Many Republicans are increasingly coming to see themselves less as citizens represented by the federal government, and more as tyrannized victims of that government. More than three-quarters of Republicans reported “low trust” in the federal government in a Grinnell College national poll in October; only a minority of Democrats agreed.
From this point of view, peaceful elections will not save the day. More than two out of three Republicans think democracy is under attack, according to the Grinnell poll, which echoes the results of a CNN poll in September. Half as many Democrats say the same.
Mainstream news publications are filled with howls of protest over political outrages by Republican leaders, who are reflecting the beliefs of the party mainstream. But the small newspapers in the rural, red-state areas that are the core of the Republican party’s rank and file are giving voice to a simpler picture: Politics are dead; it’s time to fight.
“Wake up America!” reads a September opinion piece excoriating Democrats in The Gaston Gazette, based in Gastonia, N.C. “The enemy is at our gates, God willing it is not too late to turn back the rushing tide of this dark regime.”
The piece goes on to quote Thomas Paine’s exhortation to colonists to take up arms against the British. “We are in a civil war,” a letter published in September in The New Mexico Sun likewise warns Republicans, “between the traditional Americans and those who want to impose socialism in this country and thus obtain complete government control of its citizens.”
Evidence that a significant portion of Republicans are increasingly likely to resort to violence against the government and political opponents is growing. More than 100 violent threats, many of them death threats, were leveled at poll workers and election officials in battleground states in 2020, according to an investigation by Reuters published in September—all those threat-makers whom Reuters could contact identified as Trump supporters.
In October 2020, 13 men were charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat; all of them were aligned with the political right. Nearly a third of Republicans agree that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” according to a September poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan group. That’s three times as many as the number of Democrats who felt the same way.
Guns are becoming an essential part of the equation. “Americans are increasingly wielding guns in public spaces, roused by persons they politically oppose or public decisions with which they disagree,” concludes an August article in the Northwestern University Law Review. Guns were plentiful when hundreds of anti-COVID-precaution protestors gathered at the Michigan State Capitol in May 2020. Some of the armed protesters tried to enter the Capitol chamber.
Those who carry arms to a political protest may in theory have peaceful intentions, but there’s plenty of reason to think otherwise. An October study from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) looked at 560 protests involving armed participants over an 18-month period through mid-2021, and found that a sixth of them turned violent, and some involved fatalities. …
In his acclaimed history of the early days of the American Revolution, “The British Are Coming,” author Rick Atkinson explains one major reason why America became the first British colony to succeed in winning freedom, where others had failed.
“Unlike the Irish and other subjugated peoples,” he writes, “the Americans were heavily armed.” Muskets, he points out, were “as common as kettles” among the colonists, and American riflemen were among the world’s finest marksmen. That possession of and skill with guns, combined with the colonists’ deep passion for ridding themselves of what they saw as government tyranny, would help carry the day against otherwise long odds.
Today the many Republicans who have convinced themselves that they, too, must cast off a tyrannical government have plenty of guns. Americans own about 400 million guns, according to the Switzerland-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. (The U.S. government doesn’t track gun ownership.)
The vast majority of those guns belong to Republicans. Gallup found that half of all Republicans own guns, nearly three times the rate of gun ownership as among Democrats. Gun owners are overwhelmingly male and white and are more likely to live in the rural south than anywhere else. Those demographics mesh neatly with the hard-core segment of the Republican party.
— David H. Freedman in Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power If Trump Loses in 2024