising rates of coronavirus infection.
His loyal supporters responded diligently: protesters wearing the Trump insignia and semi-automatic rifles. Broke into the state capitol in Lansing in scenes that now look like a mini-test of Wednesday’s Washington DC chaos.
Trump’s enabling of mass demonstrations of armed protest on the streets of American cities did not go unnoticed by the far-right extremist groups that Wray had warned about. White supremacist teams, including the Proud Boys, the Three Presenters, and the Patriot Prayer, were quick to accept the anti-blockade message the president was inflaming.
When Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s police murder in May, extremist groups turned their attention in that direction. Counter-protests followed, culminating in some cases in bloodshed.
In August, two protesters were killed and a third was injured by Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who responded to a vigilante appeal posted on Facebook and showed up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an AR-15-style rifle. The teenager, who has been charged with first-degree murder, instantly became a star in the far-right media, while Trump himself did not dare to condemn the killings.
That pattern of Trump’s implicit endorsement of rising extremism and right-wing violence carried over seamlessly into the 2020 election season. Continuing on a theme that dates back to his 2017 comment that there were “very good people on both sides. “At the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally that ended with one person dead and 19 injured, Trump also failed to condemn the fascist Neo Proud Boys during his presidential debate with Joe Biden in September.
“Stand back and wait,” he said. That chorus now also takes on a chilling new resonance in the wake of the carnage scenes at the United States Capitol.
If there was ever any doubt about the danger of Trump’s constant incitement of extremist elements among his base, then it was extinguished in October when the FBI arrested 13 people and charged six with allegedly plotting to kidnap Whitmer. The Michigan governor had become a favorite target of Trump’s invective, beginning with his “liberation” tweet and growing more threatening from there.
As the presidential election approached, the focus of the president’s inflammatory rhetoric shifted from pandemic-related issues to his baseless claim that his second term in the White House had been stolen. Even before Election Day, he indicated that he might not accept the results of the recount: a posture to which he clung even as armed protesters attempted to break into the Chamber on Wednesday.
In a now familiar call-and-response sample, Trump’s increasingly strident attacks on election officials in key states were answered by his supporters and the far-right extremist groups in need among them. Armed protests erupted in presidential election counts in Arizona and Michigan.
Georgia bore much of the brunt of the storm of anger that Trump unleashed for what he claimed, without proof, was a rigged election. The death threats became so ubiquitous against state election officials, all Republicans, that it forced them to appeal to the president to reject his people.
“Mr. President, this must end,” pleaded Gabriel Sterling, a Republican election official from Georgia. Comments which quickly went viral. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get shot, someone is going to die. And it’s not okay. “
Trump didn’t stop, and on Wednesday someone was shot inside the inner sanctuary of America’s beleaguered democracy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism