The MAGA Internet Calls for War

After a jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges yesterday, Bronze Age Pervert, the alter ego of the edgelord influencer Costin Alamariuretweeted one of his own posts from March. It is a movie clip depicting a scene of armed men storming buildings and gunning people down. In the text accompanying the post, Bronze Age Pervert jokes that the clip is real footage of a “well-planned neutralization operation” that will take place after Trump wins his reelection campaign.

The MAGA faithful are once again on the internet threatening violence. Lots of Republicans, of course, responded to Trump’s felony verdict with simple outrage rather than calls for a “neutralization operation.” But more extreme language has appeared all across the right-wing posting ecosystem. Some Proud Boys chapters responded with the word “war” on their Telegram channels, as reported by Wiredand Reuters found instances of Trump supporters calling for violence against jurors and the judge in the case, as well as calls for civil war and insurrection. An anonymous right-wing X account went viral by posting “Third World Problems Require Third World Solutions” on top of a video of the 2020 military coup in Myanmar.

The incitement of violence and aggressive political retribution is not new on the right, but it has often been confined to the hardened fringes. When it does leak out, it tends to be at least slightly obfuscated. Now though, “some of the more intense rhetoric is coming from the top,” Jared Holt, an extremism researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told me. Auron MacIntyre, a podcast host for the right-wing outlet Blaze Media, called for Republican district attorneys to manipulate the courts and put “corrupt Democrats in jail immediately,” with “no excuses, no equivocation.” Sean Davis, the CEO of the right-wing publication The Federalistposted that members of the right have a “moral obligation to terrorize the Left with its own rules and tactics until it is destroyed.”

So what’s going to happen next? Right now, probably nothing. There is always the possibility of people taking inspiration from online posts and engaging in real-world violence—such as when a conspiracy theory about pedophilia prompted a man to show up with a gun to a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 2016, or when a white-supremacist shooter in Buffalo, New York, killed 10 people in 2022. But mass mobilizations are hard and require work. There’s usually a pattern that precedes them. MAGA faithful and the far right did not wake up on January 6, 2021, and decide to storm the Capitol. The foundations for it didn’t even come in the days or weeks beforehand. Instead it was a process that bore out over the course of months. And that process could be tracked, in part, in the ever more heated rhetoric and violent memes that MAGA world spread across the web.

Even as rhetoric online helped encourage energy around right-wing movements, the anti-lockdown protests at state Houses across the country are what helped truly establish the initial framework of what was possible. They showed members of the far right both that there were other people like them and that there were outlets to express what they felt. This is also part of why, in addition to the Capitol, multiple state Houses were swarmed on January 6, some requiring evacuations.

And separately, in the months leading up to January 6, two MAGA protests with thousands of attendees were held in D.C. They helped establish patterns and expanded the imagination of what was possible on the right. The idea of going to D.C. to potentially storm the Capitol becomes less far-fetched when you’ve seen fellow MAGA patriots show up in the city before and you’ve watched people do the same thing in state Houses across the country, and potentially done so yourself.

The boring little logistical things also get ironed out: Right-wing protesters established rough patterns for where they would congregate. The Hotel Harrington, in downtown D.C.,  became a recurring hot spot for out-of-towners, and the bar on its first floor, Harry’s, became a known hangout for the Proud Boys and anyone who wanted to mingle with them. Everything becomes easier when you’re not the first one to tread the path. January 6 “came after a buildup of social and civil unrest in the U.S.,” Holt said. “People were already going into the streets and turning out for stuff.”

Movements associated with the left have occasionally been able to assemble mass protests very quickly, but that’s because they bear features that the right’s causes generally don’t have access to. (Movements on the left have also, at times, turned violent, but those who study violent extremism most closely repeatedly say that the greatest threat of political violence in the United States currently comes from the right.) The George Floyd protests reached their apex within weeks (some within days), because a majority of Americans, left or right, “oppose racism.” This means very different things to different people, but it is still much more popular than Donald Trump, who despite his devoted base has at moments polled as one of the least popular presidents since the advent of modern polling.

Right now the building blocks of political violence have not been established. In August, some of Trump’s supporters showed up outside a federal courthouse in D.C. when the former president was arraigned, but including the anti-Trump protesters, the count came to only about 100 people. Some of his fans demonstrated in New York City throughout his trial, but the raucous protests that Trump predicted never materialized.

Holt told me that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility for violence down the line, but he thinks that the rhetoric isn’t gathering momentum for grassroots violence; instead, it’s building “permission structures for the next Republican majority in the U.S. to come down incredibly hard on its critics.” Even though mass mobilization doesn’t seem imminent, some of the rough foundations are left over from 2020. Polemical rhetoric is reaching further into the mainstream, portending something dark. But it will probably take time to get there. Until then, there will likely be escalating moments—protests and other physical action in real life, not just online—to be heeded.

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