By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
I’ve lived through some very scary times — the Cuban Missile Crisis, the riots of the 1960s, the 9/11 terror attacks, and the January 6 siege of the Capitol — but I have never been filled with more dread than I am right now.
Last week, on September 13, former President Donald Trump reposted on his Truth Social (oh, height of ironic names!) media platform a photo of himself wearing a QAnon pin above the caption “The Storm is Coming.”
“The Storm,” in case you haven’t heard, is when Trump, QAnon followers (there are millions), and their related militias and goons rise up and reinstall Trump in the White House, presumably for life. “Deep state” officials and Democrats will be arrested with their top leaders, such as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shipped to Guantanamo Bay, tried by military tribunal and executed.
Wait. It gets worse for most Americans. According to long-dreamed-of plans by white supremacist and other extreme right groups, liberals and minorities such as Blacks, Jews and the LGBTQ+ community will be hung in the streets on “The Day of the Rope,” as the country is transformed into a white Christian ethno-state.
I realize I sound like the guy in the classic sci-fi horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers who frantically runs through the streets screaming about alien pod people taking over, but read Malcolm Nance’s new book, They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurrection.
Nance, who has spent decades in military intelligence and counter-terrorism, examines in alarming detail a movement that has been brewing in America for decades. Trump and the Republican Party harnessed it for political gain, watched it become a Frankenstein, and are now unleashing a whirlwind fanned by a right-wing media that is willing to treat the most baseless, lunatic claims seriously.
January 6 was only a taste of what is in store. The absurd paranoia of the QAnon movement with its constant kaleidoscope of bizarre conspiracy theories — the main one insists the government is run by a secret cabal of cannibalistic, Satan-worshipping, child-trafficking Democrats led by Hillary Clinton — has been absorbed into the GOP. (See: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Louie Gohmert).
I suspect that at least some Republican bigwigs such as Lindsay Graham and Kevin McCarthy don’t really believe this claptrap but are too afraid to say so. Crossing the party’s base and especially Trump is not good for one’s political career and probably one’s health if the “Hang Mike Pence” chants on January 6 are to be believed.
Heck, I have to imagine some followers have come to their senses but feel trapped. They are forced to keep the faith with Trump and QAnon for fear of being disowned or worse by family, friends and peers. There were reports of people secretly getting vaccinated against Covid to avoid crossing their right-wing tribe.
"Tribalism is deeply ingrained," Republican representative Adam Kinzinger recently told CNN commentator David Axelrod. "I think this is part of what goes to explain why some of the leaders out here ... are so silent. I think people in many cases fear, more than they fear death, they fear being kicked out of their tribe ... When all of a sudden the people that you love lose respect for you or basically divorce you over text messages or whatever that is, that's a terrible feeling. I've lived it."
Militia groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys are being disrupted by prosecution for their involvement in the January. 6 insurrection, but there are still plenty of crazed lone wolves ready to take up arms, especially now that Trump is in serious legal jeopardy on several fronts (tax evasion, obstruction of justice, inciting a riot, election interference, illegally possessing highly classified documents).
During a recent appearance on Fox News’s Sunday Night in America, Graham warned that there will be street violence if Trump is indicted. Trump echoed this threat a week or so later by strongly suggesting to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Americans won’t tolerate it.
After the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago palace on Aug. 8 and seized boxes of top secret material, the GOP and the far right were outraged. Three days later, an armed man attempted to enter the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati and was killed in a gun battle.
On September 10, an armed man in Delmont, Penn. was arrested after entering a Dairy Queen in search of liberals and Democrats. He claimed he was trying to restore Trump as “President King.” Many QAnon followers refer to Trump as GEOTUS: God Emperor of the United States.
These incidents summoned to mind the man who stormed the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington D.C. with an AR-15 in 2016 because he believed children were being kept and killed in the basement by Hillary Clinton.
According to Nance (and I believe him), these nuts and many who belong to militias are the heirs of Timothy McVeigh, the bomber of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. That attack killed 168 people and wounded 800. More dire events like it are coming with The Storm, possibly even with biological weapons and dirty bombs.
Nance foresees not an outright second Civil War with armies and clear battle lines in fields like Gettysburg, but a constant state of violence like Ireland’s “Troubles” of the 1960s to 1998. Bombings, shootings, kidnappings and televised torture and executions will become common, with the goal being to destabilize the government and destroy the population’s faith in its ability to keep it safe. He expects this threat to persist for at least the next generation of Americans.
I don’t know what is scarier: that so many people believe crackpot fantasies while erecting impenetrable shields against facts, reason and differences of opinion or culture, or that hundreds of former soldiers and cops and even active law enforcement officers belong to groups like the Oath Keepers. It’s probably safe to say they will aid, abet or turn a blind eye to carnage committed by their side.
The fuse that ignites it is likely to be, if not the midterm elections, then certainly the 2024 presidential election. Significant victories by Democrats will almost surely be resisted and denied in red states where governors, secretaries of state, and local officials embrace The Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen by fraud.
As it is, I expect violence at polling places where Republican-trained poll workers and observers try to prevent people they distrust from voting or Trump followers to become irate when they are told they can’t vote because they are in the wrong polling place or something is amiss with their registration. Armed extremists showing up at state capitol buildings as they did in Michigan in May 2020 is likely, too.
I really hope I’m wrong about all this. But as I listen to even local right-wing talk shows such as the ones on Fox News radio station WKIP-FM out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., I hear constant casual references to the deep state, the Democrat Gestapo, and “despicable liberals” who are trying to destroy America. “They’re coming for you” is a constant message from Trump, as well as the GOP and its media allies who insist anyone who opposes them is not a true American.
All this ugly rhetoric reminds me of what the Hutus in Rwanda were fed by their leaders before they unleashed a genocide that took the lives in 1994 of upwards of 800,000 Tutsis, their fellow citizens. Call me paranoid, but I often wonder who among my neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances will be willing to kill me and my family because they believe they are in a me-or-them, life-or-death situation. Herd and mob mentality are horrifying phenomenona we’ve seen too often in places like Rwanda and the Balkans.
I wish rational, responsible voices on the right were at least trying to calm the waters, but “rational” and “responsible” are in extremely short supply over there. As I read about the millions of guns in the hands of civilians, many of whom are eagerly gearing up for what they see as a glorious quest to remake America into some demented vision of glory, all I can think of are the words of Mike Giglio.
A reporter and writer who has covered civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, Giglio was a guest on the radio show Fresh Air last year, saying, “When people talk about civil war … like the glory of the American Revolution, I want to say, no, it's just suffering. It's not the redcoats versus the patriots. It's nonlinear. It's civilians dying for no reason. It's not tales of heroism. It's tales of people being afraid and causing destruction that they can't make any sense of in the end.”
Nothing on the QAnon-polluted right makes sense these days and that’s what frightens me most.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.