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Rep. Ralph Norman during a roundtable at the Heritage Foundation on Nov. 10, 2022.
Rep. Ralph Norman during a roundtable at the Heritage Foundation on Nov. 10, 2022. Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

GOP congressman tries, fails to explain away ‘marshall law’ text

Rep. Ralph Norman is trying to explain away his call for martial law early last year. His defense is nothing short of absurd.


Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows traded quite a few text messages as Team Trump worked on overturning the 2020 election, and as the public learned this week, Talking Points Memo obtained the communications that had been turned over to the Jan. 6 committee. As part of TPM’s first report on the messages, one stood out as especially radical.

On Jan. 17, 2021 — 11 days after the attack on the Capitol, and three days before Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration — Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina reached out to Meadows in apparent desperation.

“Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of no return in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!”

Tom Nichols explained in The Atlantic, “This is a member of the U.S. Congress insisting, in a jumble of exclamation points and capital letters, that a sitting president call out the men and women of the United States military to nullify an election and prevent, by force of arms, the constitutional transfer of power. This is sedition, and it is madness.”

Pressed for some kind of explanation, Norman’s office released a statement to South Carolina Public Radio. It read:

“Obviously, Martial Law was never warranted. That text message came from a source of frustration, on the heels of countless unanswered questions about the integrity of the 2020 election, without any way to slow down and examine those issues prior to the inauguration of the newly elected president.”

The Republican congressman also told HuffPost yesterday, “I was very frustrated then, I’m frustrated now. I was frustrated then by what was going on in the Capitol. President Biden was in his basement the whole year. Dominion was raising all kinda questions.”

Whether Norman fully appreciates this or not, this isn’t much a response.

When people get frustrated, they might slam a door or become curt with those around them. If a member of Congress, overcome by frustration, privately reaches out to the White House to encourage a sitting president to suspend constitutional order and deploy the military onto American streets, then maybe a career in public service isn’t quite right for him.

But just as notably, Norman’s responses yesterday suggest he continues, even now, to take utterly bonkers ideas seriously. The South Carolinian’s comment yesterday about Biden spending a year “in his basement” extends absurd beliefs that the president didn’t really win the election. Norman’s comment about “all kinda questions” surrounding Dominion Voting Systems reflects absurd beliefs about discredited conspiracy theories that have never made any sense.

His reference to "unanswered questions" that exist only in far-right imaginations only adds insult to injury.

In his piece for The Atlantic, Nichols added, “What Norman is probably counting on, of course, is that people will forget about his behavior and that of his colleagues.” That’s no doubt true.

But there’s no reason to go along with such an approach. In public, Norman and too many of his colleagues rejected the legitimate results of a free and fair American election. In private, Norman went so far as to target our constitutional system of government.

Pressed for an explanation, the Republican’s defense is that he was, and is, “frustrated” — as if this somehow excuses his recommendation that the White House use military force to keep a defeated presidential candidate in office in defiance of the will of the voters.

There’s no reason for the political world to simply shrug its shoulders and move on.

Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, added in a statement this morning, “Plotting against the rule of law and to subvert the will of the people is a disgusting affront to our deepest principles as a country. We all, regardless of party, need to stand up for mainstream values and the Constitution, against dangerous, ultra MAGA conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric.”