By: Ryan Cooper, The Week: Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
It’s been an ominous few days for democracy. On Monday, a pipe bomb was discovered in the mailbox of financier and liberal mega-donor George Soros. Late Tuesday night, a similar bomb was intercepted en route to Hillary Clinton. On Wednesday, the same thing happened to Barack Obama and at the New York headquarters of CNN — the latter addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan (who actually works for MSNBC). Another was reportedly sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder, but ended up at the offices of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) due to a false return address. Another was reportedly sent to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
The commonalities here could not be more obvious. The most famous Democrats in the country, prominent cable news #Resistance pundits, and the famous Jewish liberal funder who has become an all-purpose boogeyman for the (increasingly anti-Semitic) extreme right. Of course, we don’t know for sure who carried out the attempted bombings yet or why, though it’s getting hard to imagine anything other than conservative politics as a motivation. But this would be far from the only example of recent right-wing terrorism — an increasing public emergency for the United States.
Take the so-called “Proud Boys,” a violent proto-fascist gang founded by the overt racist Gavin McInnes. McInnes was recently invited to the Metropolitan Republican Club — which is also the headquarters of the New York Republican Party. At the club, McInnes and his goons celebrated the 58th anniversary of the political assassination of Japan Socialist Party leader Inejiro Asanuma, who was stabbed to death with a samurai sword at a public event by a young right-wing fanatic. Brandishing a sword himself to re-enact the murder, McInnes said, “Never let evil take root.”
Again, these guys were invited to come by top New York Republicans. And afterwards, the Proud Boys allegedly conducted gang beatdowns of several lefty counter-protesters while they screamed homophobic slurs. Far-right extremists, including both “Patriot Prayer” (a different right-wing gang) members and Proud Boys, allegedly did something similar in Portland the next day — and not for the first time. Gang beatdowns are apparently important initiation rituals for the Proud Boys.
Then, of course, there was the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year, in which a right-wing terrorist allegedly murdered one counter-protester and injured about 30 others by driving his car into a crowd at high speed (his trial is still pending). A count done by a data reporter at Quartz found right-wing terrorists far exceeded any other type in 2017. (Left-wing terrorism, including the congressional baseball shooting, was about a third as large. Islamic terrorism was even lower.)
All this takes place in the background of a Republican Party whose top leadership increasingly tolerates, condones, or even carries out political violence. President Trump did issue a statement Wednesday saying: “[A]cts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” But he was saying the exact opposite just a few days previously.
Recall that during a special congressional election in Montana last year, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses — while Jacobs had his recorder going. Then Gianforte flagrantly lied about what he had done until after he had the election sewn up, only admitting guilt and apologizing afterwards.
At a rally in Missoula a few days ago, Trump applauded Gianforte’s admitted assault while campaigning for his re-election. “Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my guy,” he said.
Obviously body-slamming a reporter (who was trying to ask a question about the ObamaCare repeal vote, by the way) is not the same as blowing them up with a pipe bomb. But it is absolutely beyond the pale of constitutional democracy. Celebrating such acts by the very top of the party elite does not bode well for the future of the GOP and American politics writ large.
Political violence is a thorny enough problem when it’s carried out by underground extremists. But it is a lot more dangerous when it becomes a tactic for a ruling party. If one cannot win free and fair elections, well then violence might serve just as well — and if it works, then there is no way to stop it.
It is important to note that so far, none of these extremists or proto-fascists have at yet shown much in the way of physical courage. Sending a mail bomb anonymously, or ganging up with 10 friends to kick someone already on the ground, or jumping a slightly-built reporter out of the blue, is more about bullying and mob violence than it is the kind of truly unhinged zealotry that inspired the Asanuma assassination. But things are escalating fast.
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