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Image: Capitol mob, riot
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a riot outside of the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.Stephanie Keith / Reuters

The words Trump's most radical followers should (but won't) hear

So long as he refuses to concede the race and acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden's victory, Trump's most radical followers won't stand down.


After helping incite a deadly insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, Donald Trump was apparently convinced by aides to denounce violent tactics. This week, he issued an official written White House statement that read in part, "In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind."

Later, he recorded a video from the Oval Office in which he went considerably further. Reading from a prepared script, Trump said, "Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country, and no place in our movement.... Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence."

The Republican added, "If you do any of these things you are not supporting our movement. You are attacking it and you are attacking our country. We cannot tolerate it."

The hope was that these words might help discourage violent confrontations. But Politico reported that the video "barely made a dent in the groundswell of extremism" among his most radicalized followers. One of the apparent problems is that Trump, even now, hasn't conceded.

At the root of these extremists' continued fervor is a key observation: Trump still has not acknowledged that the election was legitimate and admitted his defeat to Biden. In his video on Wednesday, the president did not acknowledge he had lost the November election. And by not doing so, the outgoing president is seen as giving tacit approval to his followers' plans to wage war against the political establishment.

The Politico article added that the pro-Trump extremists have come to believe the video was merely a ruse to fool the American mainstream, "while urging his followers to keep preparing for potential violent clashes."

In other words, his radicalized followers perceive a wink and a nod: Trump may have said he's against violence, but so long as he refuses to concede the race and acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden's election victory, extremists' fervor will continue.

The obvious question is whether Trump is prepared to send an unmistakable signal to the militants, possibly reducing the risk of harm. I suspect we know the answer to that question.