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The Republican Id

Rather than visiting red-state diners, reporters ought to journey to the venerable conservative message board where the talk after the Trump verdict was nihilistic and bloody.

Trump supporters protest outside Manhattan Criminal Court, May 29, 2024, in New York.,MATTHEW RODIER/SIPA USA VIA AP IMAGES

“I hope you’re doing well! I’m writing from Politico magazine,” ran an email I received two weeks ago. “We’re planning on putting together a roundup of contributors after the Trump verdict is announced. We’re not totally sure about the question we’re going to ask contributors to weigh in on just yet, but I think it will be something like: How will this verdict affect 2024? … Let me know if you think you can contribute; if yes, I will be in touch next week!”

They were talking about votes. The mainstream political media only knows how to talk about votes. I replied, noting that my comment was for the record and that I hoped they would use it: “I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. The obsession of political media with acting like Jimmy the Greek, in a time when everything is unprecedented, is atrocious for civic health.”

Maybe my interlocutor was too young to know who Jimmy the Greek was. Either way, I never heard back. Consider this, then, my extended response.

THE VERY LEGITIMACY OF ONE OF THE THREE allegedly coequal constitutional branches was on trial in Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom, I wrote here last month. And now we have our verdict. ran the headline “All the GOP Lawmakers Telling Trump to Drop Out After His Felony Conviction.” Click on it, and you get an image of tumbleweeds. Clever, but not funny. A jury of ordinary citizens ruled against the Republican Party’s leader, so powerful Republicans ruled that the rule of law itself was illegitimate. You have to reach for a German word to describe this. That word is “Führerprinzip.”

What was actually a by-the-book legal proceeding was a “quintessential show trial,” like “what you see in communist countries,” according to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Fascist-adjacent Silicon Valley plutocrats lined up to pledge their allegiance to lawlessness. PayPal co-founder David Sacks called it a “sham,” and Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire took the occasion to announce a $300,000 donation to Trump. The granddaddy of them all, Elon Reeve Musk, promised the invaluable in-kind contribution of a virtual town hall on fka Twitter.

And House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) promised to “fight back … with everything in our arsenal.” Quite the thing to say at a time when the GOP is all in on Chief Justice John Roberts’s ahistorical insistence that Congress has no right to a meeting with him to discuss Supreme Court ethics in the wake of the Sam Alito flag flap, because Separation of Powers. A venial sin, however, compared to the winkingly violent language in which Speaker Johnson couched it.

Talk of arsenals is everywhere on the right. Mike Solana of the venture capital firm the Founders Fund belched out to his 275,000 followers on X a vid of Heath Ledger as the Joker about to launch a wilding spree. Whether the Joker was meant to symbolize the lawlessness of the Democratic conspiracy to get Trump or how the outraged masses are supposed to respond to it, naturally, unclear. Smart nihilists always build plausible deniability into potentially inciting speech.

At the grassroots, however, the language is less ambiguous.

cross_bearer_2: “Never forget 5/30/2024. The date the leftist devils chose civil war for this nation. Trump WILL be my president, by God.”

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circlecity: “Burn it down.”

Boomer: “After the DA, the corrupt judge, and the corrupt jury (and all others involved) are found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang, I want to buy a ticket to the event.”

central-va: “Elections will be conducted using 5.56mm voting machines.”

“5.56mm” refers to one of the two kinds of bullets used in the AR-15, America’s most popular assault weapon, including among our most deadly mass shooters.

So how will the Trump verdict affect 2024—the year, not the election? It is, yes, impossible to know. One possibility not to be dismissed, however, is insurgent violence. Some people certainly seem to be preparing for it. Though not Politico or any of our agenda-setting journalistic institutions, it seems.

This failure, as I have been imploring, represents a deeply ingrained pattern, betokening a broader civic problem. In the weeks following Barack Obama’s election in 2008, America suffered an epidemic of racially motivated hate crimes: 200, all told, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. You may not have heard about that, because it was woefully undercovered by the gatekeeping organs of American political journalism. It was crowded out by their chosen narrative: that with the election of an African American president, we had overcome.

In the nation’s vaunted Newspaper of Record, a record of that portentous violence was particularly scant—even when it occurred in New York City, on the night of Obama’s victory, when a roving mob on Staten Island committed three separate assaults on minorities. The last victim they thumped onto the hood of an automobile; he spent the next month in a coma. The New York Times only ever mentioned the crime two months later, tucked away in the “New York Region” section, when the alleged perpetrators were arraigned.

