Threats of violence now drive politics

by Gene Lyons

Maybe I’m losing my mojo. For all the chatter about political violence out there, this column hasn’t drawn a death threat in months. Maybe not even this calendar year.

They used to come in fairly regularly. One time, a junior high gym teacher in Pennsylvania said he was coming to get me over a smart-aleck joke about the baleful effects of civics education by football coaches. Another guy used to send handwritten letters threatening to rape and mutilate my wife.

Then there was the Special Forces veteran who imagined I’d written something disrespectful about Irish Catholics. (There are a lot more war heroes among angry emailers than the public at large, I’ve noticed.) Perhaps intemperately, I advised him to get lost.

“Your basically a coward,” he responded.

What is it about right-wing soreheads and apostrophes, I wonder? MANY ALSO PREFER TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN ALL CAPS. Another mystery. I see something written that way, I press delete. Doesn’t everybody?

But let’s get serious. Out in the real world, there’s growing evidence that threats of violence are playing an increasing role in political decision-making. No less an eminence than Mike Huckabee — onetime Baptist preacher, former Arkansas governor, current TV quack-remedy peddler — has warned that unless Donald Trump is declared the winner of the 2024 presidential contest, the nation will turn from “ballots to bullets” to settle the issue.

TV preachers just love alliterative wordplay, which rarely fails to arouse the influential Moron-American community.

In Little Rock, the Huckster’s daughter, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently failed to overhaul the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which was supposedly necessary to protect her family from threats from “the radical left.” (In Arkansas, the radical left is anybody that believes in speed limits and stop signs.) Cynics thought Sanders was more aggravated by the Blue Hog Report, a blog that used the law to show that she’d commandeered a state police airplane to travel from Fayetteville to Rogers — adjoining cities. Documented flight time: 11 minutes. Queen Sarah, some call her.

Anyway, the GOP-dominated state legislature denied Sanders her FOIA overhaul, passing a significantly scaled-down version instead.

More seriously, though, Sen. Mitt Romney says that his recently announced retirement from politics results, in part, from an increasing barrage of death threats. Romney told biographer McKay Coppins that he’d recently been forced to spend $5,000 a day on private security for his family.

According to Coppins, as quoted in The Atlantic: “One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him — why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome?”

Put that way, it’s hard not to sympathize. It’s one thing to be an obscure newspaper columnist who goes unrecognized at the dog park, and another to be a Washington politician whose face appears on national TV.

Almost needless to say, these threats emanate almost entirely from the spiritual descendants of Oklahoma City truck bomber Timothy McVeigh: racially obsessed white nationalists. Former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney has spoken of similar fears, as has former Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer. Both aroused right-wing ire by speaking out against the Trump-inspired MAGA rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

No need to kid ourselves about where it’s coming from. Pretty much all mass shooters turn out to be infected with right-wing dogma. According to Philip Bump in the Washington Post, “Analysis from the Anti-Defamation League published this year found that, in the past five years, there have been more than 170 deaths linked to right-wing extremism. Three have been linked to extremism on the left.”

Last year, Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted that there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump was indicted for willfully and deliberately storing top-secret nuclear weapons documents in a publicly accessible country club bathroom. Trump himself, of course, was only too happy to amplify the remark. He continues to hint that outrage about his upcoming criminal trials will spark violence.

And yet nothing has happened. Why? Well, at the expense of sounding like a pre-Trump conservative, because the authorities have been ready. In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, two things have become clear: First, you’ll lose the battle; second, you’ll end up doing serious time in a federal prison.

All the plotting and posing by Proud Boys chieftain Enrique Tarrios got him 22 years in the slammer.


Look, this is America. Of course, there will be violence. Shocking, sickening violence. But the Trump/McVeigh faction is still going to lose.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner. You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.