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Mobilizing the Mob

By William Cooper

The FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate angered many Republicans. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, for example, called the FBI’s actions “an unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law.”

According to Trump, the search exemplifies America’s free-falling descent under the Biden administration. “These are dark times for our Nation,” he warned.

The former president’s rhetoric is bound to escalate dramatically as the FBI’s investigation unfolds. At a Texas rally in January, Trump brazenly threatened prosecutors investigating him in various jurisdictions. “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt,” he said, “we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had.”

Trump is thus actively organizing an alternative to legitimate government power – a large, violent mob mobilized to intimidate government officials and thwart their objectives. Sound familiar? The January 6, 2021 mob of Trump insurrectionists that stormed the United States Capitol may have been merely a precursor to something bigger and more consequential.

This threat goes to the core of American democracy. The government’s monopoly on the use of force is, indeed, an essential precondition to civilized society. As political scientist Ezra Suleiman wrote in his book, Dismantling Democratic States, when a government loses its monopoly on force, it ceases being a state, and “its form of organization becomes indistinguishable from other types of organization.” And as Joshua Horwitz and Casey Anderson put it in Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea, a “state must be able to enforce its judicial or administrative rulings: if it is outgunned by individuals or factions, it is not functioning as a democratic state (in fact, it is not functioning as a state at all) and is reverting to a pre-governmental society where might makes right and political equality is at best an abstract ideal.”

This is exactly what Trump has been threatening – to use a violent faction to outgun prosecutors investigating his conduct.

And it might just work. Prosecutors have vast discretion to decide whether or not to pursue a matter and nothing requires them to bring a case, even if crimes have clearly been committed. In this instance, fear of large-scale violence could be the difference between initiating proceedings and declining to prosecute.

Indeed, whether to prosecute Trump will inevitably be a close call. On the one hand, the government has probable cause to believe that Trump violated the law. The FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search warrant would not otherwise have been approved by a federal federal judge. On the other, seeking a guilty verdict from a jury – which must be unanimous – in a country where Trump has historically high approval ratings among Republicans is a bold objective. No prosecutor wants to lose to Trump in court.

Concerns about the reactions of Trump’s millions of supporters will weigh heavily in the Department of Justice’s analysis. Trump knows this. And he knows how to whip his supporters into a frenzy of anger and violence. The violent rhetoric has, indeed, already begun. In a pro-Trump online forum one person posted: “I’m just going to say it. Garland needs to be assassinated. Simple as that.” Another person posted: “kill all feds.”

We don’t know, yet, the detailed basis for the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search. We do know, however, that the search feeds the long-held narrative among many Trump supporters that the federal government (the “Deep State”) is unfairly targeting their champion.

On January 6, 2021, Trump organized a mob to try and physically prevent the orderly transfer of executive power. We should expect him to mount a similar initiative regarding his intensifying criminal investigations. The rule of law in America – already teetering on the ragged edge of a breakdown – hangs in the balance.

William Cooper is an attorney and the author of Stress Test: How Donald Trump Threatens American Democracy. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and San Francisco Chronicle, among others.

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  1. Michael Taylor

    William, you raise a worrying dilemma that I’ve overlooked.

    Do you let Trump off the hook and let him run wild, or do you let justice take its course in which event Trump’s base will run wild?

    Both have consequences. Bad ones.

  2. GL


    Where The Donald is involved it becomes purely, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

  3. John Hermann

    I fear that it is too late to avoid a civil war, which will probably erupt sooner rather than later if Trump is prosecuted and convicted of crimes. Don’t forget that the United States is flooded with firearms (including high-powered weapons), which are easily obtained. Which is why massacres of innocent American people are ongoing, and almost every week we learn of a new incident. This is merely one symptom of the unravelling of US society, and its descent into the status of a dysfunctional state, lacking social coherence. Over time, if current trends continue, it will become a failed state. As for democracy, there is now no democracy. What exists in its place is plutocracy and corporatocracy.

  4. Roswell

    The day of reckoning will surely one day come for Fox News.

    Their role in this mess should never be underestimated.

  5. New England Cocky

    Indeed, we are witnessing the demise of the American state as Hollywood promoted, soft propaganda of egalitarian wealth and privilege that was squeezed for over 100 years by corporations and corporate executives to their own advantage.

    Now the chickens have come home to roost. The USA (United States of Apartheid) has conducted wars around the world since at least the time of Theodore Roosevelt in about 1900. Late into WWI for political benefit of American arms manufacturers, and again late into WWII for the benefit of western hemisphere expansionism, now the people armed and excited are wanting all the social benefits from the Hollywood propaganda that the system of parasitic capitalism practiced in America has denied the American people.

