‘No way out without bloodshed’: the right believe the US is under threat and are mobilizing

The posts are ominous.

“Pick a side, or YOU are next,” wrote conservative talkshow host Dan Bongino on the Truth Social media platform in the aftermath of former president Donald Trump’s 34 felony convictions.

The replies were even more so.

“Dan, seriously now,” one user wrote in response to Bongino. “I see no way out of all this mess without bloodshed. When you can rig an election, then weaponize the government and the courts against a former President, what other alternative is there? I’m almost 70 and would rather die than live in tyranny.”

That’s a common version of how many people on the US right reacted to the Trump verdict, drawing on a “mirror world” where Trump is seen as the selfless martyr to powerful state forces and Joe Biden is the dangerous autocrat wielding the justice system as his own personal plaything and a threat to American democracy.

Calls for revenge, retribution and violence littered the rightwing internet as soon as Trump’s guilty verdict came down, all predicated on the idea that the trial had been a sham designed to interfere with the 2024 election. Some posted online explicitly saying it was time for hangings, executions and civil wars.

In this case, Trump was charged with falsifying documents related to a hush-money payment made to an adult film actor to keep an alleged affair out of the spotlight during the 2016 election – a form of election interference from a man whose platform lately consists largely of blaming others for election interference. The verdict has been followed by a backlash from his followers, those who for years chanted to lock up Trump’s political opponents, like Hillary Clinton.

On the left, the mood was downright celebratory, a brief interlude of joy that Trump might finally be held accountable for his actions. But there was an undercurrent of worry among some liberals, who saw the way these felonies could galvanize support for the former president.

On the right, in the alternate reality created by and for Trump and his supporters, the convictions are a sign of both doom and dogma – evidence that a corrupt faction runs the Joe Biden government, but that it can be driven out by the Trump faithful like themselves.

Trump’s allies in Congress want to use the federal government’s coffers to send a message to Biden that the verdict crosses a line, saying the jury’s decision “turned our judicial system into a political cudgel”. Some Senate Republicans vowed not to cooperate with Democratic priorities or nominees – effectively politicizing the government as recompense for what they claim is a politicization of the courts.

They echoed a claim Trump himself has repeatedly driven home to his followers: that his political opponents, namely Biden, are a threat to democracy, a rebrand of how Biden and Democrats often cast Trump. For his most ardent followers, the stakes of the 2024 election are existential, the idea that he might lose a cause for intense rhetoric and threats.

And, for some, the convictions provide another reason to take matters into their own hands during a time when support for using violence to achieve political goals is on the rise. Indictments against Trump fueled this support, surveys have shown.

Some rightwing media and commentators, like Bongino and the Gateway Pundit, displayed upside-down flags on social media, a sign of distress and a symbol among Trump supporters that recently made the news because one flew at US supreme court justice Samuel Alito’s home after the insurrection.

The terms “banana republic” and “kangaroo court” flew around, as did memes comparing Biden to Nazi or fascist leaders. Telegram channels lit up with posts about how the end of America was solidified – unless Trump wins again in November.

“If we jail Trump, get rid of Maga, end the electoral college, ban voter ID, censor free speech, we’ll save democracy,” says one meme in a QAnon channel on Telegram that depicts Biden in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler mustache.

Tucker Carlson, the rightwing media heavyweight, waxed apocalyptic: “Import the third world, become the third world. That’s what we just saw. This won’t stop Trump. He’ll win the election if he’s not killed first. But it does mark the end of the fairest justice system in the world. Anyone who defends this verdict is a danger to you and your family.”

The former president’s supporters also opened their wallets, sending a “record-shattering” $34.8m in small-dollar donations to Trump’s campaign on Thursday, the Trump campaign claimed.

The massive haul came after Trump declared himself a “political prisoner” (he is not in prison) and declared justice “dead” in the US in a dire fundraising pitch.

“Their sick & twisted goal is simple: Pervert the justice system against me so much, that proud supporters like YOU will SPIT when you hear my name,” Trump’s campaign wrote. “BUT THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN! NOW IT’S TIME FOR ME & YOU TO SHOVE IT BACK IN THEIR CORRUPT FACES!”

The real verdict, Trump wrote on Truth Social, would come on 5 November. Posts calling 5 November a new “independence day” and comparing 2024 to 1776 – but a revolution not against the British, but among Americans for the control of the country – spread widely.

Misinformation and rumors spread as well, with the potential that these rumors could lead to further action by Republicans to avenge Trump.

In one viral claim, people say it’s not clear what crimes Trump even committed (the charges for falsifying documents are listed in detail in the indictment, and have been broken down piece by piece by the media). In another, posts claim the judge gave incorrect instructions to the jury before deliberations, which an Associated Press fact check deemed false.

Suggestions that the conviction was an “op” or a “psyop” – meaning a planned manipulation, a common refrain on the far right whenever something big happens – spread as well.

Talk quickly went to what Maga should do to stand up for Trump, and about how the verdict’s fans, and Democrats in general, would come to regret seeking accountability in the courts.

“This is going to be the biggest political backfire in US history,” the conservative account Catturd posted on Truth Social. “I’m feeling a tremendous seismic shift in the air.”

Kash Patel, a former Trump administration staffer and ally, suggested one way forward: Congress should subpoena the bank records of Merchan’s daughter, he said. The daughter became a frequent target throughout the trial – she worked as a Democratic consultant and has fundraised for Democratic politicians. Ohio senator JD Vance called for a criminal investigation into Merchan, and potentially his daughter, whom Vance said was an “obvious beneficiary of Merchan’s biased rulings”.

Patel also said prosecutor Alvin Bragg should be subpoenaed for any documents related to meetings with the Biden administration. “In case you need a jurisdictional hook- Bragg’s office receives federal funds from DOJ to ‘administer justice’- GET ON IT,” he wrote.

Megyn Kelly said Bragg should be disbarred, without offering a reason for what would justify it.

Some Trump allies sought to project calm amid the vitriol, saying they had known the verdict would come down as it did because the process had been rigged, and that people needed to keep focused on winning in November.

Steve Bannon, who himself is awaiting some time in prison for criminal contempt, said immediately after the verdict was released that it was “not going to damage President Trump at all”.

“It’s time to collect yourself and say, yes, we’ve seen what’s happened. We’ve seen how they run the tables in this crooked process. But you’ve got to say, hey, I’m more determined than ever to set things right.”

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