One of the most dangerous, long-lasting changes effected by Donald Trump is the rightward extension of the Republican coalition. A wide array of far-right militias and cults was either created or inspired to join the Republican Party by Trump’s racist, paranoid, and authoritarian rhetoric. Now those groups are the subject of regular apologias in party-aligned media.
The new reality was driven home in Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday night. At one point, the Fox News host, whose “interview” was more like an exchange of talking points, brought up a new report that the Homeland Security Department will be giving more attention to right-wing domestic extremism. “The idea is to identify people who may, through their social-media behavior, be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists,” Ingraham noted. “Mr. President, their DHS is going after people who may be your supporters.”
It is worth pausing for a moment to record that Ingraham’s reaction to a description of people “prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists” is hey, they’re talking about us!
Trump, taking the cue, denounced federal authorities for charging his supporters with crimes. “They go after that, I guess you’d call them leaning toward the right … those people, they’re arresting them by the dozens,” he complained.
Ingraham did not follow up by asking who was being arrested by the dozens. But Trump’s answer became clear a few questions later. Ingraham prompted him with a safe question about the security fencing around the Capitol, a precaution even Democrats have deemed excessive long after the insurrection ended.
Rather than simply denounce the fencing, Trump launched into a defense of the riot. “It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat. They’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards,” he insisted about the violent clash.
Trump proceeded to portray the prosecution of the insurrectionists as a witch hunt against his movement. “They’re doing things, they’re persecuting a lot of those people,” he complained. Using his customary formulation — the crimes are on the other side — he launched into a tangent about the alleged failure to prosecute antifa, before returning to his true complaint: “… and yet I’m constantly seeing they’re searching out people on the right.”
Nobody is being charged for showing up at a Trump rally or believing Trump’s lies about the election. They are being charged with breaking through a security barrier and physically assaulting police. The mainstream of the Republican Party has adopted Trump’s message about this: They are good people, their activity was noble, and they deserve impunity from the law.