Are Trump and the Anti-Lockdown Militias Itching for Violence?

Armed protesters have shown up at state capitols to protest the ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns. Where will this end?

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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Protests have broken out in and around several state capitols, with demonstrators, among them armed right-wing militia members, attempting to pressure their state governments to end the Covid-19 lockdowns. Could this end in violence, and what does it portend for the presidential election? Scholar of right-wing extremism Nicole Hemmer joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss the protests.

Nicole Hemmer: Donald Trump is no stranger to the language of political violence. It’s something that he has encouraged throughout his presidential campaign and throughout his presidency.

[Musical interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

On today’s show, the far right extremists, militiamen, and conspiracy theorists protesting the lockdown outside state houses across the country — who are they, and how dangerous are they?

My guest is an expert on the far right: the historian and scholar Nicole Hemmer.

NH: You know, it’s something we’ve seen again and again, these images of people who are armed, storming statehouses, which are pretty striking and pretty worrisome images.

MH: So, can we expect to see these same people on the streets in November, disputing the results of the election if Donald Trump loses? And why isn’t it a bigger deal that the president of the United States is, once again, inciting domestic terror and violence — even in the midst of a public health crisis?

Right now I’m recording this podcast from my home in the DC Metro Area, where I’ve been locked down with my family for the past —what — 8 weeks now. Picture this: I’m literally speaking to you while sitting on the floor inside of a closet in my house, as the closet has the best acoustics and least echo in my house.

Do you think I want to be stuck here indoors, forever? I don’t. Do you think I want to be thousands of miles away from my elderly parents, unable to see them, be near to them, hug them? No, of course not. But like, I hope, all of you listening at home, like millions of people across the country, across the world, we all accept that these strict social distancing measures have to be taken to fight a virus, a pandemic, the like of which we have never seen before in our lifetimes, in terms of its infectiousness and its deadliness.

Well, maybe not all of us accept that. Over the past few weeks, we have seen protests across the United States — in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Idaho, California, and a bunch of other states — consisting of far-right extremists, heavily-armed members of anti-government militias, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, MAGA-ists, and many more.

News Anchor: Anger in the state of Michigan, protesters, some carrying guns, gather at the state capitol.

News Anchor: Dozens of demonstrators chanting, “Let us in!” manage to push inside the state capitol.

News Anchor: And at the state capitol in Sacramento, hundreds of people protested, and you can see from the pictures, most were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

MH: Perhaps the most memorable and bonkers placard, and I kid you not, was seen at a protest in Wisconsin, a woman holding up a sign saying, “I want a haircut.”

Yeah, because that’s the priority.

Now we can laugh and giggle at the ridiculousness of some of these protesters. But there’s a dark side to all of this. According to experts at the ADL who track this stuff, a lot of these protests and rallies in state capitols have provided a new and influential platform for extremist groups — domestic extremist groups — like members of the Three Percenters, a radical anti-government militia; or the Proud Boys, a violent neofascist group; or armed “boogaloo” activists — these are the people who think another civil war is just around the corner. They’ve all made their presence very clear at many of these protests.

Just this past Monday, the anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers openly threatened any police officers who enforce stay-at-home orders, or try and prevent anti-lockdown rallies.

Meanwhile, swastikas and Confederate flags have been spotted at some of these rallies. Surprise! Protesters have even accused the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, who is Jewish, of being a Nazi. A woman in Chicago was seen holding up a sign of a German phrase which means “Work Sets You Free,” the same German phrase that the Nazis put on the gates of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Yeah.

This is truly dark and disturbing stuff. To call these protesters far-right may be an understatement.

And, look, you might say: “Why give these people attention? They don’t have popular support.” And that’s true. They don’t. Please, please, don’t let anyone tell you these people are anything other than a tiny minority. Polls suggest 8 out of 10 Americans support the current restrictions, support the current lockdown measures, and more Republicans actually oppose these anti-lockdown protests than support them. So they don’t have popular support.

But here’s the two things they do have, which worry me and which is why I’m doing this show today:

They have guns — lots of them, big guns — and they have the support and encouragement of the President of the United States, lots of encouragement.

So, first up: the guns. The images from Lansing, the state capital of Michigan, went viral around the world: heavily armed men, clad in combat gear, carrying so-called long guns, assault rifles, and trying to force their way onto the floor of the state legislative chamber, shouting, screaming, held back only by a line of state police and capitol staff. Similar scenes in Sacramento, California, and other state capitols — police and law enforcement having to stand their ground against crazy-looking armed militiamen. Bizarre scenes! Scary scenes!

