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It Is Happening Here: GOP Mainstreams Political Violence

Article published:

“MAGA-in-office moves include one of the hallmarks of fascism: green-lighting freelance political violence to advance the right-wing agenda.”

This is the first installment of a new column by Convergence Editorial Board member Max Elbaum. It Is Happening Here will track the MAGA drive toward one-party rule based on a white Christian Nationalist agenda, and discuss strategies to block it while building independent progressive power along the way.

“When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

—James Waterman Wise

Especially since January 6, 2021, growing numbers of people have been worrying about fascism and facing the fact that It Can Happen Here. A spate of articles about U.S. history have offered compelling evidence that in previous centuries It Has Happened Here.

We have good reason for alarm: In states where the MAGA-captured Republican Party controls the legislature and governorship, the hammer blows are steadily coming down. MAGA-in-office moves include one of the hallmarks of fascism: green-lighting freelance political violence to advance the right-wing agenda. It Is Already Happening Here.

Add violence to the MAGA policy mix  

Taking away hard-won rights via legislation has already become part of the daily routine for GOP-controlled statehouses and judicial bodies. They propagate one measure after another to limit women’s control over their bodies, strip trans people of any rights or dignity, make voting more difficult than it already is, ban books, control what’s taught in schools, and criminalize peaceful protests.  

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But passing repressive laws is only part of the MAGA playbook. In Republican-controlled Texas, it may still be illegal to murder someone who takes part in a Black Lives Matter protest. But even if you are tried and convicted of doing so, you can still walk away free.

On April 7, a jury in Austin found Daniel Perry guilty of murdering Garrett Foster at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020. Both men had been armed and Perry pleaded self-defense. But he had initiated the contact and confrontation between the two men. And he had clearly indicated his intentions in driving his car into a crowd of protesters with his posts on social media. “I might have to kill a few people on the way to work,” he wrote, before speculating that he could get away with doing so by claiming self-defense.

Within hours of the jury issuing its unanimous guilty verdict, the chair of the Texas Republican Party tweeted that the case should never have been prosecuted and called on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to pardon Perry. Abbot announced the next day that he intended to do just that. Simultaneously, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in the state legislature that would curtail the authority of prosecutors, aimed directly at those elected in cities that vote Democratic.

Laud killers and legitimize militias

The MAGA propaganda machine jumped right into the act too. FOX news continued its pattern of smearing radical protesters and any District Attorney who brings a police officer or right-wing killer to trial while lionizing right-wing murderers. FOX’s story on the case identified the killer as an Army Sergeant but didn’t mention that the protester was an Air Force veteran; used MAGA’s favorite anti-Semitic trope by calling the prosecutor a “Soros DA,” and only reported the defense arguments in the case.

This is no isolated case—it’s part of a pattern. Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two protesters in Kenosha, WI during the George Floyd uprising, was lauded as a hero even before being found not guilty at trial. He is now a prominent “influencer” throughout MAGA world.  And in the first rally of his 2024 Presidential campaign, Trump paid tribute to participants in the January 6 attempted coup, to whom he already promised full pardons and “government apologies” if he is elected in 2024.  

The campaign to relabel violent brownshirts as vanguard fighters for freedom has made a key element of fascism integral to the GOP’s outlook and actions. Per Thomas Edsall’s report in the April 12 edition of The New York Times, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and   members of other armed white supremacist militias now occupy positions in official Republican Party bodies. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently offering himself to the MAGA bloc as a more disciplined and effective authoritarian than Trump, is pro-active on the militia front. Having already established a special Florida State Guard, he is now proposing that his fan club state legislature allot $98 million to expand what amounts to a “private army” under his sole control.  

In Edsall’s New York Times column, Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the democracy, conflict and governance program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of the November 2022 essay, “How Political Violence Went Mainstream on the Right,” concludes:

“On the right, support for violence is no longer a fringe position…This is not a marginal movement: It is people who see violence as a means to defend their values.”

It Is Happening Here.