There’s been much news about whether Trump would use force or declare martial law to stay in office. Trump bumped that off the news by declaring he wouldn’t sign the stimulus and relief bill, then signing it after widespread criticism. Perhaps he’s abandoned using force to stay in office. But he’s taken many steps to set up the possibility. Ignoring the Senate confirmation process and civil service protections, he put his most reckless and irresponsible supporters in acting positions. He tested which federal forces would and which would not respond to his commands to take over parts of America, in defiance of state and local officials. Typically, Trump sends ambiguous messages to his [quote] “Second Amendment supporters” and others, to get them thinking about how they can keep Trump in power. If they create enough chaos, he’s ready to take advantage. If not, he’ll claim he was trying to keep the peace.
There are signs that Trump’s armed mobs are revving up. In my last book, I brought together reporting and studies about the threat of domestic terrorism, but so far America hasn’t grappled with the problem. There’ve long been warnings. People from areas with many armed right-wingers have been telling those willing to listen about the threats, intimidation and violence unleashed on surrounding communities. The threat has only been getting worse. As Time Magazine summarized:
white nationalists have become the face of terrorism in America. Since 9/11, white supremacists and other far-right extremists have been responsible for almost three times as many attacks on U.S. soil as Islamic terrorists ….
They’ve been talking for decades about using their guns to defend against what they label federal tyranny – which means making war on the United States. Unlike legitimate gun owners who keep their guns for sport or to defend their homes, they’ve threatened, shot at or killed members of Congress, federal judges, poll workers, park rangers, demonstrators, and blew up the Oklahoma City federal building, injuring hundreds and slaughtering the children in its day care center. Donald Trump read Hitler closely, and knows that Hitler was brought to power by his unofficial armies of thugs, called “Brown Shirts.”
Whether Trump, or his supporters, have abandoned the idea, we need to think of this as a risk, not a certainty. But if Trump resorts to violence, the Army can stand up to its Commander-in-Chief by refusing to obey illegal orders, while governors, police and the National Guard will be charged to defend America. No doubt some are sympathetic to the white nationalists; others, one hopes most, are disgusted by the effort to overthrow the Constitution of the United States, to violate the oath they, most of us, have taken to defend this country.
The third section of the Fourteenth Amendment barred anyone who’d taken an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” this country from holding any office under the United States, or any State. Rebels were traitors.
We must let any potential traitors know that this generation of Americans has no room for insurrection, for people who put their racial hatreds above loyalty to country. There is no right to commit treason, to try to overthrow the constitutional government of the United States by force and violence. Those are crimes against all of us.
The Civil War is over; the so-called “lost cause” should stay lost, so that government of, by and for all the people, not just armed and dangerous people, shall survive.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
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