Trump Praises J6 Insurrectionists As ‘Warriors’

Donald Trump has long promised to pardon the members of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to overturn the 2020 election results. He routinely describes them as martyrs (“hostages” is his preferred term) and opens rallies with a version of the national anthem performed by insurrectionists who assaulted police officers with weapons.

At his rally in Las Vegas over the weekend, Trump’s description of those criminals changed in an important way. He called them “warriors.”

“Those J6 warriors — they were warriors — but they were, really, more than anything else, they’re victims of what happened,” Trump said. “All they were doing is protesting a rigged election. That’s what they were doing.”

Portraying the insurrectionists as innocent victims is an obvious lie. Portraying them as warriors is more honest, but the candor reveals a confidence that is quite chilling. Trump has inspired the development of a paramilitary wing to his movement. He has goaded their aggressive impulses and rewarded their loyalty.

In a second Trump term, they would be unleashed to commit violence on his behalf, understanding they would enjoy the benefit of his legal protection. This was the idea he was promising in broad daylight.

Until this weekend, Trump’s pact with his paramilitary supporters was cloaked in the pretense that they weren’t really violent insurrectionists. This was all nonsense. The criminals he praised were among the most violent goons at his coup attempt. The J6 choir, which plays his campaign anthem, is composed of hardened cop-beaters.

Trump is increasingly disinclined to conceal the authoritarian nature of his second term. While friendly reporters have tried in vain to coax him into disavowing his threats of revenge, he continues to reissue them. “Well, revenge does take time, I will say that,” Trump said last week, brushing aside Dr. Phil’s attempt to get him on message. “And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil, I have to be honest. Sometimes it can.”

The pretense has served its purpose, and Trump apparently now thinks he can stop treating his militarized wing as mere victims. Trump detests victimhood. He adores winners. The ambition he has for the insurrectionists, like all of his movement, is not to be victimized but to dominate.

The Justice Department is one instrument of revenge Trump wishes to use on his enemies. His paramilitaries are another.

This does not mean Trump will necessarily end democracy or unleash mass bloodshed. But those risks are all too high, and the probability he will damage the system, or set the United States into a cycle of violence and retribution, are scary enough to dwarf every other issue in the campaign. Taxes, immigration, or abortion simply don’t count when the issue on the table is whether the election will hand supreme executive authority to a vengeance-seeking authoritarian.

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