The GOP’s response to the court-approved FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate has been predictably fascistic.
In several ways, in fact, it mirrors the party’s rhetoric in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 attack. In both responses, we see Trump making false claims and thinly-veiled threats toward law enforcement, GOP lawmakers following suit, and conservative movement devotees preparing to serve as violent foot soldiers.
A New York Times report published Saturday helps bring the similarity into focus.
According to the Times, shortly before Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced his effort to unseal the search warrant, a person close to Trump reached out to the Department of Justice on the former president's behalf.
The intermediary reportedly asked a Justice Department official to relay a message from the former president to Garland: “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?”
That Trump sent this message as he was inciting fury toward law enforcement officials makes the ask seem like a thinly-veiled threat.
The message here seems clear: Reach a conclusion Trump is happy with, or face serious consequences. That matches the tone of Trump’s pressure campaign against Georgia election officials to get them to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Remember: Trump told Georgia’s top elections investigator to find “dishonesty” in the 2020 election, saying, “You have the most important job in the country right now,” and adding, “when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”
In a separate call, Trump warned Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he could potentially face criminal liability for not claiming there was mass fraud in the election.
“That’s a big risk to you,” Trump said. “That’s a big risk.”
Both the Jan. 6 attack and the Mar-a-Lago search show us: When Trump is in a bind, he tries to heighten the risk — real or perceived — of investigating him.
And as they did in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, conservatives in the wake of the FBI search are responding to Trump's dangerous behavior with slavish loyalty.
Last week, a pro-Trump gunman was killed after firing a nail gun into an FBI field office in Cincinnati. And over the weekend, armed Trump supporters gathered outside an FBI office in Phoenix to protest the Mar-a-Lago search. If all that sounds familiar, it should. You may remember armed Trump supporters staged similar demonstrations outside county election counting centers in 2020 as Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden was being confirmed.
Whereas Trump had right-wing grifters such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell publicly pushing his crackpot claims ahead of Jan. 6, Republican members of Congress are taking the lead on that front now. Though some — like Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio — have flamed out on national television while trying to cast aspersions on federal investigators, the GOP’s disdain for legal processes that don’t work in their favor is impossible to ignore.
Jan. 6 established a playbook for Republicans to deny reality and impose their vision for the world through violence. It almost succeeded in unlawfully keeping Trump in power. Now, they’re just hoping it will keep him out of trouble.