The other day, I heard from “my” congressman again. That would be Doug LaMalfa, representing California’s first district. He seems to think he’s my congressman now because I spent a few months of 2020 in sparsely populated Tehama County weathering part of the pandemic. Since I was there during election season, I used my temporary address to register and vote. Ever since then, I’ve been getting an email newsletter from him once a month or so. And it’s an email list that’s practically impossible to unsubscribe from. This has not happened with any other politician at any other place I’ve lived, but evidently he got his hands on the voter rolls and is now using them to toot his own horn. Isn’t there some kind of law against this? If not, shouldn’t there be one?
Anyway, since his district is largely rural, it’s not surprising that LaMalfa is a Republican. But legend has it that there are a few decent Republicans still out there in the wild somewhere, and I wasn’t really familiar with him at the time, so every now and then I’d actually skim through his newsletter to see what he had to say. And for the most part, it wasn’t bad – on the basis of the newsletter, he at least seemed to have a genuine concern about real issues that actually affected his constituents, instead of just promoting mindless ideology like the vast majority of his party these days. But then, at the bottom of this most recent email there was this section:
This more than totally wiped out whatever respect his account may have accrued in my bank, because it utterly betrayed him as a loyal devotee of The Cult. (In fact, it turns out that he is an anti-sciencer, homophobe, Christian nationalist, election denier, and bona fide member of the sedition caucus.) Here, in one paragraph, was encapsulated the requisite line of attack against anyone daring to challenge the supremacy of Former Guy. It was the same set of boilerplate MAGAmerica soundbites that all the other members and defenders of The Cult were employing, as if the standard verbiage came from a manual issued directly from headquarters at Mar-A-Lago.
It goes without saying that they promptly began drawing all sorts of inappropriate and inaccurate parallels with Watergate and Hillary’s emails and Hunter’s laptop and Obama’s something. Strangely enough, however, not one of them has called for an accounting of Ginni Thomas’ seditious communications.
There are two aspects to the standard right-wing propaganda about the Mar-A-Lago incident. First, they defend Former Guy at all costs. And this requires not only taking some grotesquely contorted positions, but changing defenses whenever the wind shifts. As soon as I heard the news of the FBI’s action, my first question was how long it would be before Former Guy and his cultists claimed that the agency had planted evidence. And the answer was, it came almost immediately. Now imagine that federal agents come to your home looking for something and you are totally surprised and totally innocent and have absolutely nothing to hide. Are you going to start publicly proclaiming, before they’ve even announced the results of their search, that they planted evidence? Not bloody likely.
And then, after a day or two, he came up with a new defense: the documents he’d taken (although the FBI planted them) were actually declassified. Another lie – he must be confusing himself with Obama. He even claimed to have issued a “standing order” that automatically declassified any documents he removed. Another lie.
The other prong of the assault, of course, is attacking the FBI. And in that undertaking, there have been about half a dozen talking points that have been very, very predictable – and have been very, very mandatory for repetition by every single right-wing politician and media figure. To wit:
This is a raid!
For one thing, they are all required to refer to the search as a “raid” as often as possible. (Not to mention summoning such tried and trusty terms as “witch hunt”, “fishing expedition”, “dark times”, “Deep State”, “persecution”,”police state”, etc.) Now it’s true that the word raid is technically not absolutely incorrect, but it also is a word with some powerful connotations; it conjures up images of Vikings and Huns laying waste to villages, and of the police (or the Gestapo) breaking down the door, ordering occupants to the floor and/or slamming them against the wall while they trash the premises.
This was a lawful FBI search, carried out according to strict protocol, for evidence of serious and major wrongdoing. Consistently and repeatedly branding it a “raid” is clearly an effort to cast aspersions on its legal and moral authority. Just as anti-choice advocates constantly refer to a pregnant female as a “mother” even if she’s never had children (a usage that is not only manipulative but downright inaccurate) in an effort (highly successful) to slant media coverage, the MAGA cult is weaponizing the word raid to get it embedded in the media, and thus in the public’s mind, as firmly as possible.
Abuse of power
It’s also de rigueur to characterize the FBI’s investigation as an “abuse of power”. Mind you, these are the same people who’ve been vociferously insisting that they “back the blue” – at least as long as the blue murders helpless African-Americans in the streets or in their homes. But when law enforcement catches or even investigates one of their own, they suddenly cry foul in the foulest terms.
They’ve even tried to account for this double standard by drawing a distinction between uniformed police officers and an undercover federal investigative body like the FBI. Sorry, but it doesn’t work. Because they also excoriated, or at the very least downplayed the heroism of, the uniformed Capitol Police who stood up to their violent coup attempt. And they hailed the FBI as a defender of liberty when director James Comey disingenuously released an announcement, 11 days before the 2016 election, falsely suggesting that Hillary Clinton was about to come under renewed scrutiny for her dastardly email something or other.
But that was then and this is now, by god. And clearly the FBI is hopelessly corrupt now, because its current director was appointed by… oh, wait. Actually, this must all be the doing of Merrick Garland. Or George Soros. Or Jewish space lasers.