And by the way, on a side note, as many, many people have pointed out on Twitter and elsewhere: Can you imagine if a group of Muslims turned up at a government building in combat gear, armed to the teeth? Or a group of gun-toting black men or Latinos? You think they wouldn’t have been at best knocked to the ground and arrested on the spot, or at worst, shot on sight? The double standards here, when it comes to violent protests in America, are ridiculous.

Now these white anti-government protesters hid behind their Second Amendment rights. But there’s no scenario in which armed masked men standing inside a state legislature, with guns — there’s no way that doesn’t constitute political intimidation, and there’s no way that political intimidation isn’t a form of terrorism. Domestic terrorism.

Look, the Second Amendment can’t be used to trample on the First Amendment, you can’t bully people into saying they agree with you by brandishing firearms in their faces, especially in the faces of elected officials! I mean, even Sean Hannity of Fox News has issues with some of these people. Even far-right Hannity, who has done so much to stir up these protests in the first place.

Sean Hannity: This, with the militia look here, and these long guns, uh — no. Show of force is dangerous. That puts our police at risk. And, by the way, your message will never be heard, whoever you people are. No one should be attempting to intimidate officials with a show of force.

MH: Hannity, of course, as I said, is partly to blame for all of this stuff. So he doesn’t get any credit for saying that.

Look, the reality is: you cannot be a functioning democracy if men with guns are interfering in the political process; even people in the poorest developing countries on earth understand this point. Surely it’s time for most Americans to understand this, too. It’s a danger to democracy, it’s a danger — literally — to people’s lives.

Second, Trump supports these people. They’re his base. Many of the QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-Vaxxers who turn up to these protests are wearing Trump t-shirts and MAGA hats. They’re not hiding it.

And, of course, the President of the United States himself has a long history of encouraging violence by his base, by his supporters — of inciting mobs.

President Donald J. Trump: If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ‘em, would you? Seriously. [Crowd cheers.]

DJT: I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.

DJT: Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting, what he was doing.

DJT: Try not to hurt ’em. If you do, I’ll defend you in court. Don’t worry about it.

MH: So when you see people behaving like thugs in public, don’t forget the President’s words. Don’t forget his incitement.

And remember, also: The President of the United States is on tape praising neo-Nazis.

DJT: You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

MH: Now, many of his supporters in the media went through all sorts of verbal and intellectual contortions and backflips to try and explain away his remarks after Charlottesville in 2017, his coddling of violent fascists. But as is so often the case, Trump with his big mouth always ends up throwing his own apologists and defenders under the bus. Because having spent the past three years pretending Trump didn’t call neo-Nazis, “very fine people,” they now have to deal with the fact that he called protesters carrying swastikas and nooses, carrying signs with Nazi-death-camp propaganda on them, he called them, “very good people.” That’s what he tweeted on the first of May: “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

And this praising and promoting of them wasn’t a one-off. Here he is at a White House press briefing on 17 of April:

DJT: These are people expressing their views. I see where they are, and I see the way they’re working. They seem to be very responsible people to me. But it’s — you know, they’ve been treated a little bit rough.

MH: “Responsible people.” “Very good people.” I mean, for God’s sake!

Trump even added his own little dash of incitement to violence in a series of tweets last month, where he recklessly proclaimed, in all caps: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”; “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”; “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” he said.

Those are Trump’s words, his tweets, which are incitement to violence, plain and simple. They are. Let’s not normalize this stuff.

And two thoughts come to mind when I see such statements from the president. Number one, the blood of anyone killed, God forbid, by these protesters, will be on Trump’s hands. Let’s be clear about that. Just last week federal agents arrested a man in Colorado who had been pushing for armed protests against the lockdown — and he allegedly had pipe bombs in his house. A really responsible guy, right?

And number two: is this a preview of what’s going to happen in November? Are these right-wing militias — these domestic terrorists — with their guns, and their masks, and their combat gear, and with the encouragement not just of Alex Jones-types on Infowars or Judge Jeanines on Fox News, but also with the encouragement of the man in the White House, will they take to the streets to dispute the presidential election results? Will they riot on behalf of a defeated Trump?

A year ago, in a column for The Intercept I posed that question and I was dismissed by a lot of liberals who thought I was engaging in hyperbole or fear-mongering, that there was no chance of that happening in democratic America.

