The Republican Party is a Terrorist Organization

A significant fraction of [former present Donald] Trump supporters are comfortable transforming the GOP into an American Hezbollah — a political party that also has an armed wing to coerce other political actors through violence. — Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University.

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Professor Daniel Drezner wrote those words on January 12, six days after the armed insurrection at the Capitol. The actions of the Republican Party since that date have only confirmed Drezner’s analysis while broadening the list of terrorist organizations that the Republican Party resembles.

It might be helpful here to cite the U.S. State Department’s definition of terrorism: “‘[T]errorism’ is defined to be an activity that (1) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (2) appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.” On the U.S. terrorist list are such organizations as Hezbollah, newer, more violent incarnations of the Irish Republican Army, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.

Some of the organizations on the State Department tally are simply terrorist organizations, but others, like Hezbollah, are political groupings with armed wings that use violence to achieve their goals. Perhaps, most familiar to Americans is the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which until 1998, waged war on Britain for Irish unification. Its political wing, Sinn Féin, has been one of the two dominant parties in Irish politics. The main body of the IRA has ceased armed resistance since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but rogue elements of the IRA remain active.

Polling shows that a sizable percentage of Republicans believe politically motivated violence is justifiable. Thirty-nine percent of Republicans agreed that “if the elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” This poll, by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, was taken shortly after the January 6 attempted coup. The poll’s director, Daniel Cox, said, “I think any time you have a significant number of the public saying use of force can be justified in our political system, that’s pretty scary.”

Republicans in Congress apparently agree with the party’s base. Only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach former president Donald Trump for his role in the insurrection, and only seven Senate Republicans voted to convict. By refusing to convict Trump for his clearly treasonous role in the uprising, the Republican Party declared that Republican presidents are above the law. Congressional Republicans were saying that Republican presidents can disregard the Constitution, precedent, and law in pursuit of power.

This is the road to fascism, as I have written before. Through its actions surrounding the presidential election of 2020 and its continuing assault on democracy, the Republican Party has signaled that right-wing political violence and terrorism, including coups as well as attempts to overturn legal elections, are now acceptable in the United States.  Acceptable, that is, as long as the perpetrators are Republicans and their violent allies.

The embrace by so many Republicans (a majority in most polls) of the “Big Lie” perpetuated by Trump and his acolytes has laid the groundwork for future challenges by defeated Republicans to election results. Last November’s election was not a one-off. Trump (or whomever Republicans nominate in 2024) surely will challenge the result if it is not favorable. Many defeated Republicans in the 2022 probably will do the same. Defeated Republicans are not likely to stop with simply refusing to concede elections. They will, as Trump has, question the veracity of the results, try to intimidate election officials to overthrow legitimate results, and encourage violent followers to use whatever means available to change the outcome.

Numerous White supremacist and anti-democratic right-wing organizations stand ready to attack the institutions of American democracy, acting as the armed wing of the Republican Party. The “armed protestors” who attacked the Capitol are not merely a radical fringe of the Republican Party. They were doing what Trump asked them to do, and Trump is not a fringe of the Republican Party. In one of his debates with Joe Biden, Trump urged the right-wing Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” In his speech at the Ellipse prior to the insurrection, Trump declared, “Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.” Then, he instructed the mob to “walk down” to the Capitol. Numerous Capitol rioters have said they were following “the call of my president” or heeding “the president’s instructions.” Some used Trump’s name. 

The right-wing militias who are willing to do Trump’s bidding and act as the military wing of the Republican Party are not playacting. As one anonymous Republican lawmaker told Politico: “Both parties have extremists. There’s a difference in our crazy people and their crazy people. Our crazy people have an excessive amount of arms. They have gun safes. They have grenades. They believe in the Second Amendment.”

Trump is not alone. Whether from conviction or fear that Trump would back a primary challenger, the majority of Republican lawmakers not only refused to impeach and convict the former president, but also torpedoed Democratic attempts to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 coup. No doubt some Republicans in Congress have much to hide regarding their role in the insurrection. But, the message is clear: Republicans are telling their armed followers that one of the two major parties endorses violence against the Congress, the most sacred of American democratic institutions.

A similar message is sent every time a Republican lawmaker — such as Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia — demeans the horror of the mob attack by referring to it as “not an insurrection.” Clyde is not alone in denying what members of Congress experienced in real time and millions saw on TV as the attack unfolded. And, the same message is sent when Republican lawmakers in states the party controls pass laws undermining free and fair elections. Republicans in state legislatures are saying to their followers that only some people should be able to vote — people who vote the “right” way — while also claiming the right to decide whose votes should count. 

There is the obvious violence such as occurred on January 6. There is also the violence linked to the undermining of constitutional and democratic government. Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures are demonstrating over and over that they are comfortable with destroying American democracy through a concerted effort to legislate against free and fair elections. Their cohorts among the heavily armed White supremacist militias are willing to destroy American democracy through violence.

If only the Department of Homeland Security could replicate State Department’s guidance on terrorism and apply it to home-grown violent extremist groups, including the Republican Party! 

Postred August 27, 2021