From pro-Trump forums calling to “lock and load” to elected Republicans attacking the DOJ, the desire for retaliation is loud and clear.
Donald Trump is known for many things, none of which is his meticulous and exhaustive accounting of important documents. So it should come as no surprise that on the same day that photos surfaced of notes, apparently with Trump’s handwriting on them, being filed into a toilet, the FBI went looking at the former president’s house for documents that belonged to the federal government. On Monday evening, agents executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, retrieving documents and breaking open a safe at the home, Trump said.
There is a version of this story that is relatively simple. After Trump was ousted from the White House, he took 15 boxes of classified documents that were supposed to be given to the National Archives at the end of his presidency, per The New York Times, as they were subject to the Presidential Records Act. That didn’t happen, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) kept asking for them and getting ignored. Eventually, the archives retrieved the documents from Trump’s home in January, with Trump only returning them “when there became a threat of action to retrieve them,” per the Times.
But now, it seems like the feds believe there were more documents containing classified information being improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago. So the FBI — currently headed by Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee — applied for a search warrant to recover the documents, it was approved by a judge, and agents went and got boxes of files while Trump was out of town in New York.
That’s it! It’s actually pretty boring, considering all of the other activity the FBI could possibly raid Trump’s home over. But that is, of course, not how Trump and his cohorts are seeing this. From the very start, they’ve been painting this raid as law enforcement throwing down the gauntlet. Trump described the FBI’s search warrant as part of a “political persecution” and said his home was “under siege, raided, and occupied.” That then set off his supporters; within about an hour of Trump announcing the FBI was at Mar-a-Lago, fans of his descended on the resort to show support for the former president.
Online, talk went way beyond just showing support for Trump: It turned to literal war. Members of the pro-Trump forum TheDonald began discussing how to fight back, literally. “Lock and load,” one user posted, with others talking about how the raid is justification for civil war. Others asked, “When does the shooting start?” Talk of violence against political opponents is not new on the platform, but it seemed to escalate last night in response to the FBI’s actions.
It wasn’t just anonymous posters, either. Steven Crowder, a far-right Trump backer, told his 1.9 million Twitter followers, “Tomorrow is war.” What that actually means for Crowder isn’t clear; he may well just stream his YouTube show as usual, but with a little more fiery language. But his audience might hear the call to action and actually heed it, similar to what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. Crowder wasn’t alone in the unsubtle calls to violence, either: Right-wing influencer Jesse Kelly tweeted, “Do not quote laws to men with swords.”
Trumpian elected officials got in on the act, too. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared he’d “seen enough,” threatening Attorney General Merrick Garland with a probing investigation of the Justice Department should Republicans take back the House this fall. Paul Gosar, a far-right congressman from Arizona, tweeted that he would support “a complete dismantling and elimination of the Democrat brown shirts known as the FBI.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called for an effort to “Defund the FBI.” Pretty weird coming from the crowd who hates the “defund the police” movement, but here we are.
Perhaps the wildest response came from Anthony Sabatini, a congressman from Florida. He called on his state’s legislature to call an emergency session and “sever all ties” with the Department of Justice and arrest any FBI agent “conducting law enforcement functions outside the purview of our State.” A magistrate judge from Florida signed the search warrant, so the implication that the FBI was operating outside of the law is nonsense, but it sure looks like Sabatini wants his state to secede.
Why all this outrage over what could end up being a pretty uninteresting search and rescue of documents that should have been handed over more than a year ago? Tensions in Trumpworld are high, after a summer of congressional hearings into the Jan. 6 riot and with Trump exposed to some actual criminal inquiry in the future. The legal, procedural FBI raid presents a relatively low-stakes opportunity to plant the seeds of war — and, even more cynically, raise some money. Trump has been fundraising off the search already, and other Republicans are likely to follow with the promise to “fight back” against the FBI’s “overreach.” Welcome to American politics in 2022.