As a phenomenon in itself, Sarah Palin’s pithy comments about Donald Trump’s arrest in Atlanta this week were neither surprising nor terribly significant. Her rant and rave, as the Daily Beast reported, were characteristically over the top:
Sarah Palin responded to Donald Trump’s arrest in Georgia on Thursday night by talking up the possibility of civil war. Speaking to Eric Bolling as the former president was booked at the Fulton County Jail on election interference charges, Palin slammed “those who are conducting this travesty and creating this two-tier system of justice.” “I want to ask them: What the heck?” the former Alaska governor said. “Do you want us to be in civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen. We’re not going to keep putting up with this.” Addressing Bolling, Palin went on to say: “I like that you suggested that we need to get angry. We do need to rise up and take our country back.”
It’s unlikely that the perpetually overrated pol last seen losing two congressional races in Alaska to a Democrat last year is going to lead the kind of violent insurrection she is not-so-subtly threatening. But it’s a sign that the many, many, many attention-starved MAGA straphangers in or at the periphery of national politics are going to have a new mantra going forward. Having burned through more conventional measures to “take our country back” via normal electoral or legislative activity, Trump’s surrogates are embracing their leader’s increasingly incendiary talk about past, present, and future setbacks that must be avenged or prevented by any means necessary.
Jack Smith’s federal indictment of Trump sparked a lot of fiery rhetoric, as Insider reported in June:
Right-wing Trump supporters are indignant and using “violent rhetoric” online after a federal grand jury brought criminal charges against former President Donald Trump.
“We have now reached a war phase,” Republican congressman Andy Biggs menacingly tweeted on Friday. “Eye for an eye,” said the Arizona Rep.
More recently, the threats have been more specifically aimed at the alleged persecutors, notes Time:
Trump has repeatedly been warned by federal officials to refrain from rhetoric that could “incite violence or civil unrest.” Yet as he faces a fourth criminal indictment within a matter of months, he is only stepping up his attacks on prosecutors and judges. And within minutes of his attacks, his acolytes respond.
A brief review of pro-Trump forums, right-wing messaging groups, and social-media platforms immediately turned up dozens of potentially violent threats directed at [Fulton County district attorney Fani] Willis and her family. Some encouraged others to find Willis’ home address and post personal information about her family if she doesn’t “back down.”
Here’s the scary thing that ensures this rhetoric will only escalate: By labeling his multiple indictments “election interference” (the very crime of which he is charged by both federal and state prosecutors), Trump has now made his “rigged election” claim for 2024 well over a year in advance. If and when he loses the general election, he won’t have to contrive allegations of voting by noncitizens (as he did in 2016 in order to argue he actually won the popular vote) or demonize voting by mail (as he did in 2020 before, during and after his Election Night victory declaration), or seize on fabricated anecdotes of fraudulent conduct by election officials (another 2020 hardy perennial). In the view from the MAGA fever swamps, it’s now impossible for Trump to have a fair shot at regaining the presidency. If he wins despite the massive “election interference” he faces, he is fully justified in unleashing the vengeance that is so prominent a part of his 2024 message. If he seems to lose … it’s clearly grounds for whatever extra-constitutional redress he and his supporters choose.
But with this terrible miscarriage of justice underway before our eyes each day in Washington and Manhattan and Florida and Georgia, why wait for the preemptive theft of the presidency to be consummated? Why not demand it stop right now on pain of nation-rending violence (or as some hard-core conservatives like to put it, a “Second Amendment Solution”)?
Trump’s 2024 campaign is already infused with the smell of gunpowder and the clamor of insurrection. More conventional thinkers may believe his endless misconduct and his ever-more-relentless extremism will convince Republican primary voters to dump him in favor of some safer substitute who doesn’t terrify half the electorate. But the MAGA take on the nomination contest is that doing anything other than sending Trump back out into battle represents complicity in a “rigged election” that happened in 2020 and that is already fully underway for 2024. That makes the rhetoric of civil war, and at some point a significant risk of something worse than rhetoric, not only inevitable, but certain to get worse and worse as the various legal proceedings against Trump run their course. And Sarah Barracuda isn’t about to miss her chance to pour a little more gasoline on the fire.