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Editorial: Republicans can side with law and order or with Trump's lawless base. Not both

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Political News

Having spent the past week inflaming the base over the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Republican leaders are getting exactly what they invited: threats against law enforcement and at least one actual attack that resulted in the attacker’s death. The lesson of Jan. 6, 2021 — that some of former President Donald Trump’s most radical followers will convert dangerous words into dangerous action — seems to have been lost these elected officials. They must decide which side they’re on: Law and order, or chaos and death. There is no middle ground.

The man who tried to get into a Cincinnati FBI field office last week with a nail gun and AR-15-style rifle, and who was later killed by police, was apparently driven by fury over the Aug. 8 federal search of Trump’s Florida home for classified documents. The FBI has since seen an unprecedented spike in death threats against federal agents and others, including the judge who issued the warrant.

These threats of violence from Trump’s perpetually aggrieved MAGA base were utterly predictable. Yet from the moment Trump himself publicized the search with his usual hyperbole and cries of victimhood, prominent GOP officeholders, including some top Missouri Republicans, have fanned the anger with inflammatory and often false narratives.

The very day after the search, Sen. Josh Hawley — the Missouri Republican whose infamous raised fist helped rile up the Jan. 6 mob — made the ironic allegation that President Joe Biden “has taken our republic into dangerous waters,” and declared that Attorney General Merrick Garland “must resign or be impeached.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the GOP’s Senate nominee, released a statement in which he referred to the administration as “the Regime,” which is the right’s favored new term to make this legitimately elected president sound like some illegitimately installed dictator.

In fact, federal officials worked with Trump for months to obtain the documents voluntarily. When that failed, they issued a subpoena, which Trump’s lawyers claimed they honored. After the FBI learned there were still documents there, some potentially involving nuclear weapons, they finally obtained the search warrant and found additional documents, some marked top secret or an even higher classification. In hindsight, the outrage here isn’t that the FBI conducted the search but that they waited as long as they did.

 

An evidence-free theme now ascendant on the right is that the FBI planted incriminating documents. Just imagine what that kind of disinformation does once it bounces around awhile in some already-unstable minds out there.

Republican office-holders have an obligation to support federal law enforcement barring some actual (as opposed to imagined) indication the search wasn’t legitimate. Instead, too many of them are encouraging Trump’s followers to view federal law enforcement as the enemy. If they continue this dangerous game, they should be prepared to answer for future outbreaks of violence.

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