Republican response to Trump FBI search raises specter of political violence against law enforcement

·4 min read

Death threats and calls for violence against federal law enforcement have surged following the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s South Florida resort and home, punctuated by an incident Thursday when an armed suspect tried to enter an FBI field office in Ohio.

But Republicans have largely been quiet about the spike of violent threats against law enforcement, despite making support for police a hallmark of their campaigns in response to Black Lives Matter protests against repeated local police shootings of unarmed Black people.

In the immediate aftermath of the search, Trump supporters online, including one extreme-right activist who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, talked about being ready to use weapons (“lock and load”) and alleged the country was already in a state of “civil war” — repeating language long used by top cable pundit Tucker Carlson.

In an interview Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends,” longtime anchor Steve Doocy pressed Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., on why Republicans were not doing more to tamp down threats — some from within their own ranks – against law enforcement.

House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise
House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“A lot of agents are receiving specific death threats because there are a lot of people, online and elsewhere, who are demonizing the FBI,” Doocy said, citing attacks from Reps. Paul Gosar, of Arizona, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, extremist members of the House Republican conference. “Whatever happened to the Republicans backing the blue?”

“We’re very strong supporters of law enforcement, and it concerns everybody if you see some agents go rogue,” said Scalise, the second-ranking Republican in the House, who himself was the target of political violence when a gunman aligned with the left shot lawmakers in 2018.

Pressed on who specifically went “rogue,” Scalise said, “We want to find that out.”

And during a press conference Friday of the top House Republicans overseeing the intelligence agencies and national security agencies, Rep. Elise Stefanik, one of Trump’s top allies, blasted federal law enforcement rather than decry the threats against them.

Rep. Elise Stefanik
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., at a news conference after the FBI raided Trump's estate in Florida. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“House Republicans are committed to immediate oversight, accountability and a fulsome investigation ... regarding Joe Biden and his administration’s weaponization of the Department of Justice and FBI against Joe Biden’s political opponent,” the New York Republican said.

Republicans are spurring further violence against law enforcement by toying with conspiracy theories and baseless allegations, said Trygve Olson, an expert on authoritarian tactics and an adviser to the Lincoln Project, a group of current and former Republicans who oppose Trump.

“They are playing with fire in radicalizing people towards the FBI and the rule of law,” Olson said. “It is a very, very dangerous game. The kind of game that if it were happening in any other country would be setting off five-alarm fire bells at the State Department to speak out.”

In a brief press conference on Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he approved the search warrant and filed to have limited amounts of the search warrant and the findings included in its return released to the public. He then decried the threats of violence sent to himself and others in the wake of Monday’s search.

Attorney General Merrick Garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants every day,” Garland said. “They protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.”

Trump himself has pushed unfounded accusations about the unprecedented search of a former president’s home, and apparently decided not to fight the release of the search details, hours after Garland filed for its release.

Not long after that, Trump rebutted a stunning Washington Post report that the materials he had taken included highly sensitive intelligence about nuclear programs by claiming, without evidence, that the FBI planted the evidence — the same unsubstantiated claim he made at the beginning of the week in fundraising appeals.