Groundwork for an Autocrat
Republicans chart their comeback
The New York Times Editorial Board in an opinion piece entitled “Congress Needs to Defend Vote Counting, Not Just Vote Casting” detailed Republican efforts to undermine faith in the integrity of our electoral system and pass state laws restricting voters’ access to the ballot, but to seize control of state electoral administration and set the stage for invalidating electoral results they deem unfavorable.
Republican-controlled state legislatures are whittling away at the integrity of electoral democracy in the United States, rushing to pass laws that make it harder for Americans to vote and easier for partisans to tamper with election results.
It is a legislative assault motivated by the failure of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and justified by baseless allegations about the legitimacy of his defeat. Mr. Trump and his supporters pursued indiscriminate lawsuits to overturn the results and then, urged on by Mr. Trump, some of his supporters stormed the Capitol to halt the completion of the election process. Now they are seeking to rewrite the rules to make it easier for Republicans to win elections without winning the most votes.
The threat to democracy of that electoral groundwork is worrisome on its own, but several recent pieces of news suggest a growing and disturbing backup plan now openly supported by some of the most far-right members of Congress.
During an “America First” rally on May 27, 2021, a rally that also featured the antics of the QAnon promoter, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) exhorted the crowd (the bold is mine):
We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it. The Second Amendment, this is a little history lesson for all the fake news media, the Second Amendment is not about, it’s not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary. I hope it never does, but it sure is important to recognize the founding principles of this nation and make that they are fully understood.
Gaetz’ exhortation is a gross rewrite of the 2nd Amendment words (“well organized militia) and its origins in Southern concerns over slave rebellion.
Eight days later, on June 4, a Republican-appointed (Bush II) federal district judge, Roger T. Benitez, overturned California’s decades old ban on assault rifles. The named plaintiff in the lawsuit, James Miller, is an attorney and a “Volunteer Advisory Board Member” of the political action committee San Diego County Gun Owners (SDCGO), which is itself one of the plaintiffs in the suit. SDCGO, on the front page of its website, promotes a movie, “The Plot Against the President,” which has nothing to do with gun ownership and everything to do with promoting a conspiracy theory. A trailer advertising the movie offers cameo appearances of Donald Trump, Trump Junior, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and, you guessed it, Rep. Matt Gaetz (among other vaguely familiar figures in the Trump pantheon whom I could not identify by name). The net effect of the SDCGO website is a sense of “patriotic” preparation for armed conflict for political ends.
The same Friday, June 4, the Spokesman Review offered a front page story, “Concerns about ex-comic starting a ‘Ruby-Ridge-style compound’ roil Boundary County.” The owner and founder, Owen Benjamin, vows to offer
…a gun range, saying that there will be “a whole thing where we teach kids how to shoot” and stating that “we’d live near VerTac Tactical, so we’d be safe as bugs in a rug. I mean, I’d have my own private paramilitary force, which is always a good thing.”
Vertac Tactical, as demonstrated on its website, bares no resemblance to the hunter safety, marksmanship-oriented firearms training available to me as a youth in Wisconsin. Vertac Tactical is all about military weaponry.
Former WA State Rep. Matt Shea (R, Spokane Valley) was (and, doubtlessly, still is) promoting paramilitary training in northeast Washington, while, as a “pastor”, he is offers justification for armed conflict to his quasi-Christian flock with his provocative writing, “The Biblical of War”.
The “Three Percenters,” a militia group implicated in the January 6th insurrection, is named after the erroneous assertion that only three percent of colonists were active “on the field” during the American Revolution against Great Britain. Regardless of historical accuracy, the core belief of the Three Percenters is that a few well armed revolutionaries can change the course of history.
Meanwhile, according to a reputable survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) of over five thousand randomly chosen Americans from all over the United States, fifteen percent agreed that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” Among those who put their trust in far-right media sources like One American News Network (OANN) and Newmax, four in ten agree with that statement.
Added up, Trump Republican undermining of electoral confidence, efforts to undermine weapons laws, a growing militia movement, and an increasing number of Americans subscribing to the idea that violence is warranted, is a flashing warning light we would all do well to heed. History is replete with examples either of societies descending into armed conflict (Libya and ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq are current examples) or coming under autocratic rule in effective abandonment of democracy (currently Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Belarus and, earlier, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy). “It Can’t Happen Here” is a profoundly dangerous assumption…
And, as if to amplify my unease, as I pondered this post at six thirty in the morning last weekend in North Idaho, an incredibly loud pickup truck roared by my perch, an oversize Confederate battle flag flapping wildly from a pole anchored to the bed…
Keep to the high ground,