A Republican running for Northampton County executive in Pennsylvania gave a heated address on Aug. 29 about mask mandates in schools.
Steve Lynch is tired, he said, of providing his school board arguments and data (he apparently thinks the data support letting kids go maskless), but the important thing about his rant is the threat of force: “Forget into these school boards with frigging data. … They don’t follow the law! You go in and you remove ’em. I’m going in there with 20 strong men.”
That’s the kind of language that Republicans are now employing. Lynch has not run for public office before, but he did attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., and has posted on social media that the violence that day was a false-flag operation meant to discredit Trump supporters.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina spoke last weekend at an event sponsored by the Macon County Republican Party. He delivered the kind of lies that have become routine among some Republicans. The election was stolen — and not just the presidential contest but also that won by Gov. Roy Cooper (who defeated his opponent by a quarter of a million votes). Cawthorn told the crowd that vaccines are harmful to children and urged them to “defend their children.”
A woman asked Cawthorn what he plans to do about the “535 Americans who have been captured from Jan. 6.” Cawthorn, who apparently has heard this before, thundered, “Political hostages!” When someone in the crowd asked, “When are you gonna call us back to Washington?” he replied, “We are actively working on that one.”
Insurrection talk is becoming Cawthorn’s specialty: “If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place — and it’s bloodshed.”
Naturally, former President Donald Trump has endorsed him for “whatever he wants to do.”
In neighboring Tennessee, the Williamson County school board was disrupted by anti-mask parents. As doctors and nurses testified that masks would help limit the spread of COVID-19, people cursed and threatened them: “We will find you!” “We know who you are!”
In Georgia, a mobile vaccination site had to be shut down after anti-vaccine protesters showed up to threaten and harass health care workers. “Aside from feeling threatened themselves, staff realized no one would want to come to that location for a vaccination under those circumstances, so they packed up and left,” a spokeswoman for the state health department told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
A survey of the rest of the country yields yet more examples.
We are all old enough to remember a time when election workers were public-spirited citizens, usually elderly, who volunteered their time (or got very modest compensation) to sit for hours at polling sites scanning names from lists of voters and handing out little stickers. That America is gone, driven out by a radicalized Republican Party. A number of states with Republican majorities have passed laws that would impose criminal fines of up to $25,000 for “offenses” such as permitting a ballot drop box to be accessible before early voting hours or sending an unsolicited absentee ballot application to a voter.
But that’s not the worst of it. Election workers have been hounded and threatened. Bomb threats have been emailed to election sites. “You and your family will be killed very slowly,” read a text message sent to Tricia Raffensperger after her husband, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, declined to “find” enough votes to flip the state to Trump. As many as 1 in 3 election workers has reported feeling unsafe, and thousands are resigning.
When Rep. Liz Cheney made the principled decision to vote for Trump’s impeachment, she noted that one reason more Republicans might not have chosen to join her was that “there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives.”
Republicans talk incessantly about other people’s violence. The rioters who burned buildings after George Floyd’s death. The criminals who make Chicago a murder capital. immigrants who supposedly terrorize their host nation (they don’t).
Criminal violence is a problem, but the kind of violence Republicans are now flirting with or sometimes outright endorsing is political — and therefore on a completely different plane of threat.
Kyle Rittenhouse, an ill-supervised teenager who decided to grab an AR-15 and shoot people at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, riot (killing two and wounding one) was lionized by the GOP. His mother got a standing ovation at a fundraiser in Waukesha. Ashli Babbitt has become a martyr. Allen West, former chair of the Texas GOP, speaks approvingly of secession. Former national security adviser and Trump confidant Michael Flynn suggests that we need a Myanmar-style coup.
Some 28% of Republicans respond affirmatively to the proposition that “because things have gotten so far off track” in the U.S., “true American patriots may have to resort to violence” to save the country.
Maybe that’s not so bad? Not even a third. Another poll framed it differently: “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” Fifty-six percent of Republicans agreed.
They are playing with fire. Nothing less than democratic legitimacy is on the line. These menacing signals suggest that Jan. 6 may have been the overture, not the finale.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.
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