“But I didn’t know!”

A second Trump presidency will unleash extremists’ to target specific politicians and activists, just as any terrorist regime does.


The arrest of white supremacists allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and possibly Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, shows what’s in store if Donald Trump and his Republican enablers steal the elections. As soon as Trump was elected, hate crimes began a steady rise in the U.S. Trump has consistently incited violent supremacist thugs by refusing to condemn their beliefs or methods, even defending them after the Charlottesville murder. As a student of Hitler’s speeches and methods of seizing power, Trump understands that violent intimidation can be directed to destroy law and legitimate government, especially when our judicial system is riddled with like-minded fanatics. A second Trump presidency will unleash extremists’ to target specific politicians and activists, just as any terrorist regime does.

Exaggeration? A QAnon spouting candidate running unopposed in Georgia for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Marjorie Taylor Greene, posted a picture of herself with an assault rifle next to photos of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and two other Congresswomen. Her supporters, heavily armed at her rallies, talk openly of “a time when you will be asked to shed another man’s blood because he is a threat to your very way of life.”  And guess whose endorsement she’s received? President Donald Trump, who called her “a future Republican Star” as well as numerous high-level Republican donors.

One of the more insidious uses of violence lies in how extreme behaviors normalize formerly unacceptable acts. Look at the Republicans’ campaign tactics. They openly flaunt the Constitution with dirty tricks to prevent poorer blacks and Latinos from voting. Texas, with many counties larger than Rhode Island, has dictated only one ballot drop-off point per county. Texas also has closed dozens of polling places in poorer communities. Ever since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to end the illegal exclusion of voters on racial grounds, the right wing has been fixated on rolling it back. Vicious, illegal, and racist it may be, but it’s the only card Trump and McConnell and company have left to play.

Trump’s supporters, broadly speaking, fall into three main groups. His wealthy backers want to do away with any government regulation of their ability to pillage, plunder, and harvest all the wealth their power allows. Poisoned air and water; a severed food chain; devastating fires, storms, floods, and droughts that will make many western cities barely habitable and overwhelm coastal communities, mean nothing to them. They are first-class passengers on an ocean liner partying like crazy while below the hull takes on water and the screams of the drowning—for education, health care, decent housing—are dismissed as the whining of losers. They can party as hearty as they want, but when the ship sinks, they’re going down too.

Then there are those being squeezed out of the middle class by the current system. They are angry and frightened and for good reason: our economy and tax policies have tilted sharply to favor corporate profits and stock prices since Reagan’s presidency. They listen incessantly to hate-filled rants with barely disguised misogynistic, homophobic, racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In Wisconsin, for example, right wing radio blares out 200 hours a day (across many stations). It is propaganda, and as such aims to do one thing: increase fear and anxiety to induce a knee-jerk, angry response.

Heightened levels of anxiety often drive people to authoritarian religious dogma that is the equivalent of a mass mental breakdown, as much here as in any Muslim country. Never before in America has religious fanaticism played such a powerful political role. Fanatical belief combined with economic insecurity tends to drive the political center to the extreme right. It was vital to the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Mussolini’s fascists, the terror-regimes of Latin America, and Trump in America.

To the greed of his wealthy supporters and misplaced middle class anger, add the rage, hatred, and stupidity of the Proud Boys, the boogaloo movement, QAnon, etc. These would-be storm troopers live in a video-game world, convincing one another they are heroes defending the white race from being “polluted”. It is a profound induced stupidity, brewed in a stew of resentment and helplessness in a society where the power of the gun to wreak havoc is worshiped in movies, tv, video games, and at the local gun-boys’ weekend retreats.

Indeed, jobs and work skills have left them behind, a betrayal by the right wing politicians these same people have been electing for decades. The .01% soak up hundreds of billions of dollars that should be circulating through the economy. All that is left for the Proud Boys et al is enthusiasm for a cause. They’re the same people dictators always use: give the dispossessed a purpose, a gun, power, and the go-ahead to do their worst, and they’ll do whatever you want with an extra dose of cruelty on top. But as the president said, there’s lots of good people in those groups.

