Donald Trump's election lies have become the background noise of our civic life, but some officials don't have the luxury of simply ignoring the former president's nonsense.
Politico reported in June, for example, "The conspiracy theory that Donald Trump will be reinstated as president in August has sparked concerns at the Department of Homeland Security, a top official there told members of Congress." CNN reported soon after that Justice Department officials also concluded that the former president's delusional claims increase the risk of political violence from his most rabid followers.
These fears have not dissipated. NBC News reported this morning:
False claims of fraud in the 2020 election are fueling calls for violence on social media, the Department of Homeland Security is warning local police departments.... DHS issued a so-called awareness bulletin last week and discussed the security climate at a meeting with intelligence officers from major police agencies, including departments in New York, Washington and Las Vegas, DHS officials told NBC News.
"DHS has seen an increasing but modest level of individuals calling for violence in response to the unsubstantiated claims of fraud related to the 2020 election fraud and the alleged 'reinstatement' of former President Trump," a DHS spokesperson told NBC News.
The Homeland Security spokesperson said that officials do not have "specific or credible reporting indicating that violent extremists are planning to target specific events." That said, department officials "are currently in a heightened terrorism-related threat environment, and DHS is aware of previous instances of violence associated with the dissemination of disinformation, false narratives and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election."
A second DHS official told NBC News that the agency has watched conspiracy theories about the 2020 election migrate from obscure internet forums to more mainstream ones, and "we are concerned about calls to violence."
This comes on the heels of an ABC News report, based on a bulletin from the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis. The document read in part, "Some conspiracy theories associated with reinstating former President Trump have included calls for violence if desired outcomes are not realized."
Obviously, mainstream Americans can hope that the extremist threat will not intensify and turn into actual violence, but these official warnings and fears are emblematic of a larger truth: Trump's lies remain a public menace.
For many political observers, I suspect the former president's ongoing deceptions are more likely to generate eye-rolling than genuine concerns about public safety. On a regular basis, the Republican and his most ridiculous allies peddle obvious garbage, in part to make Trump feel better about his defeat, and in part because the lies help fuel his fundraising operation.
But there's a segment of the population that doesn't realize the lies are absurd. For these Americans, whose relationship with reality is terribly strained, the propaganda is both credible and a possible call to arms.
What's more, there's no reason to think conditions will improve. Not only has the former president and his allies stoked the fires with "reinstatement" chatter that can only be described as madness, but we're likely to soon hear from Arizona Republican state senators and their Cyber Ninja partners.
The odds of them acknowledging that their unhinged conspiracy theories were wrong are poor. It's far more likely that the partisan stunt will result in a ridiculous report attempting to validate Trump's discredited claims -- which in turn will further fuel the fringe figures of concern to law enforcement.
Over the weekend, the former president declared on Fox News, "It's a disgrace what's happening, and I don't think the country's going to stand for it much longer."
Between Republican rhetoric like this and the Jan. 6 insurrectionist riot incited by the former president, is it any wonder law-enforcement officials are concerned about the dangers posed by Trump's most radicalized followers?