The GOP’s ‘Terrifying’ Embrace of Violence Pre-Election

The callousness about the Paul Pelosi attack just shows how low they'll go.
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Former U.S. President Donald Trump embraces Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake at a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

By this time next week, we’ll know a lot more about how many anti-democratic candidates will be in place to subvert elections for Donald Trump. President Joe Biden decided to take one more crack at sketching the stakes this week, laying out the horror of the politically motivated attack on Paul Pelosi and urging Americans to vote like democracy is in the balance. No one I know has been covering the breadth of disinformation and extremism like VICE News’ David Gilbert, so I called him up to see where we are in this last weekend before Election Day. Our convo has been edited for length. 

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Ever since Paul Pelosi had his head beaten with a hammer, we’ve seen this concerted effort in right-wing media to cement disinformation around the attack. What does this episode say about the state of disinformation heading into the election?

Even for someone who tracks it all the time, I found the speed and ferocity of the disinformation surrounding the attack was remarkable. Within hours, there were wild conspiracies being shared on fringe sites. After a few more hours, those conspiracies had gone mainstream via GOP lawmakers like Ted Cruz and figures like Donald Trump Jr., and ultimately, Donald Trump himself. It just shows how willing Republicans and all the people in that orbit are to dismiss reality and accept something that is obviously and easily debunked, but helps push their own narrative, demonizing their opposition. 

It seems to me there’s also something stark and new on the violence part of it. Had the Speaker of the House been home, she could have gotten her head bashed in. And some Republicans were happy to simply enjoy and play with that.

What was so shocking was the conspiracies were almost immediately matched with jokes. Donald Trump Jr. and others were posting pictures of a Halloween costume with a hammer and a pair of underwear. At a campaign event this week, Kari Lake made a joke about the attack and it got the biggest laugh of the night. The callousness of that is quite terrifying. It’s startling to see mainstream politicians being so callous and inhumane when an 82-year-old man is attacked in his home with a hammer and almost dies.

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You’ve been reporting this week on intimidation and disinformation efforts around voting. What are you seeing? 

Disinformation has been ramping up online, but now that the election is coming up we’re seeing it transferring into the real world. We’re seeing voters being intimidated in their houses and at polling places. In Texas, there were several reports of people standing outside polling stations and suddenly demanding voters hand over their smartphones or smartwatches, which is not required by law. Some of the people making demands were not even election workers. And a lot of those reports are related to Black voters voting in predominantly white areas. 

I also reported on a local Republican precinct chair who was knocking on doors and alleging that residents were voting illegally by mail, which was completely inaccurate. By all accounts, this person was extremely aggressive when doing this, which again, is something that we haven't seen in previous elections.

What did you make of the joint DHS/ FBI bulletin on the potential for violence? 

What surprised me most was that they specifically said they’re worried about lone wolf or individual attacks, especially by individuals who have been radicalized online since 2020 by the lies about the stolen election. I reported on one person on the r/TheDonald subreddit posting the exact type of extremist messages the FBI is looking at. He said that anyone who turns up at a dropbox is going to be met with violence. That’s all it takes for one person who has been radicalized online. Paul Pelosi’s alleged attacker was radicalized online and became convinced that Nancy Pelosi was the devil incarnate. So how many more people are out there who believe that the election was stolen after two years of listening to this lie? And now they believe that it’s going to happen again, because that’s what they’re being told. For me, that was the most troubling part of the DHS memo.

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There have been limited cases of voters feeling intimidated at ballot drop boxes in Arizona. But reports of intimidation are relatively few there, so far. How bad is the problem?

I think we have no idea. I agree, the ballot drop box watching stuff seems to be quite limited at the moment. But there was a Reuters report talking about non-sanctioned door knocking campaigns where people aggressively seek information about when people vote, how they vote. That’s happening in 23 different states. There’s been a huge increase in the number of people signing up to be poll watchers on Tuesday. But if you look at what’s happening already in the early voting places in Texas, Arizona, Michigan, and elsewhere, there are already indications that those poll watchers are being aggressive and trying to intimidate voters. And if that does happen across the country, especially in swing states, then we could have a real problem.

We’ll be there until all the votes are counted. Sign up your friends for Breaking the Vote!

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T.W.I.S.™ Notes

DOJ doesn’t make any politically sensitive moves within 60 days of an election (usually), but This Week in Subpoenas, news is still going full-tilt all over the Trumpist crime universe.  

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- Acquired immunity 

Gotten your booster yet? I promise you’re not protected like Kash Patel. Trump’s most loyal operator now has an immunity deal in the grand jury investigating the Mar-a-Lago documents case. That’s big, because Trump put Patel in charge of dealing with the National Archives when the agency came calling for its documents in June 2021.