It’s a vendetta
Speaking of Merrick Garland, another prominent theory in the MAGAverse is that this “raid” is really all about Garland getting revenge because he was denied a seat on the Supreme Court. Aside from the fact that it was not Former Guy who blocked him from that post, Garland has never been the vindictive type. (If the positions were reversed, there’d be absolutely no problem at all in believing the revenge theory. ) Those of us who know the facts, and aren’t hyperpartisan hacks, have been very disgruntled with Garland’s dragging his feet for so long. Now that he finally seems to be taking one step, it almost seems like too little, too late. Nonetheless, the cultists will plow full speed ahead with the vengeance narrative; and like the good Congressman LaMalfa, lament how being vengeful makes you unfit for office. Even as they issue all kinds of dire warnings about how, once they regain the House, they’re going to take every conceivable action to get their revenge.
Threat to Liberty
Somehow or other, this law enforcement operation is supposed to be a dire threat to liberty. Not just Former Guy’s, but yours. If they succeed in taking him down, the argument goes, they are coming for you next. No, really. They’re actually saying things like this. After all, you have a great deal in common with the blue collar Joe Six-Pack former prez, doncha?
Threat to the Republic
Not only is holding Dear Leader accountable a threat to your freedumb, it’s also a threat to Amurrca itself. Somehow or other. Just trust us. And please forget that he himself egged a mob on to overthrow the republic and establish himself as dictator.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before!” they’re all required to scream from their soapboxes. And they’re required not to mention that there’s good reason it’s never happened before, and good reason it’s happening now. It doesn’t help them, or him, to protest that something is unprecedented, because absolutely everything about That Guy is unprecedented. And that’s not a compliment.
It’s a hoax!
This has become one of the favorite words of the cult, because it’s one of the favorite words of the cult leader. Any time he is accused of wrongdoing, he simply calls the story a “hoax”. Doesn’t matter if there is incontrovertible proof of his guilt. He, and they, want you to believe that, somehow or other, the FBI “raid” is a hoax as well. And he is just an innocent victim. The FBI, meanwhile, must be presumed guilty of some dire misdeed until proven innocent – and even afterward.
If media reports said initially that the FBI discovered 20 boxes of illegally removed material, and it turned out there were actually 40 boxes, this would be cited as proof that it was all a “hoax”.
We demand answers!
This one is perhaps the most insidious, because it’s the best disguised as a benign sentiment. We all want answers. That’s why the FBI conducted the search, duh. But the “answers” the MAGA cultists are seeking are not the answers the rest of us are seeking. For them, it’s standard procedure to “investigate” the investigators any time they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar – and to drag out their “investigation” much longer than the actual investigation, so it will have more staying power in the news cycles. This is what you can look forward to, one hundred percent guaranteed, if the GOPers retake Congress – not to mention an endless series of hearings about Hunter Biden’s laptop, and probably more hearings on Benghazi and Hillary’s emails. And most definitely a thorough raking over the coals of anyone involved with the Jan. 6 hearings – but definitely not any scrutiny of anyone involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Because that’s just a hoax, doncha know.
As I write this, it’s still too early to tell how all of this is going to pan out. But there are very strong signs, given Former Guy’s lengthy record of gross misconduct, Merrick Garland’s excruciatingly cautious approach, and the knowledge of potential political fallout from missteps in an investigation like this. Indeed former Watergate icon John Dean, who knows a thing or two about political malfeasance, has suggested the odds are extremely high that Former Guy is in deep doodoo.
In all likelihood, there are going to be some heavy-duty smoking guns among the material confiscated. But at this writing, it’s much too early to tell. This particular investigation is still in its very early stages. But even if, against all odds, it turns out that the search was utterly groundless, it was still done on legitimate suspicions – the FBI even had an inside tipster, for heaven’s sake. And even if we assume that story itself is a “hoax”, the thing is, we won’t know any of this until the investigation is concluded. That’s the way criminal investigations work. Law enforcement never shares the contents of a file with the public while an investigation is in progress; to do so would seriously hamper, and perhaps even kill, the investigation.
But that’s precisely what the MAGA mob is demanding; as always, they want to be the exception to the rule. Because they want the investigation killed. And that’s not all; they want the individuals conducting the investigation to be publicly identified so they can be harassed, intimidated – and perhaps even killed themselves.
This is not an exaggeration. The FBI has already received death threats because of the “raid”. And this was absolutely predictable: the MAGA mob routinely makes death threats (and all too often, carries them out) against anyone who does anything they don’t like. Right-wingers in politics and media – even those as clueless as my dear congressman Doug LaMalfa – are fully aware of this. And yet not only do they not try to quell it, they actively enable it. At least one Republican has even been campaigning on a platform of encouraging the murder of FBI agents. Seriously.
And he’ll probably win. After all, he calls it “freedom”.
The MAGA cult soundbites get at least one thing right: these are indeed “dark times”. And as they see it, all the illumination they need is coming from the holy palace of Mar-A-Lago. An estate being lit entirely by gas.