Just shy of 11 p.m., local time on Monday, the Arizona Republican Party fired up its official Twitter account and asked followers if they’d be willing to die for the glorious cause of President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
Around midnight, the account tweeted a follow-up: a clip from the movie Rambo, with the caption “this is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.”
The AZ GOP Twitter account later deleted the Rambo clip. But it couldn't delete the growing death-fetish that has stalked pro-Trump media in recent weeks, as the president’s followers issue increasingly militant calls to overturn his election loss. The Arizona Republican Party’s social media team almost certainly does not plan to die while defending Trump’s honor in a hail of bullets.
Amid growing Republican insistence that this election is the new “1776” or “civil war,” however, those calls for martyrdom could inspire readers to take extreme action.
The AZ GOP’s apparent Kamikaze turn began with a tweet from Ali Alexander, an associate of far-right schemers like Jacob Wohl and Roger Stone. “I am willing to give my life for this fight,” Alexander tweeted.
The AZ GOP quote-tweeted him, with the text “he is. Are you?”
Reached via email, the AZ GOP said the tweets were not calls for violence.
"The Republican Party of Arizona condemns all forms of violence in the strongest terms,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “Fictional movie scenes should be weighed in their proper context." (He added that the Rambo clip was removed due to copyright concerns, rather than concerns about violence.)
He did not elaborate on how, exactly, Trump fans might give their lives for the crusade. But the tweet linked them with other pro-Trump personalities who’ve spent the past month calling for war.
Alexander, who told The Daily Beast he was not advocating violence with his tweet, was central in promoting Republicans’ “stop the steal” rallying cry even before Trump lost re-election. In September, when Trump’s polling numbers looked bleak, Alexander announced that he’d be spearheading an initiative to target “bad” elections officials in swing states. After Trump lost, as predicted, Alexander made good on that promise. Last week, he joined pro-Trump attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell onstage for a Georgia rally, during which they falsely alleged a series of voter fraud conspiracies.
“It’s 1776 in America again,” Wood proclaimed onstage. The allusion to the Revolutionary War might have sounded more metaphorical, had Wood not also used the speech to tell Trump supporters to lay siege to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s home. Kemp, to Trump’s chagrin, joined the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia in certifying Biden’s electoral college win there.
On Parler, a social media platform popular on the political right, “#1776” is currently trending. Elsewhere on social media, Wood and Powell refer to Trump supporters as “digital soldiers,” a popular title in the vocabulary of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. And in a Monday night Fox News appearance, Sen. Lindsey Graham warned that Georgia (which has twice certified its election results in favor of President-Elect Joe Biden) was on the verge of “civil war” over the election’s authenticity.
The GOP has a decades-long history of framing its political fights as wars between good and evil, noted Brian Hughes, associated director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab. “What you’re seeing now is this histrionic style being expressed through the cultish dimensions of Trumpism,” Hughes told The Daily Beast.
But where previous calls to crusade might have sounded extreme, those same comments ring more ominous in 2020, a year marked by deep political enmity.
“In context, this is different, particularly because our political climate has become so deeply polarized,” Hughes said. “There have been so many outbreaks of civil unrest, violence, lone-actor attacks, political street fighting with groups like the Proud Boys.”
Many followers of the AZ GOP Twitter account will not interpret the tweets as a literal mandate for pro-Trump martyrdom. People already on the brink of extremism, however, might read them differently.
Already this year, more than a dozen members of militant groups were charged with an alleged plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor. Trump downplayed the incident, and subsequently attacked Whitmer at a rally, during which supporters chanted “lock her up.”
This weekend, a significantly milder—but more successful—demonstration against a prominent Michigan Democrat appeared to earn praise from a local Michigan GOP chapter. When a group of “Stop The Steal” demonstrators held an armed late-night protest outside the home of Michigan’s secretary of state, accusing her of rigging the election, the Macomb County Republican Party shared the Stop The Steal group’s video of the incident. (The Stop The Steal group claims on its website to operate out of the same offices as the Macomb GOP.)
“There are people out there who are going to see this as a call to arms,” Hughes said of the AZ GOP tweet. “Depending on how organized or disorganized they are, they could potentially do something criminal or even violent.
“It doesn’t necessarily translate into a mass-shooting,” he added. “It can translate into a shouting match at Costco. There’s a whole range of negative civic consequences that can come about when this kind of overblown rhetoric meets a person who isn’t fully balanced.”