I wonder if they feel the same way today, after watching the militiamen in Michigan, after watching people with Nazi slogans win the approval of the Commander-in-Chief.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: My guest today is someone who knows the far-right and the far-right media echo chamber better than most.

Nicole Hemmer is a political historian at Columbia University, a frequent contributor to CNN and the New York Times, and author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”

Nicole joins me now from her home in New York City. Nicole, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

NH: Thank you so much for having me.

MH: When you saw the images of those men with guns in Lansing, Michigan, trying to force their way onto the floor of the state legislature — almost getting into a fight with the police — what went through your mind?

NH: You know, it was a striking image and a strikingly familiar one in a lot of ways. If you’ll remember back to, I believe, January of this year, we saw armed people storming the statehouse in Virginia in a pro-gun rally. And, you know, it’s something we’ve seen again and again, like these images of people who are armed, who look like members of militias storming state houses, which are pretty, pretty striking, and pretty worrisome images.

MH: And you mentioned, you know, going back to January, if you go back beyond January, how new, how dangerous a phenomenon is this in your view? Because, obviously, and especially for our global audience, not just for our American listeners, you know, we all know there have always been angry white men with guns in America. I mean, the Second Amendment literally refers to militias. So what’s different now?

NH: So what is different now is that since the 1990s, in the U.S., there has been an organized militia movement. It sprang in many ways out of the white power movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and was refashioned around things like anti-taxation and gun rights, and anti-government philosophy.

And that militia movement led to the deaths of many people, most notably in 1995 in the Oklahoma City bombing, and was somewhat muted during the George W. Bush administration, but during the Obama administration came roaring back. And we are seeing that now-ten-year organizational effort really bearing fruit in these lockdown protests.

MH: And it’s bearing fruit, partly thanks to the lockdown protests, and partly thanks to the fact that you have a president who’s not Barack Obama, or even George W. Bush, who basically kind of nudges and winks and sends all sorts of signals saying, I’m with you.

I mean — I mean, goes beyond nudging and winking, he referred to the lockdown protesters recently as, “very good people.” That’s a huge propaganda tool, a recruiting sergeant, even, for a lot of these groups, isn’t it?

NH: Absolutely. They hear in things like “very good people,” the same thing that white-power groups heard in 2017 when Donald Trump praised “very fine people,” —

MH: Yes.

NH: — after the Charlottesville protests. And Donald Trump is no stranger to the language of political violence. It’s something that he has encouraged throughout his presidential campaign and throughout his presidency, this idea that, you know, white people, and especially white men, have a right to use violence. He’s talked about it himself with his own campaign, that he would have the ability to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and no one would complain.

MH: Yeah.

NH: And that wasn’t just an over-the-top statement from him. It was a political philosophy, that violence is sort of the warp and woof of his style of politics, and something that his, his followers respond to.

MH: Yeah. And it’s so frustrating that, despite all the evidence that we cited at the start of the show, you just mentioned in your answer, he still gets this weird pass even from segments of the liberal media, who are always normalizing his stuff.

He was on ABC News, just this week with David Muir, did a rare non-Fox News interview. No questions about, you know, his support for these militia groups, his tweets about “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” his general incitement to violence, which, as you say, goes back to Charlottesville in 2017, goes back to his campaign in 2015 and his rallies.

NH: Yeah, I think that that normalization is really important to talk about because it’s the context for all of this. Donald Trump, like many people in, on the alt-right, and in far-right movements, says very incendiary things, things that he often means.

And then, if you take them seriously, he’s like, ‘I was just joking.’ Or ‘I was just being over the top. How silly are you? And how dumb are you to take this seriously?’ When in fact, the people who are taking it the most seriously are not the people in the media, who do try to sort of shrug it off as his over-the-top rhetoric, but it is in fact, these militia movements and other violent, extremist movements who hear him say these things and get encouragement from them.

MH: Yes. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the historian of fascism, makes the point that Mussolini used to do similar things in the 1930s, where he would trial balloon and float kind of authoritarian and extremist things and then fall back on, you know, ‘oh, just joking.’ And we will know where that ended up.

To talk about incendiary rhetoric: the boogaloo people and I’ve, I’ve been learning about all sorts of groups in recent weeks, seeing some of these kind of extremist militias and others turning up at state houses. The boogaloo people are these people who talk about civil war all the time, they think there’s a kind of race-based Civil War around the corner. A lot of people hear that they think it’s silly; they think it’s hyperbole. But the President’s mentioned civil war, too, hasn’t he, during the impeachment process? How significant, how worrying are these civil war references?