If mainstream American journalistic institutions were adequate to American reality, scouring the bushes for signs of developments like these would be a beat. It wouldn’t be hard to cover; the leads hide in plain sight.

THE CALLS TO VIOLENCE CITED ABOVE come from the venerable far-right message board Founded in 1996, the close-knit community is marked by conspicuous success organizing political actions in the real world. Their 1998 Washington rally for Bill Clinton’s impeachment drew 3,000 and coverage on C-SPAN; their practice of “Freeping” (fixing) the online polls news organizations used to run may have had a material effect on the 2000 Florida recount. I once tracked down right-wing pundit Robert Novak suggesting Al Gore really ought to concede, now that a (Freeped) poll on showed that 80 percent of the public wanted him to. Natalie Maines specifically singled out Free Republic for driving the charivari that destroyed the career of her band The Dixie Chicks, the highest-selling female act to that point, after she criticized the Iraq War in 2003. A Republican legal operative hiding behind the pseudonym “Buckhead” used Free Republic in 2004 to seed the first doubts about the dubious authenticity of memos CBS News released as proof that George W. Bush went AWOL. Freep’s frenzied activists have a record of actually changing history.

Back in those days, I used to go very deep on Free Republic. It was there that I first began doing a kind of reverse trolling, earnestly and sincerely engaging the most insane right-wing arguments directly. Once, I even spent an entire long afternoon and evening on the site, conducting an early version of a Reddit-style Ask Me Anything, taking on all comers. (’Round midnight, someone tallied his version of the score: “Perlstein: minus 27. FReepers: 438 kabazillion.”) It was a big part of how I truly got within the sinews of right-wing ratiocination. I’ve visited regularly ever since. It’s one of the ways I keep my wingnut-fu sharp.

I note this to establish that I have a feel for the place. It’s still going very strong, with none of the fancy new alt-right memes or QAnon “Trust the plan” woo-woo—just good old-fashioned authoritarian populism, recognizable to anyone who studies Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, or even the 1850s Know Nothings. There is an us, who are the only true Americans; there is a them, out to destroy us, with unceasing ruthlessness.

“Republicans can no longer sit back and play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. It’ll have to be down in the trenches dirty fighting from now on … or let the Democrat lust for power completely destroy us,” as ProtectOurFreedom said the other day in a thread of 374 posts responding to the verdict that I read in its entirety, one of at least 20 such threads, one of them over twice as long.

There’s incredulity: “Can’t believe they’d stoop this low.” There’s also knowingness: “What else would you expect traitors to the United States to do?”; “A foregone conclusion from the get go. You live in the Soviet Union … I mean that literally and in complete sincerity.”

That last guy uses a tag from Animal Farm. Many Freepers style themselves scholars, naming themselves for Roman generalsobscure 19th-century theologians, and minor Founding Fathers, pedantically pulling historical references from their quivers. “In Stalin’s day,” noted one after the Trump verdict came down, “when someone said something that displeased Stalin, he’d find himself arrested and brought to trial. But the charges wouldn’t be ‘speaking and thinking differently from Stalin,’ the charges would be forming a terrorist group with the intention of assassinating Stalin and other communist leaders. For extra measure, they’d torture the accused into signing a confession saying so.”

Obviously, exactly what was happening now. So it will not surprise you that very few offered thoughtful discussion on matters of law.

One did, mildly observing that when the crime is nonviolent and the defendant has no previous criminal record, a fine and probation are likely. A Freeper calling himself Nervous Tick disagreed. Freepers often include taglines in their user names; Nervous Tick’s is “ISLAM is the problem!” He or she, but probably he, noting that sentencing had been set for just before the Republican convention, replied: “Confirmation that this is a total attempt at a bloodless assassination of the rightful President by the deep state.”

MeganC disagreed with the bloodless part: “They’ll kill him if they can get him into a jail cell.” Though not to worry: “They will all be arrested in 2025 and all of them will die in prison,” assures Boomer. (Tag: “If the Nazi-Rats and Rons win, everyone loses. The uniparty can no longer claim they are American.”)

But who is “they”? After the Cold War, it became harder to dream up credible ways to name the faceless string-pullers working behind the scenes. “The cartels” is one candidate: Judge Merchan is a “Columbian cartel stooge,” to quote one Freeper. Or the Democrat (never Democratic) Party: Many display a grudging respect for its supposed ruthlessness. Or maybe just Dark Brandon, acting on his own in his Oval Office lair: “Don’t worry,” jokes VTenigma, “Biden’s thermonuclear war will solve everything.”

