It was only two words, but it says a lot about the mindset of former President Donald Trump and some of his most hardcore supporters.
Trump reposted a message stating “civil war” on his Truth Social app over the weekend, seemingly suggesting that the U.S. is on the brink of civil war.
This kind of rhetoric isn’t new on the far right, but the fact that Trump himself is elevating these messages is alarming, as convincing your side that you’re already in a civil war is a good way to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dire, existential rhetoric has repeatedly inspired actual violence in the U.S. The recent murder of 10 people in Buffalo by a shooter convinced by the “great replacement” theory is just the latest violent tragedy inspired by extreme philosophy. Those who are convinced they’re already at war may be more likely to start shooting.
Right-wing discussion of a coming “civil war” has been building for years. And the types of people warning of it have grown increasingly powerful.
Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano warned in a 2001 master’s thesis at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College of a possible “Hitlerian putsch” from the left that would necessitate a civil war, and argued that the U.S. military “only institution to prevent the destruction of the republic” against threats from civilian leadership and the left.
And the head of the Claremont Institute, the powerful think tank affiliated with a number of top Trump administration officials (as well as the lawyer behind Trump’s Jan. 6 coup attempt), has been publicly pushing the idea that the U.S. is locked in a “cold civil war” that conservatives must fight against “woke communists.”
North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn warned last summer that “If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s gonna lead to one place, and that’s bloodshed.” Trump ally, Fox News regular and former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova claimed on Laura Ingraham’s podcast that “We are in a civil war” and warned listeners to buy guns in 2019. And former Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King said in 2018 that “America is heading in the direction of another Harpers Ferry” and shared a 2019 meme saying that if civil war comes, the right has “8 trillion bullets” and would win.
Multiple local GOP officials spoke of civil war in the run-up to and aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection as well.
It’s notable that shortly after Trump “re-truthed” this post (yes, that’s what Truth Social calls its version of retweeting), he “re-truthed” another post calling to “Free all January 6 political prisoners,” which called the rioters patriots.
Concerns about civil war—or at least risks of building political violence—aren’t confined to the right. Just a few days ago, liberal-leaning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a piece warning of the risks of potentially irreversible and deepening divisions in American society.
Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who called Trump out for the “civil war” post, warned back in February that "we have to recognize" the threat that deepening social divisions could, indeed, lead to civil war.
But there’s a big difference between warning about the collapse of society and rooting for it into existence. And Trump—and his allies—seem firmly in the latter camp.