NH: So these two should be taken very seriously, and you say boogaloo, and this is the name of the movement, it comes from this idea of Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo. And it’s meant to sound silly and joking and all of these things, but the idea of a race-based civil war has been a core tenet of white power, and to a certain extent, militia organizing, since the 1970s and 1980s. And in 1983, the white power movement in the U.S. declared war against the federal government, and this idea that there would eventually be a civil war that would be a race war in the United States has been a really important recruitment tool and organizational effort in these militia movements and in the white power movement.

And back in October of 2019, Donald Trump retweeted one of his famous followers, Robert Jeffress, who is a pastor and a common sight on Fox News, talking about, again, that impeachment would lead to civil war. And in embodying that idea of civil war as President, he was giving real power to an idea that has been, again, a recruitment tool for these extremist movements.

MH: Indeed, and sadly, it’s not just Donald Trump. You have Steve King, Republican congressman from Iowa, perhaps the most right-wing member of Congress, the most neo-Nazi member of Congress, who, just over a year ago, posted on Facebook a meme, which said, “Folks keep talking about another Civil War. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.” There’s kind of members of Congress posting memes bragging about the fact that this culture war we often talk about could turn into a violent civil war.

NH: And I think we need to stay on that point that this is a member of Congress; this is a member of the government, who is not just speaking in the language of a civil war, but inciting it, and encouraging it. And when you add him to the President and other members of Congress, who also embrace pretty strong white supremacist ideas, and Steve King is really a bastion —

MH: Yes.

NH: — of a lot of racist comments and racist ideas, and combining that with civil war, it does empower movements like the boogaloo movement to see themselves as having legitimacy and having supporters in the highest offices in the land.

MH: And just staying on the civil war point, before we move on. This idea, as you mentioned, it goes back a long way. This is not a new idea. This is not something that appeared when Trump appeared on the scene. You pointed out in a CNN op-ed last year, it goes all the way back to “The Turner Diaries,” this kind of fascistic, racist novel, back in 1978.

NH: Yes, so “The Turner Diaries” have become, in some ways, the Bible of the far-right, white supremacist movement. It’s about this kind of civil war, race war. And it’s still incredibly popular on alt-right sites. You can read it on the internet, it’s widely available. And it is sort of this kind of fantasy novel of this race war and the way that white people will rise up and defeat the colored people of the world. It’s a lot like, in some ways, the book “The Camp of the Saints” —

MH: Yes.

NH: — which is another sort of more international version of this. And these are —

MH: Steve Bannon’s, one of Steve Bannon’s favorite books, I believe.

NH: Exactly. And so when we talk about militias, and when we talk about white power movements, this kind of fantasy novel of this uprising against people of color is really, really important to understand and it ties it back to a legacy far beyond Donald Trump, right? We’re talking about things from 40 years ago, but that still have a real power in bringing people into the movement.

MH: Um, Americans know the names of all the “Islamist terror groups,” off by heart, almost. Everyone knows ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc, etc. They’re not so familiar with the domestic extremists: the Oath Keepers or the Sovereign Citizens or the Three Percenters or the Proud Boys. I’d never heard of the boogaloo people until this week, I’ll be honest. Is that a failure of the U.S. news media?

NH: It’s a failure of the U.S. news media, and, to a certain extent, a failure of historians that’s only recently been corrected, in which, you know, all of this racist violence that had become so central in the 1980s and 1990s in American life was largely pinned on sort of lone-wolf actors. And that lone-wolf narrative becomes, really, not only the way that media cover domestic terrorism, but how law enforcement cover domestic terrorism, right up until around the time of Charlottesville.

In the wake of Charlottesville, we have seen federal law enforcement begin to use a more expansive understanding of these, what are essentially terrorist groups operating within the United States. They use a model of leaderless resistance, which is this kind of cell-based terrorism that we see in other places. And yet, they’re not necessarily reported on in that same way.

There’s more good reporting being done in this area than there had previously been. But say, during the Obama era, when you get this warning, right at the start, in 2009, that right-wing extremism was on the rise in the U.S. and represented the single largest domestic terrorist threat, that — that report was killed by the administration itself because it got so much blowback from Republicans —

MH: Yes.

NH: — and the Right. And so there has been this real resistance to acknowledging and reporting accurately on some of the most dangerous people in the United States, while at the same time reporting in great detail on threats that existed outside of the U.S.

MH: And you made such an important point there about 2009, and Darrell Johnson, from the DHS, who wrote that memo, he was on our show, actually, a couple of years back.