Whoever they is, they’re cruel, that’s for sure: “Rikers for DJT, then either an ‘accident’, suicide, or a shank. Pick one.” The brazenness of they knows no bounds: “I think it’s clear they could shoot Trump in the middle of 5th Avenue and no one would do a thing.” And cunning. So, so very cunning: “Now you know why they went after Alito and the USSC.” They is also why Biden agreed to a debate. Two Freepers came up with this theory independently of each other: Biden knew the outcome of the trial in advance, and knew he could now duck it by refusing with a flourish to debate a convicted felon.

Also, they is the reason why the jury ruled as they did: “I’d be guessing that each and every one of them were presented with the repercussions of what their potential not-guilty vote would be,” someone said, answering Verginius Rufus—after the Roman general—who marveled that “14 New Yorkers (Bragg, Marchan, and the 12 jurors) are allowed to decide who can be President of the United States?”

Drill down on the New York part, referred to variously as “Satan’s haven in the USA,” “Sodom,” and more. One Freeper, dpetty12163, said succinctly of the Big Apple: “It needs to be wasted!”

I googled him. Active on Survivalist Forum and, he advised readers in a 2020 thread on how it was “pretty clear they intend to overthrow the military in the event Trump returns as Commander-in-chief … Remember Obama our first N****** Affirmative Action President either fired or forced into retirement 1000’s of Patriot officers and replaced them with Leftist garbage.”

Another terrorist attack would do the trick, said one who regretted ever feeling sympathy for the city after the last one. The redoubtable dpetty followed up: “I’m thinking Operation Castle Bravo.” That was the 1954 H-bomb test on Bikini Atoll.

Pessimism that Republican elected officials and even the rank and file would prove weak-kneed and wishy-washy was another keynote. “Conservatives aren’t going to do a damn thing,” said one. “We don’t riot and we’re not the thug party. Imagine if the Republicans fought just .001% as hard as the Democrats do.”

So it was high time for some on-the-ground planning: It was finally time to fight. Trial balloons included a tax strike (from our friend dpetty); and the “five-point plan” of someone called Salvavida—Spanish for “lifeguard.” It would start with a general strike. Then, “All RED states need to call for registration of able-bodied men for duty in the state militia; not national guard”—and that’s only point two.

But most Freepers aren’t planners. Nihilism in the service of God’s vengeance hardly requires any particular set of steps.

“There is no ‘court system’. This entire government is a sham. From the CIA, FBI, Courts, State Department, Congress … you name it.”

“My respect for the entire law-enforcement/judicial edifice in America has been eroding for years … it is now less than zero. I hold the entire system in open contempt. Any member of it is presumptively a ‘domestic enemy.’”

“LOL! COOL! We never have to pay attention to the corrupt American courts or the corrupt American governments, ever again. They’ll have to enforce their will at gunpoint, from now on. Let the games begin!”

And an accelerationist by the name of FNU LNU was thrilled by the opportunity the conviction provided: “Better than leaving the current politicized justice system in place, because it’ll bring matters to a head sooner.”

PEOPLE DON’T SAY THIS KIND OF STUFF in diners to strangers. I guess that’s why you’ll never read about it in The New York Times. Or The Boston Globe.

I just got an email from the Globe flogging their latest safari into the wilds of red America, where the intrepid reporter chatted with “the morning regulars at Sid Harvey’s Family Diner” in the town of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. “‘It Won’t Make Any Difference,’” ran the headline. “In

This Wisconsin Community, Trump’s Conviction Isn’t a Game-Changer.”

Well, maybe visit other communities in the Badger State. Say, Layton Park in Milwaukee. The menudo at El Jimador looks good. Maybe share a bowl with the kid from Politico and ask around. How will this verdict affect 2024? Some may tell you how it already has. A dear friend of mine, Mexican American, told his Honduran foster daughter to be extra careful when she’s out with her friends. I imagine a lot of conversations like that are happening in America right now.

“I am genuinely frightened for our country at this moment,” a Freeper calling themselves mudflats said. I am frightened for our country, too. Print that, Politico. Print that.

Rick Perlstein is the author of a four-volume series on the history of America’s political and cultural divisions, and the rise of conservatism, from the 1950s to the election of Ronald Reagan. He lives in Chicago.

Used with the permission © The American Prospect,, 2024. All rights reserved. 

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