On Monday, writing for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, columnist J. Patrick Coolican warned that far-right Republican lawmakers are effectively building up their branch of the party into a "paramilitary wing" — driven in part by their voting base's own fetishization of political violence.
"J.R. Majewski, a Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio, ran an ad (since taken down for copyright issues) in which images of President Joe Biden, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Colin Kaepernick (?!) are flashed on the screen, and then Majewski casually walks around with a rifle and says he’ll 'do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory,'" wrote Coolican. "Blake Masters, the Trump-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, builds his own guns and recently showed one off on social media with the caption: 'I will remind everyone in Congress what ‘shall not be infringed’ means.' It’s an especially sinister message, given that Masters’ potential opponent is U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, whose wife former Rep. Gabby Giffords was badly injured in a 2011 mall shooting."
As Coolican wrote, people should not dismiss these as idle threats — because in the past, long before former President Donald Trump was even born, elected lawmakers and large blocs of their constituents endorsed and carried out acts of violence in similar ways, with horrible consequences.
"America has a long history of political violence, often — though not always — rooted in white supremacy," wrote Coolican. "As Jelani Cobb recounted in 2020, the American Party, aka the 'Know Nothings,' were infamous for their bludgeoning mobs, particularly against immigrant voters. The brutal caning of abolitionist U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner by U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate in 1856 was just the most infamous attack during a time when physical combat in the U.S. Congress was shockingly common, as historian Joanne Freeman records in 'The Fields of Blood.' Between 1830 and 1860, there were more than 70 violent incidents in House and Senate chambers, on nearby streets and — yes, this is real — 'dueling grounds.'"
Coolican invoked another recent example of 2010 Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who lost even as her party saw huge gains after claiming people might need "Second Amendment remedies" to get rid of her opponent, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Her violent rhetoric, he said, is actually a core part of gun rights activists' beliefs.
"Writing in the conservative journal National Review eight years later, David French spelled out the argument in detail while defending the right of Americans to collect arsenals of high powered weaponry: 'Citizens must be able to possess the kinds and categories of weapons that can at least deter state overreach, that would make true authoritarianism too costly to attempt,'" wrote Coolican. "What if this is backwards? Well-armed partisans emerge as the paramilitary wing of authoritarian parties, using violence and the threat of violence to vault the movement to power."
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