Many of those who supported the “audit” have expressed extremely unhealthy views about politics and the election processes in this country, to put it lightly. Last month, Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers tweeted, “I would like to know if we have enough solitary confinement cells in Arizona available for the entire Maricopa Board of Supervisors” after the chairman condemned the partisan audit. Meanwhile, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan appeared in a movie that pushes Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
This kind of extreme rhetoric, coupled with the web of lies and conspiracy theories, is increasingly spreading from the fringes of the Republican Party to the mainstream. And while Trump and his supporters failed to overturn the 2020 elections, charges of election fraud have already become a dangerous blueprint for the future, threatening to undermine our free and fair elections and stoke the potential for violence throughout the country.
We saw this on January 6, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol while Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election. While several Republicans initially condemned the attack, members of the party went on to downplay what happened. Rep. Andrew Clyde, who is seen in photos barricading the entrance to the House chamber on January 6, later compared the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit.”
Not to be outdone, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Louie Gohmert went a step further and tried to visit the insurrectionists at a Washington, DC, correctional facility. Rep. Madison Cawthorn dialed things up again by calling the insurrectionists “political prisoners” while Trump declared his support for “the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest.”
It’s dangerous to downplay events like the insurrection and normalize the use of violence in the face of political disagreements. We’ve already seen members of Congress fleeing for their lives and law enforcement officers putting themselves in harm’s way. Now, extremists with a worldview built on the Big Lie’s rotten foundation are sowing chaos at the local level.
It has gone almost unnoticed that adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory have won some local elections. Meanwhile, threats of violence have plagued some local election officials for months. In Arizona, Maricopa County election official Bill Gates, who received an orange prison jumpsuit in the mail after he refused to peddle lies about the 2020 election, called out his fellow Republicans for fueling the threats. It doesn’t help that Rep. Greene recently released a video where she vowed to “blow away the Democrats’ socialist agenda” in 2022 before firing a rifle at a car labeled “socialism.”
As we confront these ominous developments, we should remember former President George W. Bush’s words in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
This foul spirit will keep growing stronger as long as Republicans refuse to condemn extremists within the party. People like the January 6 insurrectionists and the rising tide of extremism at the local level represent a grave threat to our democracy. If we are going to stop the use of threats and actual acts of violence from becoming the norm, Republicans have one choice: Reject the Big Lie playbook or embolden future extremists.