Republicans Ramp Up Their “Defund the FBI” Stunt

Republicans Ramp Up Their “Defund the FBI” Stunt

Republicans Ramp Up Their “Defund the FBI” Stunt

Republicans aren’t being hypocrites about the FBI and the Mar-a-Lago raid—they’ve never truly cared about effective law enforcement.


For roughly two weeks now, since the FBI executed a court-authorized search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence for documents pilfered from the White House by the former president, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has been calling for the dissolution of federal law enforcement. “Defund the FBI!” Greene tweeted on August 8, a sentiment she would echo in multiple follow-up posts, coupled with demands that the Justice Department be dismantled and Merrick Garland—against whom Greene has filed impeachment articles—be removed as attorney general. A few days after her original screed, Greene shared a campaign-style grainy montage of Fox News talking heads and cable news clips, a series of sound bites meant to terrify white conservatives into believing that the FBI is enforcing the law with color-blind vigor. “Joe Biden has weaponized the FBI and DOJ against President Trump and his supporters,” the accompanying text on the post warned. “This isn’t the first time. and it won’t be the last.” The only surefire way to fight to the power, the ad suggests? With a “Defund the FBI” hat or T-shirt, which Greene just so happens to be selling on her fundraising website for $30 a pop.

Greene is only the loudest voice in a chorus of conservative politicians and commentators—including Representatives Paul Gosar and Jeff Duncan, as well as MAGA Republicans from Candace Owens to Liz Booth—who are also calling for the defunding of national law enforcement, as well as far more lawless violence. Trump-pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza called the FBI a “gang of dangerous criminals” that should be “shut down.” Colorado’s twice-arrested House freshman Lauren Boebert also demanded that FBI funds be dissolved. Florida state lawmaker and US congressional candidate Anthony Sabatini did his best Don Corleone impression, advocating for the FBI to be “gut[ted] like fish,” while Florida House contender Republican Luis Miguel, announced via Twitter, “Under my plan, all Floridians will have permission to shoot FBI, IRS, ATF and all other feds on sight!”

Not so long ago, these same conservatives wouldn’t shut up about how much they “Back the Blue,” sloganeering they invoked against progressive calls for reallocating bloated police budgets. Just this past May, Greene leveraged the phrase “party of defund the police” as a stand-in for the GOP’s tired “soft on crime” criticism of Democrats, and she later blamed “left-wing policies of defunding the police” for rising crime rates. She has personally called for the arrests and prosecutions of—bear with me; the list is lengthy—reproductive justice activists, anti-fascists, Black Lives Matter protesters, Nancy Pelosi, film crew members from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and a Hill staffer who ripped down an anti-trans sign she put up. Just like Trump—who used the Espionage Act against at least five whistleblowers and journalists, asked advisers if unarmed BLM protesters could be shot “in the legs or something,” had the Justice Department go after reporters and political adversaries, and in 1989 took out a full-page ad calling for the state to murder five innocent Black and brown boys—Greene is fine with weaponizing law enforcement.

In fact, “Blue Lives Matter” was never a sincere expression of conservative support for police—it’s always been an appropriative phrase devised by reactionary right-wingers to serve as a handy-dandy rhetorical counterpoint to the idea that Black lives matter, too. Conservatives’ espoused dedication to “law and order” alone wasn’t deep enough to motivate creation of the Thin Blue Line flag—but the indignation of witnessing Black folks demanding en masse that police stop killing them did. The opportunism, cynicism, and disposability of the “Back the Blue” movement was plain even before Republicans sided with white supremacist insurrectionists over the police against whom they committed at least 1,000 violent attacks at the Capitol riot, including beating an officer unconscious with a Thin Blue Line flag. (Greene voted against giving the Congressional Gold Medal to officers who were at the Capitol insurrection, but introduced a bill to bestow the accolade upon Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who killed two people at a BLM protest.) The GOP’s respect for lawfulness is belied by how the party’s spokespeople, including Representatives Andy Biggs, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and minority leader Kevin McCarthy, have tried to wave away subpoenas by the January 6 Committee, and, in the case of Senator Lindsey Graham, in the investigation regarding election interference in Georgia. Now the phoniness of their declared devotion to national security is laid bare in their unwavering defense of Trump, who stole classified documents, lied about returning them to the Justice Department, ignored a grand jury subpoena, and stashed nuclear intelligence at his notoriously poorly guarded club so he could… sell them to the Saudis? Impress Kid Rock and Scott Baio? Who knows.

This latest Republican stance is a mix of GOP racism and trolling, two defining planks in the GOP platform, which is why labeling the “defund” stunt as hypocrisy gives it too much credit, lending it an air of earnestness, as if they actually believe what they’re saying. If they cared about corruption in law enforcement, we would’ve heard them decrying raids on the homes of Black folks such as Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke, both of whom police needlessly shot dead. Fears of political persecution would’ve long-ago inspired conservative outrage against FBI surveillance of, and violence against, the Black community through programs such as COINTELPRO, which targeted the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others, as part of J. Edgar Hoover’s effort to “prevent the rise of a [Black] messiah.” As recently as 2019, under the direction of current Trump-appointed FBI head Christopher Wray, Operation IRON FIST spied on Black activists, smearing them as “Black Identity Extremists”—despite papers released by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 and the FBI itself in 2006 revealing the exponential growth of white supremacist extremism. Republicans in the House and Senate had a chance to support bills that would’ve helped correct this, by allowing federal law enforcement investigations into white supremacist terror. Nearly every single one voted against.

When Greene tweets that “the FBI’s political targeting of President Trump is the same type of thing they did to MLK. They always abuse their power to take down their political enemies,” know that this is more trolling. It’s an unserious statement from an unserious figure who uses race to inflame, and whose only current problem with the FBI is that it went after her favorite white billionaire. (Headline of the Year from right-wing Christian outlet The Stream: “Donald Trump is the MLK of the Working Class and Christians. No Wonder the FBI is Persecuting Him, Too.”)

Trump is the first former president to be barred from intelligence briefings because of the unique threats he poses to national security. Even if conservative voters believe Trump’s lies, and polls show that many of them do, that trust is rooted on who Trump is, which relies on his whiteness, his maleness, his Protestantism, his wealth. (It’s no wonder Trump told his supporters, post-FBI search, that Obama had stolen “33 million pages of documents.” It was a confirmed lie that Fox News nonetheless bolstered, because blaming the Black guy always works for these folks.) Trump’s supporters believe that being a criminal is defined not solely by what you do but also by who you are. Their ideas about criminality are inextricable from their ideas of who is inherently innocent. If rich white guys like Trump are presumed incapable of criminalization, then so are they. And no matter which laws it turns out Trump has broken, his supporters will deflect from his criminality and assert his victimhood—a claim to persecution they reserve for themselves and that they believe justifies any armed insurrection they undertake. I can only imagine the FBI’s surprise, after so much time spent obsessing over the threats posed by Black folks, that a white grievance movement turned out to be their biggest threat.

Conservatives support law enforcement only inasmuch as it serves their side. By the time you read this, there will be a new revelation in Donald Trump’s classified document scandal, and it will undoubtedly be even worse than what we’ve already seen. So, unfortunately, will the weaponized, and highly political response from the right.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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