Jared Yates Sexton is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage.
It began with a bomb addressed to billionaire George Soros, long the bogeyman of the paranoid right. It continued with bombs addressed to former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Then, CNN was evacuated while law enforcement removed another device. And a number of suspicious packages have also been reported at locations in other parts of the United States. The mystery here is who is responsible for this orchestrated attack, but there’s no mystery as to what motivated this nightmare scenario.
For years now, the Republican Party has played with fire by stoking fear and mistrust among their base. They’ve perpetuated conspiracy theories involving murder and have portrayed their opponents as tyrants capable of coups and treason. It was a delicate dance, these appeals, but all delicacy disappeared when they anointed Donald Trump as their standard bearer.
Make no mistake, the events of Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, are the result of years worth of violent rhetoric, careless vilifying and fascist appeals meant to keep America’s Right in a constant state of terror and rage. This is what happens when you call for the imprisonment of political rivals, when you inspire crowds to chant “Lock them up.” This is the result of claiming the preceding president orchestrated an unlawful surveillance of your campaign without anything approaching evidence. This is what happens when you not only tolerate hateful voices such as conspiracy mogul Alex Jones, but when you appear on his show and keep him as counsel.
We saw a preview of this madness on Dec. 4, 2016, when a gunman entered the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington with an AR-15 and fired three rounds into the establishment. Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, was there to confront what he believed were the perpetrators of a ghastly sex-trafficking ring. He believed it because he’d been inundated by media pushing the narrative that this ring was being orchestrated by Ms. Clinton. The paranoid Right pushed the story continuously. Mr. Jones and others in his world cited the conspiracy theory, along with talk of “demons” and “evil,” until people like Mr. Welch believed there was nothing else to do but take matters into his own hands.
The fact that no one died that day in D.C. is a miracle. Today, we’re lucky that these suspicious packages were intercepted before they reached the Clintons and Obamas and that law enforcement protected the employees of CNN, but what happens when they don’t? We now sit in terrible expectation of tragedy, and all because a portion of the country has been force-fed lies and rumours designed to keep them angry and complicit in politics that never serves their actual interest.
Mr. Trump, our conspirator-in-chief, owns no small portion of the responsibility. He has made his career on scapegoating the Clintons and hinting at the more deranged conspiracy theories peddled by fringe media. He cut his political teeth framing Mr. Obama as a foreign-born infiltrator, at times hinting at the possibility he could be intentionally subverting the United States. In nearly every speech he gives, he points to the reporters and journalists doing their jobs and calls them the scum of the earth and the enemy of the people.
I’ve met my fair share of pundits who believe this is all a ruse by Mr. Trump to create a binary world in which it’s Him vs. Them. Certainly it’s gotten him this far, so there is a validity to the strategy, but at what cost? Mr. Trump has continually fuelled dangerous rhetoric that spins a story of a world with shadowy figures operating at the margins, a massive conspiracy that is funded by Mr. Soros, led by the Clintons and Obamas, spearheaded by the Democratic Party and carried out by a complicit media. In this world, this treacherous and perfidious world, the United States is a country under siege. The borders are open and we’re vulnerable to attack. And these people, the very same ones who were destined to receive bombs in the mail, are complicit.
It’s a lie, a shoddy lie at that, but it does more than inflame passions and inspire people to the polls. It inspires them to take action. It inspires them to grab their gun and pull the trigger. It inspires them to send bombs. It inspires them to declare war and murder and terrorize and erase any facet of free society until all that is left is the dull shade of fear and unadulterated fascism.
We live in a new world now, a world where the cold war of American politics has transformed into a live combat zone. The message has been received. Mr. Trump’s and the Republican Party’s base has heard them, loud and clear.