The following is an excerpt of a guest column on Medium by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on November 8, 2020.
“Well can’t you see that this is the last act of a desperate man?” “We don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V, we’re leaving!” - Blazing Saddles
Hours after the networks called the election for Joe Biden, I went into Manhattan for the first time in a while. I saw the crowds celebrating. Peacefully.
But I saw something else that stopped me in my tracks. Throughout mid-town, storefront windows were boarded with plywood, a precaution against violence in the streets by Trump supporters if the election turned out just this way. They had been put up the day before Election Day.
Never in American history had businesses foreseen the need to take precautions to protect their businesses from property damage in the event an incumbent president lost. But they had reason to.
This presidency has been defined by the President using incendiary language to signal to his followers that it’s okay to take matters into their own hands.
This has been his pattern from the start of his campaign in 2015, but it has escalated in the last few months. And the pattern predicts that Trump will continue to escalate his rhetoric in his final days, and his followers will respond.
LIBERATE: Second Amendment Remedies
In April, when Trump was trying to prematurely re-open businesses in violation of his own government’s guidelines, he tweeted about the state governors’ mask mandates: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” followed by “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and three minutes later by“LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” But this one included the seemingly irrelevant addition, “and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The reference to the Second Amendment was both curious and ominous. There was nothing going on in the states that in any way amounted to an attempt to restrict gun rights. But the President blended the issue of mandatory masks with the right to bear arms.
Experts immediately saw the risks in that kind of language. Mary McCord, former acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that this was a call for insurrection. She noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that advocacy that is:
“…inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action loses its First Amendment protections.”
“The president’s tweets — unabashedly using the current crisis to encourage a backlash against lawful and expert-recommended public health measures, falsely claiming a Second Amendment “siege” and calling for insurrection against elected leaders — have no place in our public discourse and enjoy no protection under our Constitution.”
Soon after the President’s tweets, groups of armed militia members, unmasked, entered the Michigan state capitol and confronted masked state police. Some legislators donned bulletproof vests while in the legislative session.
Trump tweeted that these armed men were “very good people,” an echo of his post-Charlottesville comments.
We learned in October that some of those militia members took the “Liberate Michigan” tweets to a different level.
On October 8, federal and Michigan prosecutors arrested and filed charges against 13 people who had conspired to kidnap a number of governors, including Michigan governor Gretchen Witmer in order to subject her to a show trial and then to execute her. Several of those arrested had been among the “very good people” who stormed the state capitol in April following the President’s Liberate tweets.
Governor Witmer specifically called out Trump for inspiring the conspirators:
“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action.”
And then, rather than condemn the plotters, Trump denounced Governor Witmer.