We’re used to incendiary tweets from President Trump, but his retweet over the weekend of an ominous warning about a “Civil War-like fracture” if he were removed from office is of a whole new magnitude, and scary as hell. Will he ever willingly leave the White House?
Trump’s retweet may have seemed to casual observers to have come out of nowhere. But it didn’t. Right-wing sites have been full of chatter about civil war and a coming race war for some time, and Trump’s rhetoric is pouring gasoline on an already-lit fire.
The Baptist preacher whose “civil war” quote Trump tweeted is Robert Jeffress, pastor of a Dallas megachurch, who is a regular guest of the president, both at Trump rallies and in the White House as one of Trump’s advisers on matters related to evangelicals. During the 2016 campaign, Jeffress served on Trump’s “Evangelical Advisory Board.”
Jeffress is not a fringe figure, and the views he voices cannot be dismissed as too far out to be credible. He is a Fox News contributor, and his full quote from which Trump drew his tweet aired on Fox News after Speaker Pelosi announced the Democrats would proceed with an impeachment inquiry. It read:
“I have never seen the Evangelical Christians more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this President from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of Evangelicals in the process. They know the only impeachable offense that President Trump has committed was beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That’s the unpardonable sin for which the Democrats will never forgive him. If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which our country will never heal.”
The Civil War has long been a theme on the right. We saw it surface in Charlottesville in 2017 with the violent clash between white supremacists and protesters—and Trump’s subsequent insistence that there are “fine people on both sides.”
With Trump facing likely impeachment, he is stirring these hatreds into service on his behalf. “We’re seeing the number one guy on the right in the country amplify the theme and magnify it,” says Adele Stan, who edits Right Wing Watch for the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way (PFAW).
“We’re likely to see it just proliferate on an even greater level in the Twitter universe and on social media and in comments on Fox News,” Stan told the Daily Beast.
“The treason talk has also exploded,” she said, following Trump’s accusations of treason against Democrat Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence committee, and Trump’s likening of the whistleblower at the heart of the Ukraine controversy to a spy.
What Stan sees now as she monitors right-wing sites and commentators is the traditional veneration of the Civil War combined with excited talk of a new looming armed conflict. “Some are saying the left will start civil war, others say the left will precipitate civil war because they will push the right to the brink,” she says.
Of special concern are tweets on the account of the Oath Keepers, a neo-militia group made up of current and former law-enforcement officers. “This is the truth. This is where we are. We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see THEM as illegitimate, Stuart Rhodes, leader of Oath Keepers, tweeted on Sept. 29.
On Tuesday, radio host Sandy Rios, who is the governmental affairs director with the American Family Association (AFA), took on Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger for calling Trump’s retweeting of a civil war trope “repugnant.” Founded in 1977, the AFA is a legacy organization that commands respect on the right, insuring that no other Republicans would follow Kinzinger’s lead. The Illinois congressman didn’t support Trump in 2016, saying, “I am an American before I am a Republican.”
Explaining her criticism of Kinzinger on her popular morning show, Rios said, “Because I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to understand that the tensions are growing in this country so much so that there is a divide that’s setting in that is much like a precursor to any civil unrest.”
This enthusiasm for a looming civil war crosses many sectors on the right. Pastor Jeffress represents the religious hold it has on evangelicals. The secular right, represented by Infowars, along with numerous secular YouTubers on the right regularly use this ominous portent.
Television evangelist Jim Bakker, widower of Tammy Faye Bakker—yes, that Jim Bakker, from the 1980s; he’s still around—has a program on YouTube on which he preaches End Times and has people who follow him storing food in their basement for the apocalypse to come.
Evangelist Franklin Graham said in an interview with the Christian Post earlier this year, “If the president were brought down for any reason, it could lead to a civil war.” Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says we’re in a “cold civil war.” And conservative darling Michelle Malkin warned at CPAC (Conservative Political Action committee) in March that civil war is imminent. “Our enemies are both foreign and domestic,” she said, singling out the “radical left” waging violence against the right from TV green rooms and Beltway backrooms and corporate boardrooms and conference ballrooms.
Stan used a phrase I hadn’t heard before: “stochastic terrorism,” which Wiktionary defines as “the use of mass public communication, usually against a particular individual or group, which incites or inspires acts of terrorism which are statistically probable but happen seemingly at random.”
Stan cited Pizzagate as an example of stochastic terrorism, where one young man took it upon himself to “rescue” children allegedly held in the basement of a D.C. restaurant by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. Preposterous, you say; the restaurant didn’t even have a basement. But one person believed it and showed up with a gun.
Fortunately he was stopped before he could do any real damage, but the point is that if you plant the seeds of an idea in the minds of your followers, someone will pick up on the suggestion that there are conditions that need to be resolved—while your hands are never dirty.
I asked how this might work with Trump’s more incendiary tweets, and Stan said she could not possibly know how he does what he does, but that she thinks people “feed him certain tweets,” and that he’s “quite cunning. He knows if he retweets somebody, it will go viral and it will enliven that part of his base. Whether it’s pre-meditated or a visceral impulse for self-preservation, it’s what he does.”
More conspiracy theories will take hold as Trump fights for his political life. “Whether or not the narrative is true almost doesn’t matter anymore,” says Stan. “The right wing will flood the zone and the base will swallow it hook, line, and sinker. And the political reporters will feel compelled to write about it. It’s just about getting the narrative out there.”
And getting the voters to throw up their hands in disgust. That’s the response Trump wants. That’s how he wins. He can’t be allowed to get away with it. We have a president of the United States who is inciting civil war. The party of Lincoln is silent. That has to change if the Republic we all love is to survive and thrive