The GOP Is Officially the Party of Righteous Violence

May 19, 2023 Off By Todd Zwillich

This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

Perpetuum vigilante

Jordan Neely’s funeral will be held today in Harlem. 

On May 1, Daniel Penny, an ex-Marine, placed Neely, who was homeless, in a chokehold as Neely was behaving erratically toward other riders on the New York City subway. Neely asphyxiated and died, and now Penny is charged with second degree manslaughter. But Neely, like other vigilantes Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin and Daniel Perry in Texas, has become a hero on the right. He’s gotten praise from GOP politicians and received over $2 million in donations for his legal defense after appeals on right-wing media. 

The whole thing got me thinking about violence, impunity, and democracy. So I called up New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, who’s been writing about white vigilantism and the right. Our conversation has been edited for length. 

This vigilante violence isn’t new but the celebration of it on the national scene as a sort of a political identifier is kind of new. What do you think is going on here?

Yeah, what’s new is the extent that it’s migrated into national partisan politics. And respectable political figures celebrating it is quite new. This is politicians simply following where their voters are. And one thing that has certainly been true in the last half decade is how the conservative media consumer (aka the GOP base), has moved to having these fantasies of a cleansing violence. That means attacking protesters or running them down with their cars, for example. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, some Republican legislatures passed bills that made it not a crime to run over a protester with your car. 

Actual disorder is localized and relatively uncommon. But conservative media is constantly broadcasting images of disorder and mayhem. The message is that this is all the result of the “the left.” Now there are many Americans who sincerely believe that in 2020 entire cities were burned to the ground, or were “no-go zones.” Taken together, it’s inculcated a sense that it’s either us or them, and using violence against “them” is a totally acceptable response. 

For me what rings through is impunity. Daniel Perry deserves impunity. Daniel Penny deserves impunity and money. The entire apparatus of the House Republican Conference is geared toward impunity for Jan. 6, and certainly for Trump.

There’s a belief that it’s not just wrong to try to hold these people accountable, that it’s illegitimate to do so. Because in their minds they did nothing wrong. And this gets back to the original idea about order. Whether it’s vigilante actors in the streets or Jan. 6 rioters, they see themselves and their supporters see them as upholding the proper order of things. So to hold them accountable is illegitimate because it’s favoring disorder. 

It seems like rioting to overthrow an election, and organizing to overthrow it, is the disorder!

And in the New York subway case, to me the disorder is choking someone to death. New York has a real homelessness problem, and the fact that the city and the state has failed to address homelessness and mental illness is a real thing. Being in a subway car with an aggressive homeless person is unsettling. And yet, lethal force and violence is a dramatic line to cross. That fundamentally changes the social order. To my mind, the choking to death is the really disordered thing here. Many people don’t perceive it that way.  

Vigilante violence on a subway is something different than political violence in a “stolen election.” But what do you think the risk is for democracy?

American electoral democracy has coexisted pretty comfortably with dramatic violence over the course of history. The time I always refer back to is Reconstruction, where there is pervasive violence related directly to elections. People assaulting registrars, assaulting and killing voters, etc. For a long time after the 1960’s we’ve had very little. Now, things like the subway choking or vigilante killings have a political valence, even if they’re not overtly around politics. And there’s a risk that acceptance for politically identified vigilante violence opens up space for electoral violence. Both are bad. But both can coexist in a big country in a way that doesn’t bear on a typical person’s experience in an election. Sporadic political violence is really the norm in America, and we may have lived through the exception. 

It’s strange to feel like there’s more political violence coming but maybe we can live it. 

This is clarifying. If the violence is sporadic and inchoate I don’t necessarily think it has much of an impact. But if it’s specific and targeted at particular groups and classes of people, then that can begin to really raise the stakes in a dangerous way for democracy. Especially if it’s not addressed and prosecuted, it can degrade the citizenship of those other people. This is what happens in Reconstruction. Unpunished violence against Black people raises the stakes in elections but also just degrades the citizenship of Black Americans in the South. 

I was wondering how we were going to get from subway violence and anti-protester violence to accountability for the coup attempt and I think we just I think we just tied them together.

I’ve written about this. When people commit violence with impunity, it creates the conditions for more violence. Jan. 6, is an interesting case because the actual people on the ground have been held legally accountable, but the political leaders responsible, so far, have been able to go about their merry way. And I think that’s a sign of how American political culture doesn’t really know how to deal with that type of thing, and never has. You know, the leaders of the Confederacy mostly died at home, in their beds. Not in prison, not exiled, not kicked out of politics, but just peacefully at home. And this country has a very difficult time dealing with erstwhile legitimate political actors who attempt to overturn the system. And so that says to me, from the subway to Jan. 6, there’s a lot at stake here.

There’s probably a lot more accountability to come this summer. Don’t miss a charge! Sign your friends up for Breaking the Vote!

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Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, US, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, US, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A Nikki wicket

Former South Carolina Governor and GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley made news in Iowa yesterday with this bold statement about Jan. 6: “It was not a beautiful day, it was a terrible day, and we don’t ever want that to happen again.” Haley added that rioters and other lawbreakers should “pay the price.” The comments were widely reported as an oblique attack on primary frontrunner Donald Trump, which is exactly what they were. 

