Roger Stone, a longtime friend and political adviser to Donald Trump, made headlines on August 24 when he warned that any attempt to impeach Trump would effectively trigger a civil war. Despite this president’s near-record-low approval ratings, Stone said that impeachment would unleash “a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.” Any politician who dared vote for impeachment, he added, “would be endangering their own life.”
Stone wasn’t advocating such bloodshed, he halfheartedly asserted, merely predicting it. But coming from a man so close to the president, the message seemed clear enough: If threatened with removal from office, Trump might encourage his gun-toting supporters to start shooting people, up to and including members of Congress.
In the United States, of course, the far right is heavily armed. During the Obama years, distaste for the nation’s first black president helped drive a massive increase in gun purchases, with aggregate sales averaging over 1 million a month during his administration. Prodded by the National Rifle Association, most states now have open-carry or concealed-carry laws, meaning that extremist groups can and do turn up in public spaces armed for battle. Plus the number of white-supremacist groups is growing rapidly, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which now tracks more than 900 hate groups.
Stone’s apocalyptic bluster came as no surprise to Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, a nonprofit group based in New York that works to change corporate behavior around race and social justice. No modern American politician has exploited the seductive power of violence quite like Donald Trump, and Robinson recognized the potential consequences of this early on. After the 2016 election, he and Color of Change created a strategy document for the approaching era of resistance. The victory of a “change the rules” candidate like Trump, Robinson wrote, could rapidly unravel “long held principles” in the United States, including the rule of law. The big question was: What should we do about it?
That question has only grown more urgent over the past several months, as seen most dramatically in the deadly clashes that erupted in the wake of white-supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, which culminated in a man reported to have long-standing Nazi sympathies killing an antiracist protester and injuring 19 others by plowing into them with his car. With far-right groups and individuals clearly itching for a fight, should progressives and leftist radicals respond in kind, as the antifascist activists known as “antifa” have done in several cities over the past couple of years? Or should they hold true to the philosophy of nonviolence that most progressives, at most moments in American history, have favored?