For the past six years, Donald J. Trump’s most loyal supporters have gone on the offensive against federal law enforcement when they tried to investigate the former president or his allies.
But the response this week to the FBI-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida, went far beyond the usual anger and outrage. Pro-Trump influencers, media figures and a Republican candidate for office used the language of violence to rally the opposition.
“Tomorrow is war,” wrote Steven Crowder, a conservative commentator with 1.9 million Twitter followers, within hours of the site’s search. “Good night.”
The search turned out to be focused on material the former president had brought to Mar-a-Lago from the White House, according to several people familiar with the investigation. But the reaction on the right dismissed the FBI’s move as purely political. The aggressive, widespread response was arguably the most obvious outburst of violent public rhetoric since the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“These. Resources. War,” The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote in an online post. The post was quickly bolstered by a Telegram account linked to Stephen K. Bannon, the former political adviser to the Mr Trump, who was found guilty last month of two counts of contempt of Congress.
Hours later, on the “Bannon’s War Room” podcast, Bannon himself asked Joe Kent, a Trump-backed House candidate in Washington state, for his assessment of the search.
“This shows everyone what many of us have been saying for a long time,” said Mr Kent. “We are at war.”
Experts on political violence argue that even if aggressive language doesn’t immediately end in physical harm, it creates a dangerous atmosphere in which the idea of violence is gradually becoming more accepted. Real attacks on people or institutions become more likely, the experts say, when elected officials or prominent figures in the media can threaten or incite violence with impunity.
“Violent language, including things like calls to war, normalizes violence and encourages people who tend to be more violent,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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Following the Mar-a-Lago search, the idea that things had become so dire in the United States that violence was needed was repeatedly voiced by a range of right-wing figures, including self-proclaimed extremists and former members of the Trump administration. In the 2016 election cycle, many of Mr Trump’s supporters had followed suit by demanding that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, be jailed for maintaining a private email server for government-related messages while she was Secretary of State.
“Country on the brink of CIVIL WAR???” Nicholas J. Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist, asked in a post promoting a live stream about the search.
Despite such heated rhetoric, there were no immediate reports of violence or large-scale protests. But there were indications that activists were planning demonstrations against the FBI
A flyer appeared online Monday night calling for protests against “FBI tyranny” outside one of the agency’s field offices in California on Wednesday. The flyer was posted by Toni Ringlein, a right-wing organizer and real estate agent in Palm Springs, California, who marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
According to the website Mediaite, Ms. Ringlein attended the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, where she falsely claimed that the 2020 election had been stolen and that Joseph R. Biden Jr. “never, never, ever be my president”. In social media posts, she had called Biden a “traitor” and said he should be hanged.
On Tuesday, the heated rhetoric was used by some more mainstream Republicans. Monica Crowley, a former public affairs official with Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department, took to Twitter to declare, “This is it. This is the hill to die on.”
The New York Young Republican Club has made a lengthy statement in the wake of the search condemning the “ongoing persecution” of Mr. Trump by “totalitarian Democrats.” The statement not only called for the “total disintegration” of the FBI, but also suggested that action was needed beyond simply “voting out” the former president’s enemies.
“Internationalist forces and their allies seeking to undermine the foundation of our Republic have crossed the Rubicon,” the statement said, “and it is the express conviction of the New York Young Republican Club that, if justice is not done swiftly in this affairs by ALL of our elected officials and leaders, nothing less than the future of the Union is at stake.”
In the days leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, right-wing circles believed that civil war was imminent. Extremist leaders such as Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers militia, and Enrique Tarrio, president of the Proud Boys, often rallied their groups with inflammatory references to the cleansing violence of the American Revolution. Both men have been charged with sedition in the Capitol bombing.
On websites such as TheDonald.win, which has since been removed, people shared tactics and techniques for attacking the Capitol and discussed building gallows and imprisoning lawmakers in tunnels there.
Monday night, after the FBI raid, Trump supporters on social media apps like Gab and Truth Social blatantly showed a penchant for guns and armed conflict.