And, you know, one of the points he made at the time, when he came on the show, was the Obama administration shut him down, they shut him down because it was a new administration — they were worried about upsetting the right. And Republicans in Congress was suggesting that any talk of far-right extremism in the U.S. was an attack on conservatives.

And in a way, they’ve actually got a point, which is that a lot of these far right groups are extensions of the Republican Party. There’s a reason why the Republican Party doesn’t want to attack these people or call out these people, because they are turning up to protest in Trump hats. They do tend to be Republican voters. And that’s a difficult conversation to have, to talk about one of the two main parties in this country, having as part of its base, people who are, you know, members of, as you point out, really terrorist groups, by any kind of sensible definition.

NH: Right. I mean, we don’t have a really good way of talking about this because the conversation is seen as too incendiary and then gets shut down right away.

MH: Yeah.

NH: There are, obviously, huge differences between your average voter who goes out and votes for the Republican Party —

MH: Yes.

NH: — and a member of one of these militia groups. And yet, there are blurred lines organizationally —

MH: Exactly.

NH: — there are blurred lines in terms of the movement, in terms of rallies and things like that, between these groups. And there are common policy objectives, common ideologies — obviously, on the furthest fringes, they’re not that interested in electoral politics, they’re much more interested in political violence. But the lines have just gotten more blurred over the past four or five years.

MH: Oh, yeah. Trump is the master of blurring those lines.

NH: Indeed.

MH: You tweeted recently, that it’s useful to think of the lockdown protests as repurposed activism. You pointed to pre-existing political groups, anti-vaxxers, militias, pro-gun groups rebranding themselves in the context of this pandemic. That is both fascinating and scary.

NH: Yeah, it should be scary. Um, one of the things that I was thinking about when I tweeted that was: one, about the Tea Party, but also about the ways that white power groups in the late 1970s and 1980s started to rebrand themselves as this militia movement. And, in doing so, what happens is, you have, you know, white power activists, who then present themselves as racism-neutral militia members, but you also have people who join these militias, not necessarily out of white supremacist motives, but out of anti-government motives. And that allows those groups to become legitimated, and to grow, and then to latch onto much more popular and much more mainstream political issues —

MH: So true.

NH: — like anti-taxation or pro-gun rights. And you see that happen again later.

MH: And it makes it harder for those of us who want to call out the far-right groups, to call them out, because if they’re saying, “Well, hold on, we’re just your good old anti-tax group, why are you calling us extremists?” Yeah, it legitimizes the rest of their project, because some of the things they’re doing, as we just discussed, are mainstream Republican things.

NH: Yeah, super effective.

MH: And what role — we talked about the liberal media’s failure to cover some of these groups, or get into, you know, do some deep dives into them until Charlottesville happened, until now, the lockdown. What role does the right-wing media, in particular the Fox Newses and Breitbarts of this world, what role do they play in not just inciting these protesters in these groups, but legitimizing them, mainstreaming them as well?

NH: Yeah, so in a lot of ways, the coverage coming out of Fox News and conservative talk radio, for instance, places like Breitbart, some of them do try to make a distinction between far-right militias and the conservative movement. But more likely, they — and more often — they represent the groups as patriots. And that language of patriotism and support for these militias, and for these, you know, presenting them as pro-gun groups, and Trump supporters, and as patriots, is a really powerful way of saying ‘the liberal media are going to tell you that these guys are scary, and crazy, and white supremacists, but look at them: They’re just people, often draped in American flags, who are standing up for your rights.’ And that’s a really powerful process of legitimation.

MH: I feel like people on the Left, even today, don’t take Fox News seriously enough — they make fun of it, or they dismiss it, but many of them, including elected officials in the Democratic Party, still don’t quite get the power and influence it has over the conservative movement and the huge role it’s played in shifting the Right further and further to the far-right, into the fever swamps of conspiracy theory, and yes, white nationalism.

NH: Yeah, I mean, it’s fundamentally changed American politics in the last 20 years. And it is often frustrating when things like in the 20-teens, teens, when Glenn Beck was often treated as this sort of sobby joke, but was actually somebody who was doing real organizational work, and was mainstreaming a lot of people —

MH: Yes.

NH: — won’t get into all of the details, but who was mainstreaming a lot of people who were far more extremist than what had been normal, say, during the George W. Bush years. And so that kind of political power, and pulling the party to the right, making it not only safe to make extreme statements, but to actually make that the only way to remain politically viable, that has been hugely important in transforming the Republican Party and transforming the liberal media to treat those more extreme statements as simply a function of partisan disagreement.

