To the surprise of no one, the people most excited about Donald Trump’s tweet warning that “civil war” would erupt if Democrats were to remove him from office via impeachment have turned out to be some of the very same far-right extremists who have been loudly fantasizing about a violent civil war.
Alex Jones’ Infowars was all over it immediately, of course, declaring that “America’s Civil War Is About to Get Hot,” while also warning: “If Trump falls, you and your family are next.” The Gateway Pundit dismissed Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s statement of concern about the tweet by calling him a “Never-Trump squish.”
Meanwhile, at the Twitter account of the far-right “Patriot” group Oath Keepers, founder Stewart Rhodes posted a long thread in support of Trump’s tweet: “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are.”
The most disturbing and worrisome response, however, came from the neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen SS, which published a video essentially urging members to begin taking violent action on behalf of their white-supremacist cause, as Mack Lamoreux and Ben Makuch reported at Vice. It was posted online less than 12 hours after Trump published his tweet.
“Based on the video, the group is indicating that they are choosing this moment to activate,” Joshua Fisher-Birch, a New York-based researcher, told Vice. “The fact that they mention the need to finance their operations, and their new [dark web] onion site indicate that the group is preparing for a long struggle.”
Trump’s tweet was a selective quote from an appearance on Fox News by far-right evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who told Fox’s Pete Hegseth that the evangelical community was wild with anger over Democrats’ impeachment inquiry of Trump:
I do want to make this prediction this morning: If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.
Charlie Warzel observed in The New York Times that “Invoking civil war—even indirectly—was once a third rail of modern American presidential rhetoric. Though Mr. Trump in the past has openly toyed with illiberal notions (ignoring term limits, not accepting election results should he lose), his casual suggestion that his ouster might lead to bloodshed felt like uncharted territory.”
More than that: It also clearly sent a signal to the same heavily armed, militant, and violence-minded element in the Trump-supporting populace that has produced multiple acts of domestic terrorism directly influenced by his eliminationist rhetoric.
We’ve already observed, in the person of the #MAGAbomber, the mechanism of scripted violence at work with Donald Trump’s public pronouncements and particularly his targeting of individuals and organizations. Men like Cesar Sayoc see themselves as “warriors” in a larger fight against evil itself, which in their view is embodied by liberals and leftists. This is why so many right-wing Trump supporters speak so eagerly of launching a “civil war” against urban liberals.
Columbia historian Nicole Hemmer warns:
When the President invokes violence—as in a civil war—he sends encouragement to supporters already primed to perceive a coming apocalypse. In the world of white power, where a civil war is a race war, the President"s words have particular resonance. White power activists have long embraced a form of violent nationalism (or violent racism cloaked in nationalism), that is always on the lookout for enemies, from Vietnamese immigrants to black churchgoers to, at times, the federal government itself.
Harvard professor John Coates warned that the tweet itself could be considered an independent count against Trump in any impeachment. Even at Fox News, analyst Andrew Napolitano was outraged: “The president’s allusions to violence are palpably dangerous,” wrote Napolitano. “They will give cover to crazies who crave violence, as other intemperate words of his have done.”
“This language is a dog whistle to the deranged,” he added.
Fisher-Birch didn’t believe the Atomwaffen video, which featured an interview with the elderly author of a neo-Nazi text titled Siege, was necessarily associated with Trump’s tweet. He noted to Vice that it was published on the birthday of Savitri Devi, an important figure for the ideology of Atomwaffen and the author, James Mason. “Devi’s teachings,” the story notes, “contain a bizarre mix of Nazism, environmentalism, and occultism, and she remains an immensely important figure of the extreme-right today.”
The broader effect of Trump’s tweet is more likely to be seen within the Patriot/militia movement, where his support is intense. The president had previously suggested in a March interview with Breitbart News that the Patriot-affiliated “Bikers For Trump” organization—which had acted as a kind of vigilante security force, along with the Oath Keepers, at Trump’s inauguration—might rise up to defend him in the event of an impeachment attempt.
I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump—I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.
Oath Keepers have been involved in providing security at Trump’s rallies, too, most recently at an event in New Mexico. The state chapter of the organization issued a plea for volunteers at the Sept. 16 Trump event in Rio Rancho “to protect [rallygoers] from potential leftist violence,” because those “leftists” reportedly were planning to “shut down” the event.
Analyst James Scaminaci III has documented how Trump’s campaign made multiple connections to the Patriot organization Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, as well as with the primary originator of the white-nationalist conspiracy theory known as “cultural Marxism,” William S. Lind.
So it is likely the president was fully aware of the kinds of groups who believed he was signaling them about a “civil war.” These are the same groups that have been eagerly preparing for one.