  6. Michael Taylor

    “Mob rule” is not something you’d contemplate in a modern Western democracy.

    Sadly, it is something I’d now contemplate.

    The GOP is no longer a political party. It is a reckless and extremely dangerous mob.

  7. Phil Pryor

    The obsessive fixation on freedom by mediocre, barely educated nobodies, who MUST be noticed, must appear as someone else if necessary (look at the dressup big kiddies invading the Capitol Building, done up as huns, vikings, nazis, Dan’l Boone, John Wayne, Superman, etc.) is a terrible feature of modern life, the dummies who want to be someone, saved, blessed, on the gravy train/on the bandwagon, on the right path, in the team, righteous, triumphal, AND, easily led, manipulated, betrayed, expended. In fact, an overfixation on one’s freedom leads to the loss of everyone else’s freedom, The average USAn actualy hates and condemns others, e g, Muslims, Reffos, Commos, Slopes and slants, dark pigmented folk, probably YOU, STRANGER.

  8. Frank Smith

    The polarization of American politics is very alarming. It is particularly concerning that so much of the Judiciary has become politicized – “Republican judges” and “Democrat judges” for example. This is most noticeable in appointments to the Supreme Court, but extends throughout the Federal, State and County levels and erodes trust in elected officials. The electoral system is also highly politicized – there is no body like our Australian Electoral Commission to provide a truly independent electoral service. In many States this results in repressive voting systems and quite undemocratic representation throughout the elected offices that abound in the USA. As the author points out, US democracy is in a very bad shape.

    We have two children and their families who have lived in the USA for years, but they are so worried about the situation over there they are openly considering selling up and moving their families back to Oz. I would have hesitated to recommend that 6 months ago, but there is now hope that the recent Federal election may have arrested a similar slide of our civil society and values towards those of the USA.

  9. Terence Mills

    I find it disturbing that Malcolm Turnbull was confronted by a small group of protesters when he went to the University of Sydney to deliver a talk to the university’s law faculty.

    They shouted and used noise making devices (Klaxons and drums) to drown him out to the point where the talk had to be abandoned.

    I don’t care what they may think of him but surely he (and the assembled audience) have rights as well as these nut jobs.

    Was it Voltaire who said : “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

  10. pierre wilkinson

    as Roswell stated, the culpability of Fox news cannot be understated, but the fear that the judiciary face is exemplified by AG Bragg dropping a “slam dunk prosecution”
    but to allow tRump to continue with his abuses without consequences is only to exacerbate an already fraught situation,
    plus the majority of those threatening violence are overweight out of condition white privileged cowards who will run at the first sign of a well organised fit military response

  11. Canguro

    As ye sow, so shall ye reap. An observation that’s been kicking around for millennia. The USA, a country founded on violence, murder, mayhem, suffering, exploitation, intentional genocide of its indigenous population, a country that warred with itself over the question of a right or otherwise to profit from the labour of slaves unlawfully abducted and condemned to lives of misery, poverty, abuse, heinous disregard of their humanity, a country that as others have noted engaged in wars for profit and commercial expediency – again, in total disregard to the concomitant suffering of those domiciled in invaded countries – an overlooked ancillary effect disregarded as minor, as long as vested interests got their requisite outcomes…. access to raw materials, resources, land, produce… whatever it took to feed the avaricious maw of the ever-hungry dogs of capitalism that needed ever more chow stuffed into their endlessly hunger stomachs… more, more, more of everything, more money, more power, more influence; the dead-eyed apparatchiks at the pointy end of these soulless exercises chasing never-ending goals in search of never-achieved satisfactions; all the while ignoring the essential responsibilities of a matured social polity; the sorts of means and ends that would result in stability, satisfaction, maturation… things like provision of equality for all in terms of accessible housing, health care, education, transport, welfare, income, lifestyle, instead of the endless dog eat dog mentality that has dogged the disunited and guilt-ridden states of the republic since their blood-soaked and criminal inception.

    They reap what they have sewn.

    Their refusal to act as grown-ups, their refusal to act according to the primary mandates of a democratic society, their refusal at a political level to accede to the wishes of the people and instead give primacy to commercial interests, their inability to behave with the sort of common sense that a five-year old child can see but apparently adults cannot… that allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry access to weapons and ammunition is bound to end in tears and weeping and gnashing of teeth… it’s been a long time coming, but the chickens are now coming home to roost, and well and truly so.

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