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Yet another person has died in defense of Trump's lies. When will it end?

Disinformation, lies and conspiracy theories are airborne and spread by contact.
Image: Donald Trump addressing a crowd.
Then President Donald Trump addressing a crowd during a campaign rally in Lumberton, North Carolina on Oct. 24, 2020.Melissa Sue Gerrits / Getty Images file

The Trump death toll climbed last week. On Friday, a man armed with an assault-style rifle tried to breach security at the Cincinnati, Ohio, FBI field office. After fleeing that office, authorities say Ricky Shiffer exchanged shots with police and was eventually killed by law enforcement in a cornfield near Wilmington. The Ohio man, who was already under investigation as a potential threat, wasn’t the first deluded victim of the deadly contagion of disinformation spewing from a depraved former president and his soulless sycophants, and it’s not likely he’ll be the last.

On Friday, a man armed with an assault-style rifle tried to breach security at the Cincinnati FBI field office.

As Alyssa Rosenberg wrote for The Washington Post, at least four of Trump’s supporters died at the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot: “Ashli Babbit, who was shot while trying to climb through a broken window; Kevin Greeson, who suffered a fatal heart attack; Benjamin Philips, who succumbed to a stroke; and Rosanne Boyland, whose official cause of death was “acute amphetamine intoxication,” but who was caught up in a crush of bodies on the Capitol grounds. Christopher Stanton Georgia died by suicide later that month after he was arrested on unlawful entry charges stemming from Jan. 6. We also know that three police officers died following their defense of our Capitol.

Shiffer was already under investigation by the FBI for possible involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to The New York Times, “Law enforcement officials separately said they were investigating whether Mr. Shiffer appeared in a video posted on Facebook on Jan. 5, 2021, showing him attending a pro-Trump rally at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington the night before the Capitol was stormed.”

Shiffer’s online posts indicate he supported former President Donald Trump and became incensed when the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida residence Aug. 8. The New York Times reports that on Aug. 9, “someone with an account bearing Mr. Shiffer’s name posted messages on Mr. Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social, recommending that “patriots” go to Florida and kill federal agents.” According to that report, “When someone online asked Shiffer if he was proposing terrorism, the account responded: ‘I am proposing war.’” Shiffer died before he likely would hear, if it would have mattered, that the government tried negotiating with Trump and his lawyers for the return of the sensitive documents, that Trump never complied with a subpoena, that Trump was able to view the search via security cameras, that a Trump lawyer had provided a written filing to the government claiming there wasn’t any more classified material and that the search reportedly turned up multiple documents classified at the highest levels.

How does someone move so quickly from violent rhetoric to violent action – even at the risk of losing their life? It happens when the viral load of dangerous disinformation they consume overwhelms their body’s natural survival defense. Disinformation, lies and conspiracy theories are airborne and spread by contact. Contact with others who are similarly unable to think for themselves and exposure to airwaves filled with radicalizing rhetoric can kill. And last week, it appears to have killed Shiffer.

Shiffer’s death didn’t deter pro-Trump protesters in Arizona from showing up armed with assault-style rifles at the FBI Phoenix field office Saturday. That same day, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint warning that federal law enforcement was facing an unprecedented volume of threats. Who is behind the volatile environment we’re now living in?

Following the search of his residence, Trump quickly called the investigation a “hoax” and implied the FBI planted information. Following his lead, Trump’s minions in media and in elected office didn’t wait for the facts before rushing to rant against a law enforcement action they knew next to nothing about. “Tomorrow is war” said Steven Crowder, a conservative analyst with almost 2 million Twitter followers. “This means war,” the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump platform, posted online. Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed candidate for Congress said on Steve Bannon’s podcast, “We’re at war.” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called the search ”3rd world country stuff”. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the warrant a “weaponization of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents.” And, an unredacted copy of the court-authorized search warrant, which contained the names of two FBI agents, was published by Breitbart News leading to widespread threats against FBI personnel. Even the federal magistrate who signed the search warrant is being targeted for violence.

Trump’s minions in media and in elected office didn’t wait for the facts before rushing to rant against a law enforcement action they knew next to nothing about.

Trump, and those who echo his violence-inducing vitriol, bear responsibility for radicalizing those who have killed because of the lie of white replacement theory. The 2019 El Paso Walmart shooter cited the same brown “invasion” language used by Trump before he targeted shoppers and killed 23 people in a store frequented by Mexicans. The Buffalo supermarket shooter, who killed 10 in a predominately Black neighborhood, cited white replacement theory in his postings – a lie frequently pushed by Fox News entertainer Tucker Carlson.

There is no end in sight to the rising body count. That’s because a deliberate far-right strategy of “culture warfare,” which encourages residents to see themselves as warriors in a life or death battle, is perceived as effective in turning out voters. This fact-averse strategy depends upon a steady stream of disinformation designed to spur people to action – even if that action is deadly. If left unchecked, this strategy won’t kill only people but also lead to the demise of the rule of law and our democracy. The dangerous rhetoric and violent actions of last week provide an ominous preview of what might transpire if Trump is eventually indicted in any of the investigations into his behavior.

More people, including more Trump followers, could find themselves casualties of the contagion of conspiracy theories and lies. That’s why it’s time for MAGA adherents, who seem unmoved by the threat they pose to democracy, to consider the threat they pose to themselves. Our soldiers and law enforcement officers who risk death in defense of democracy are noble. But those who risk death because they’re duped by a derelict former president, power-hungry politicians and ratings-chasing cable clowns – well, that just makes them tragically deceived.