Of course, what’s most notable about Haley’s comments is how unremarkable they should be. “Jan. 6 was bad, not beautiful” and “lawbreakers should be punished” are banal and basic statements for any non-sociopathic politician (or person) interested in the governance of lawfulness. For the Trumpist GOP, they’re fightin’ words. Tells you an awful lot! 



Donald Trump did a lot more than insult a woman moderator and lie his ass off during last week’s CNN “town hall.” He also might have admitted to a crime! 

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released 16 documents to Special Counsel Jack Smith as part of the Mar-a-Lago docs probe. On Tuesday the agency told Trump the docs show that he and his advisors were made aware of the proper procedures for handling or declassifying documents. That could be important as the Special Counsel investigates whether Trump knowingly mishandled defense materials, a possible crime under the Espionage Act. In short, it goes directly to Trump’s intent to take the documents, before even getting to the question of possible obstruction.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, wrote to Congress last month arguing that aides “quickly packed everything into boxes and shipped them to Florida” at the end of Trump’s presidency and that Trump had no intention of taking documents. On CNN, in front of 3 million live viewers that probably included a few prosecutors, Trump had a different view. 

“I took the documents,” Trump said. “I’m allowed to.”

By the way, Parlatore quit Trump’s legal team this week. 

It’s just motions taking me over

Fulton County DA Fani Willis made it clear she controls all our summers when she set mid-July as the time she could announce charges in the Georgia election case. In the meantime, she’s filing motions trying to get Judge Robert McBurney to bat away Trump’s efforts to quash both the reports and evidence that came out of the Special Purpose Grand Jury. 

Sued oft Giuliani

Add Noelle Dunphy to Rudolph Giuliani’s long list of lingering legal liabilities. Rudy’s former employee says he cheated her out of nearly $2 million in promised wages, while sexually coercing her and filling the workplace with sexist, racist, and antisemitic remarks. She’s suing, and says she has tapes. 

Rudy denies all the allegations. But it adds just another legal headache for Trump’s former personal lawyer: He’s being sued for defamation by voting machine companies Dominion and Smartmatic, and by former Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman. He’s a target in the Fulton County criminal election probe, and could also be implicated in the federal Special Counsel investigation of the coup attempt. 

Oh, yeah, and the guy who Giuliani claimed assaulted him, after he patted Rudy on the back and called him a “scumbag,” also sued him this week for a cool $2 million.  

Dunphy, who’s asking for $10 million in damages, also says she witnessed Rudy try to sell pardons for $2 million a pop at the end of Trump’s presidency. Investigators have known about that allegation since early 2021.

How can you Nazi this?

You already know that Rep. Paul Gosar is associated with Trump dining companion and white nationalist and Nick Fuentes. Now read all about how Gosar’s digital director is a major online supporter of the neo-Nazi leader who attended both the 2017 “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally and Jan. 6. Wade Searle is a major influencer for Fuentes, “posting extremist, anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-vaccine content,” according to Talking Points Memo. 

As of this writing, Searle is still a staffer in good standing in Gosar’s office and has faced no repercussions for being exposed as a white supremacist influencer. 

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“Hi fascists! No one likes you. You’ve all got different types of pants on. Cargo pants are out!”

— An anonymous cyclist stopping by a recent rally of the neo-Nazi Patriot Front in Washington, D.C. 

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Supreme beating — One of the only judges who supported Trump’s stolen-election claims in 2020 lost her bid to run for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court this week. Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough lost the GOP primary for November’s Supreme Court race to Montgomery County Judge Carolyn Carlucci on Tuesday. McCullough halted the certification of Pennsylvania’s presidential vote in November, 2020, before that move was unanimously reversed by the state Supreme Court. She had the backing of failed PA governor candidate and election conspiracy theorist Doug Mastriano.

Kentucky lies lickin’ —  Meanwhile, in Kentucky, an election-defending GOP Secretary of State easily fended off Trumpist conspiracists in the SoS primary. Incumbent Sec. Michael Adams expanded voting access alongside Kentucky’s Dem governor and refused to bend to the state’s significant contingent of GOP election deniers. He defeated Stephen Knipper, who ran on a platform of voting machine fraud, vote manipulation, and 2020 conspiracy theories. 

“The other lesson I’ve learned… is if you feed the tiger, it still eats you. If you cave and get into these conspiracy theories, all it does is validate them. I’m not going to fall for that,” Adams said

Laking claim — Losing GOP governor candidate Kari Lake was back in Arizona court, in her second effort to overturn her defeat in the 2022 midterms After killing all of her other election-related claims, a Maricopa county judge let Lake go to trial on the narrow claim that county election officials didn’t to any signature verification on 274,000 ballots. The judge put a super high bar on Lake’s claims, and it… hasn’t gone great. Even Lake’s own witnesses have acknowledged they participated in signature verification like they were trained to do. It’s a bench trial, meaning no jury. 

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