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Image: National Guard Capitol Security
National Guard soldiers patrol the US Capitol grounds on Capitol Hill on March 6, 2021.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images

The financial cost of Trump's 2020 'Big Lie' keeps going up

I realize federal officials can't literally send a $521 million bill to the former president, but the idea is not without some appeal.


It's been 65 days since an insurrectionist mob launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, and while much of the political world has been eager to move on, the effects of the violence linger.

Indeed, thousands of National Guard troops remain on Capitol Hill, which is still protected by barriers and security fencing designed to prevent additional bloodshed.

Up until recently, the Guard's mission was scheduled to end today. This week, however, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in coordination with the U.S. Capitol Police, approved an extension of the Guard's presence through May 23.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, none of this is cheap.

The National Guard's months-long deployment at the U.S. Capitol is projected to cost $521 million through May, the Defense Department said Thursday.... The [new extension approved by Austin] will add $111 million to the cost of the mission, covering from March to May, said Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a National Guard spokesman. That is on top of an estimated $410 million in costs for the mission from January to March, Col. Carver said.

Journalist Garrett Graff this morning suggested an alternative headline to reports like these: "Former President Trump's lies, rhetoric force US government to spend a half-billion dollars securing and defending legislators from Trump fanatics."

There's been quite a bit of debate in recent weeks about the ongoing need for security measures, the seriousness of the ongoing threat, and the intelligence about pro-Trump radicals and their future plans. But from time to time, it's worth pausing to appreciate the nature of the threat: Trump peddled seditious lies about his election defeat; some of his extremist followers still accept the scam as true; and the possibility of a second violent attack appears to be quite real.

All of this comes at a cost -- not only in lives lost and the fraying of our social fabric, but there are financial costs, too. The price tag is growing because officials believe the former president's most extreme loyalists may yet try to commit additional acts of violence.

Let's not forget that it was just last week when the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent a joint intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies warning that some domestic groups have "discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about" March 4. It led the U.S. House to scrap plans for last Thursday's legislative session.

Around the same time the intelligence bulletin was issued, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) conceded that Trump could do more to help quell the threat of a potential second attack on the Capitol by telling his most radical supporters to stand down. "Leaders should be very vocal in condemning all forms of extremism," McCaul tweeted alongside a clip of a CNN interview in which he urged the former president to speak out.

Trump, of course, did not take McCaul's advice. As a result, the threats appear to be ongoing, and National Guard troops will maintain a presence around Capitol Hill.

I realize federal officials can't literally send a $521 million bill to the former president, but the idea is not without some appeal.