[note: it is totally uncool for me to reprint this section of an interview conducted by Greg Sargent in The Washington Post, as I’m doing it without permission. But I’m doing it because this is an emergency situation. People need to know. The article is behind a paywall.]
“…But hovering over these hearings will be a broader, unanswered question: whether the United States is developing an endemic problem with political violence and, in coming years, how bad it might get.
“For an unflinching look at this larger context, I reached out to Rachel Kleinfeld, a specialist in political conflict who has studied the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law in many countries.
“Greg Sargent: You’ve written that the Republican Party has a “militia problem.” Can you describe it?
“Rachel Kleinfeld: For the last few years, we’ve seen an uptick in Republican parties at the local level — though occasionally at the state level — using militias for security at party events, having militias vote on party business, in one case in Michigan having militias introduce legislation. You’re seeing a lot of photo-ops with militia members — things that normalize their interaction with the democratic process.
“These militias are being used to threaten other Republicans who aren’t part of this antidemocratic faction.
“Sargent: It seems as though some GOP and right-wing politicians are hovering in a gray area. They’re endorsing violent attacks on the opposition without facing serious party discipline, fantasizing about settling political differences via paramilitary combat, vastly minimizing the Jan. 6 insurrectionist violence or erasing it with propaganda, and describing Jan. 6 rioters facing prosecution as ‘political prisoners.‘ “Has this gray area been replicated by other countries that went on to spiral into worse political violence?
“Kleinfeld: One of the things we know about other countries that descend into greater political violence is that violence is preceded by a dehumanization phase. America is well along in that phase: things like misogyny, racial epithets, calling Democrats “groomers” and comparing them to pedophiles.
“The next stage is making violence against those dehumanized opponents seem more normal. You’re starting to see GOP candidates posing with rifles — everything from Rep. Thomas Massie’s family Christmas photo to Eric Greitens’s new ads about hunting RINOs.
“Sometimes it’s against Republicans who are not part of the antidemocratic faction. Sometimes it’s against Democrats. But either way, dehumanization normalizes the idea that harming those dehumanized opponents is legitimate.
“We know from other countries that have descended into really serious political violence that this is a trajectory, and we’re on it. We’re actually pretty far advanced on it.
“Sargent: What would a further spiraling downward from here look like? One can imagine something like this: Threats of violence toward election administrators get worse. Election outcomes, particularly when Republicans lose, are violently contested with more regularity. Now-routine chatter about Democratic rule being illegitimate gets increasingly endorsed by GOP party actors, leading to violent attacks on politicians.
“Some experts in democratic breakdown fear something akin to “the Troubles” in Ireland. What’s your worry? Is it similar to what I just laid out?
“Kleinfeld: It’s actually a little worse. The percentages of Americans endorsing violence are approaching Northern Ireland’s Troubles at their height in 1973.
“Right now, the antidemocratic faction of Republicans is targeting three groups: the pro-democratic faction of Republicans; election officials in both parties who are maintaining free and fair elections; and a lot of regular people they’re targeting with dehumanization and violence, to build their own base.
“If the antidemocratic faction wins, then I think the heightened violence we’re seeing now will continue. But if they start losing, then they’ve built up a lot of hatred — a lot of distrust in the system — and then the violence is going to get out of their control. It’ll look more like an insurgency. A disaffected left, not connected to the Democratic Party, is also justifying violence. It could get ugly.”