MH: What happens with these groups, Nicole, in November, if Trump loses, especially if Trump loses narrowly. Am I wrong to be worried that these protests that we’ve seen in recent days, they’re just a trailer, they’re a dry run, for what we’re going to see on a much more, bigger, much more violent scale come November?

NH: Oh, I think you have every reason to be worried. I mean, in many ways, having a President that agrees with and supports them, and obviously encourages recruitment and things like that, but it also tamps down that stronger, “we completely oppose the federal government” sentiment because there’s somebody in power who they actually agree with.

Put into power somebody who is a Democrat, and just like we saw during the Obama years, you are going to see not only a huge spike in gun sales and in militia recruitment, but these groups have remained active during the Trump years. So you’re not starting from that much lower point that the Obama administration started off with, you’re starting it already at a very high point of militia activity and recruitment, and, you know, Trump himself will most likely continue to encourage that sort of uprising against what he will call an illegitimate election.

MH: Yes, that has been my worry for over a year or more now. And I just feel like four years into this presidency, just listening to you say they’re, you know, oh, they have a President in power who agrees with them — it’s just. it’s just, you know, it’s so bizarre just to say this stuff out loud. And yet there are so many people in the quote “liberal media,” even on the left, who still won’t recognize or don’t recognize that Trump isn’t like any Republican president who has come before us in our lifetimes, in terms of this very specific, very deliberate encouragement of anti-government protesters, neo-Nazis, this use of violent language, the incitement to violence. I mean, it’s fascistic in many ways.

NH: Well, fascistic in another way, too, that that just reminded me of, is that there’s also this thing that happened on the right over the course of the last three years, where Donald Trump’s support for the violence in Charlottesville has largely been memory-holed. Right? There’s this — they call it the Charlottesville hoax that he ever called —

MH: Yes.

NH: — these white power activists “very fine people.” And that, too, is extremely dangerous because it allows the administration to continue to support these groups, while others just completely deny that it happened and it muddies the waters in ways that the mainstream media is not actually all that good at resisting.

MH: And just before we finish, one thing we didn’t talk about is the Democrats role in all this, and how seriously they take it. Joe Biden, interestingly enough, when he launched his presidential campaign, launched with an ad about Charlottesville, and talking about Trump’s extremism. It was a good ad. It was a good thing to do to kick off your campaign. I haven’t heard that much about this subject since then, partly because of crazy news events!

NH: Right.

MH: But what would you like to see the Democrats do? One last question to you, what would you like to see the Democrats do in terms of kind of having some sort of response or drawing attention to what we’ve been talking about over the last 20, 30 minutes?

NH: Right, well, I do think that they just, one of the most powerful things they can do is continue to talk about this more as a consequence of the Trump presidency, that these kinds of violent rallies, and the political violence that we’ve seen over the past several years have been a function of the person in power. And I don’t think that there is a huge appetite out there among most Americans for this kind of political violence. And connecting the dots for people, I think, is really important.

MH: Yes.

NH: There are probably things they can do policy-wise. A domestic terrorism statute is really tricky ground because of who it might be used against.

MH: Yep.

NH: Typically probably wouldn’t be used against the people that we’re talking about. But, at least rhetorically, they can begin to make the case that this is a product of the Trump administration,

MH: Well, Nicole, thanks for coming on Deconstructed and joining some dots for us. It’s been a fascinating, if, I’ll admit, depressing conversation. Please do stay safe and well.

NH: You too. Thanks so much, Mehdi.

MH: Thank you.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That was Nicole Hemmer, historian and scholar at Columbia University, an expert on the Right and right-wing media. She made a very important point in that interview about not normalizing this President, not normalizing his incitement of violence, his support for these militia groups, his coddling of neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, not forgetting or memory-holing any of it.

I worry — I really do — I worry that there are still far too many people in this country, even on in liberal circles, even on the Left, who treat Trump like a normal Republic president and not as the fascistic threat that he is to democracy, the rule of law, and racial equality in this country. I worry that Democrats still don’t have a plan for what they plan to do in November if he refuses to accept the election result and these militias that we’ve seen in Michigan — and elsewhere, in recent days — take to the streets again, armed to the teeth. Hell, forget a plan, Democrats aren’t even talking about this stuff. Well, we are, and we plan to continue doing so in the coming weeks and months.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. And if you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

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