Why MAGA didn’t riot at Trump’s arrest: Republicans in Congress vow to wage a civil war from within

Why MAGA didn’t riot at Trump’s arrest: Republicans in Congress vow to wage a civil war from within

In the days before Donald Trump showed up for his second arrest — his first on federal charges — there was a flurry of media concern about another January 6-style MAGA riot. Even though there had not been any violence in response to Trump’s first indictment on state fraud charges in New York City, this fear was justified. The online chatter in response to this set of charges was uglier and more violent than it was in the Manhattan case, with Trump fans promising “MAGA will make Waco look like a tea party” and “I want blood.” Major Republican figureheads joined in the hysterics, with failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake declaring, “If you want to get to President Trump, you are going to have go through me” and threatening gun violence. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona tweeted, “Eye for an eye.” Trump had held back for a few days from the violent rhetoric, but as the arrest grew nearer, he started dropping hints that he would like a MAGA follower to hurt special prosecutor Jack Smith’s wife.

On Tuesday, a cranky Trump made his appearance in court while a crowd of redhats waved Trump flags outside, but there was no violence.

This is what some security experts expected, since the situation was very different than January 6, 2021. For one thing, MAGA suffers a much stronger fear of consequences after 1,000 plus of the Capitol rioters were arrested for their role in the insurrection. As Harvard’s Juliette Kayyem noted in the Atlantic, the electoral count vote was also “a one-time event that his supporters felt highly motivated to disrupt.” It’s not clear even to the yahoos who worship Trump how rioting at a courthouse would do much to derail the march of justice. 

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None of this means that all this chatter about “civil war” is irrelevant, however. There’s another, disturbing reason that MAGA didn’t resort to violence on Tuesday: Unlike on January 6, they’re feeling reassured that the GOP leadership agrees with them that it’s time to destroy a nation that has rejected their ideology. Plus, Republican leaders have a lot more power to achieve their goal of decimating American government from the inside, making the use of violence feel less necessary to MAGA activists who would like to see democracy destroyed.

That much was evident from the majority of Republican responses to the Justice Department’s indictment of Trump. In the struggle between Trump and basic principles of American governance, most Republican leaders choose Trump. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, for instance, pompously declared that he will block all DOJ appointments in retaliation unless the Department of Justice drops the criminal case against Trump. “We have to grind this Department to a halt,” he insisted. 

The implications aren’t subtle: Vance would deny other Americans access to justice, in order to keep Trump from being held accountable for his crimes.

Victims of crimes ranging from fraud to theft to murder depend on the DOJ to handle the crimes against them. Just this week, the infamous Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, died in federal prison. Before he was caught, Kaczynski, killed three people and maimed 23 others, some permanently. Vance’s plan is to cripple the DOJ’s ability to capture criminals like Kaczynski, all so Trump can commit all the crimes he would like without fear of consequence. 

Republican leaders have a lot more power to achieve their goal of decimating American government from the inside, making the use of violence feel less necessary to MAGA activists who would like to see democracy destroyed.

This unhinged GOP hatred of basic American institutions is not just about the DOJ and Trump. Vance is borrowing his strategy from Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has been pulling a similar stunt geared towards undermining the ability of the American military to function. Tuberville has been blocking all military promotions, all because he opposes the policy of supporting service members who need abortion. The implications of his behavior are also not subtle: He’d rather leave Americans vulnerable to attack from foreign armies than accept the majority view that women deserve human rights. 

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As I noted in the Standing Room Only newsletter on Tuesday, the nature of Trump’s crime in itself underscores how much the GOP is on board with the insurrectionist desire to tear down the United States, at least as it currently exists. That can get lost in the press coverage, most of which is focused on the play-by-play of court proceedings instead of how serious Trump’s actions were. But let’s be blunt: Trump made secret information about our military’s capabilities and contigency plans available to spies from hostile foreign powers. At least one of those governments, Russia, openly longs to end American democracy.

Yes, the indictment only mentions two specific instances of Trump showing the documents to people with no legal authority to see them, who all seem to be American citizens. But, of course, those are the people actually spoke to federal authorities. We can guess any Russian or Chinese spies who availed themselves of the Trump-granted access did not speak to the DOJ about what they saw. As former DOJ official Mary McCord told Reuters last year, “Even just retention of highly classified documents in improper storage – particularly given Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there and others who might have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents – creates a significant national security threat.”

In 2019, when Trump was still president, a possible Chinese spy was arrested after successfully getting through security at Mar-a-Lago. She was deported last year, after serving an 8-month sentence. Another woman reportedly connected to a Russian oligarch, Inna Yashchyshyn, spent 2021 and 2022 kicking around Mar-a-Lago under a fake name, where she likely could walk into the ballroom or other rooms where Trump had stashed top military secrets. Most experts assume that the lax security and Trump’s eagerness to let in anyone who pays for a membership means there are other spies who just haven’t been caught. 

But why should Republicans care? Much of the leadership now fully agrees with the MAGA movement that the U.S. is an evil place. Why should they worry about foreign plots and schemes to destroy the country they hate? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. explained her views on this front in response to Trump’s arrest. 

Setting the gaslighting language about a “free country” aside, the gist is not obscure. This isn’t just a dislike of a Democratic president, but an argument that the current system of governance is illegitimate and should be usurped.

The current iteration of the GOP smells quite a bit like Vichy France, the puppet government that controlled France during the Nazi occupation. Some may have seen going along with the Nazis as survival, fo course. But there’s little doubt that Vichy France was rife with fascist sympathizers who were happy to see their democracy toppled.

Modern Republicans don’t even have the excuse of guns pointed at their heads. They’re backing a guy who attempted a coup and made military secrets accessible to hostile foreign powers, for a simple reason: Because they want to. Because if democracy means accepting the wishes of a majority of Americans that reject them, then democracy has to go. 

So really, there was no need for MAGA to riot.  Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., rushes forward to defend Trump’s crimes. Most of Trump’s supposed opponents for the Republican nomination are equally eager to argue that he should be above the law. There’s no Trumpian assault on American democracy, whether it’s attempting to overthrow our government or being the best friend of foreign dictators, that Republican leaders won’t back. MAGA knows they have powerful people willing to destroy American democracy from the inside. There’s really no reason for the ordinary redhats to resort to violence. 

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