That is why comparisons to the Nazis are fitting, even if we haven’t descended to the depths of Nazi depravity. The death camps were not part of the Nazis’ original political agenda. They came to power preaching hatred and aggression but the policies of mass murder developed in stages—albeit frighteningly rapid stages. We already have camps that concentrate tens of thousands of people who held jobs, raised families, and even served in our armed forces. Many are abused, with a huge proportion held in isolated confinement. Parents and children are separated. That is, quite simply, a concentration camp, although it falls short of being an actual death camp.

Most of these prisoners fled countries run by violent regimes installed, trained, and supported by the United States. They fled violent cartels fighting over the milk cow that is the same American hard drug consumer who often rails against immigrants. That they are “illegals” is due to laws aimed at preserving our nation’s “whiteness”. Yet these immigrants are more American than the goons with guns and white skin who think that defending their pathetic notions of whiteness grants them dignity and purpose that otherwise eludes them. 

With a religious fanatic like Amy Barrett likely to be approved for the Supreme Court, the balance could be finally and irrevocably tipped. This is not about her religious freedom. The Bill of Rights guarantees that no one will be persecuted or arrested for their speech or beliefs. It does not guarantee that a person with deeply pre-judicial beliefs has a right to sit on the Supreme Court.

Law’s general principles guide its application, identifying the approximate boundaries of its reach. Turning principles into laws depend on particular cases and situations. Principles alone are not sufficient, as shown by the range of interpretations of the Constitution, the many loopholes laws fail to cover, the nuanced exceptions judges must consider, and the constant bargaining required to determine a legal outcome. The law is stitched together in an ever-changing tapestry, case by case. The rigid outlook of the 1700 member People of Praise cult Barrett belongs to will almost certainly cause her to substitute reasoned judicial determinations with pre-conceived doctrinal beliefs.

A Supreme Court securely in the hands of ultra-right wing fanatics, however, composed they present themselves at their hearings, will dismantle American democracy. Trump—and Barrett—point to a future most Americans do not want. With the help of a fanatical following and wealthy backers, they are bringing us there and there ain’t no brakes on that train.

Meanhile, right wing judges are already dismantling the U.S. health care system. Trump’s inept, idiotic response to the pandemic has cost innumerable lives. However, a far more effective stealth assault on health care is being carried out while the pandemic rages. The perpetrators are the courts stacked with Trump-era appointees. They severely undermined the CDC long before the pandemic and they continue to do so even as over 200,000 citizens have died. They have gutted Obama-care, women’s rights to choose abortion, and critical social programs, policies with lethal effect nationwide. Trump’s early statement that the pandemic doesn’t matter because it’s mostly affecting “blue states” should have had him imprisoned the day he made it. We are the only country where citizens have lost their health insurance duing the pandemic. How many since February? Up to TWELVE MILLION. So sure, we don’t have death camps, we just have death policies. But somehow that’s okay with a frightening number of American voters.

These right wing judges may not envision the logical outcomes of their actions. “But we didn’t know!” protested the Germans about the death camps that, supported by a vast bureaucracy, murdered twelve million people. Certainly, some did not know what was in the smoke rising from the chimneys; the purpose of the Einsatzgruppen death squads massacring Jews, Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Czechs, Ukrainians, Greeks, Serbs, Romani, and others; or where the trains stuffed with starving people were headed; or where their Jewish neighbors went; or why so many “imperfect” children seemed to have disappeared. But it takes a lot of people to do all that. As for those who may not have known the end result, well, they certainly were aware of all the steps leading up to it. And if you think it can’t happen here, it is happening here. It’s just that too many of us won’t realize it until the game is played out. And then we too can say, “But I didn’t know!”


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Barton Kunstler, Ph.D., writes about creativity, social justice, education, technology, and leadership. His book, The Hothouse Effect, describes the dynamics behind history's most creative communities. Other published work includes poetry, numerous academic articles, and fiction. His monograph for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence addresses leadership's future in light of the human singularity. He writes for www.huffingtonpost.com and his writings, including a column on communication strategy, appear at www.bartonkunstler.com. He can be reached at barleeku@comcast.net.