But Patel took the Fifth when asked about the classified documents Trump took from the White House, and Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he declassified them. Patel says Trump stated that all documents removed to the White House residence were declassified, but that the president’s staff maybe didn’t do the paperwork to prove that. It’s a more nuanced story than Trump’s batshit assertion that he could have declassified top-secret documents with his mind

Patel repeats his story in the right-wing media, where lying’s a breeze, but what will he say under oath? And that’s the point: The immunity deal was the only way prosecutors could get Patel to talk. But he has to testify—fully and truthfully—or risk jail. And taking the Fifth isn’t an option. 

- Reply all-ful

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Newly released emails sure make it look like Trump smart-phone cowboy and coup lawyer John Eastman knowingly tried to obstruct the lawful transfer of power right before Jan. 6. The emails show that Eastman and fellow Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro were hoping to use Justice Clarence Thomas to delay Joe Biden’s certification on Jan. 6 and overturn the election. 

The guys hoped Thomas would use the high court’s shadow docket to throw Georgia’s results into doubt long enough that Congress would delay certifying its electors on Jan. 6. We know that Eastman was running point with Trump in pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to instigate the delay. (There also happened to be a riot that day, which delayed the proceedings a bit.) 

These are the same emails Eastman tried to hide from the January 6 committee until a federal judge ruled they’re not protected by attorney-client privilege because they contain evidence of a possible criminal conspiracy between Eastman and Trump. Welp, now prosecutors have seen ‘em too. 

- The Rhodes less traveled

The government rested its seditious conspiracy case against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his four co-defendants after a month of testimony, without calling several militia members who pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors. Rhodes is expected to testify as the defense starts its case in this first Jan. 6 sedition trial. 

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- Fani Willis, Graham cracker

The Supreme Court says Sen. Lindsey Graham has to testify in front of DA Fani Willis’ Fulton County grand jury, which is investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn Georgia’s election. Graham can still challenge questions that tread into official senator duties, which are protected under the Constitution. But prosecutors are sure to ask about the phone calls he made to Georgia election officials, where he inquired about tossing out mail-in ballots unlikely to lean for Trump, as well as any communications he had with the Trump campaign about Georgia. 

PA can’t Baer it

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ordered election officials not to count improperly dated mail-in ballots that arrive by Election Day, though the court also said the ballots have to be saved in case future rulings require them to be counted. 

The court was split 3-3 on whether using erroneous date markings to disqualify otherwise-valid ballots unreasonably disenfranchises voters. The court ruled in 2020 that it does, but Chief Justice Max Baer has since died, leaving a dead-lockable court. 

Republicans have filed many, many lawsuits to count fewer Dem-leaning mail-in ballots, and called this ruling a “massive win.” 

DeSantis’ mission accomplished

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Read VICE News’ Paul Blest and Trone Dowd on how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ very public crackdown on voting by ineligible former felons is intimidating other returning citizens from voting, even though their rights were restored under state law. 

BTW, don’t miss Liz Landers and Shrai Popat’s interview with Florida’s secretary of state on how hard the government is making it for former felons to vote.

Apostate for two

Pro-democracy Rep. and GOP heretic Liz Cheney endorsed two Democrats this week. Cheney backed Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in his Senate race against Trumpist Republican JD Vance, who parroted Trump’s disinformation about the 2020 election. Cheney also endorsed Dem Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who’s defending a Republican-leaning district in Michigan against an election-denying challenger. 

Last month Cheney urged Arizonans not to vote for conspiracist candidates like Kari Lake and Mark Finchem. “I don’t know if I have ever voted for a Democrat, but if I lived in Arizona now, I absolutely would for governor and for secretary of state,” she said.

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“After leaving the Capitol grounds, the group went back to the hotel then to the Olive Garden for dinner. [Redacted] did not want to go to the Olive Garden but agreed to go with Person 10.” - FBI transcript of a witness with taste who was with the Oath Keepers after their assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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Rampant voter fraud unlike we’ve ever seen — Two notorious right-wing scammers pleaded guilty to fraud, in a scheme using thousands of robocalls to discourage voters from voting by mail in 2020. One of the pair, Jacob Wohl, is a smear-artist internet-infamous for gems like trying to accuse Robert Mueller of sexual misconduct.

Heads, I win — Wisconsin is already so heavily gerrymandered that its Legislature is a national model for undemocratic governance. Now GOP governor candidate Tim Michels says that if he wins, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin.” 

“We’re out of options” — Watch two young men from my home state of Pennsylvania tell a reporter that America will face civil war if Republicans lose in the midterms.

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America can have democracy or political violence. Not both. NEW YORK TIMES

Inside the movement to root out nonexistent election fraud in Texas. TEXAS MONTHLY

The dark heart of the Republican Party. THE ATLANTIC