On Monday, during a speech by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk in Boise, an audience member asked the question the American conservative movement has been dying to have answered:
“This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns? No, and I’m not — that’s not a joke. I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”
This is shocking only if you have not encountered the far right before, or even had an informal conversation with someone who watches a bit too much Fox News and totally would have joined the Marines man if it weren’t for their flat feet or something.
What’s interesting, though, is what surrounded this bit in both the audience member’s question and what Kirk was saying onstage.
Kirk was quick to denounce this portion of the question, saying that calling for violence was “playing into all their plans,” meaning the Democrats/ left/ whoever, and that “We are close to having momentum to be able to get this country back on a trajectory using the peaceful means that we have at us.”
The second part of that is true: Republicans have the judiciary, it has the cops, it effectively, if not technically, has the legislature, and it will almost certainly regain the executive branch in the next decade. But it has all that because right-wing pundits like Kirk have tolerated, encouraged, and in other cases outright inspired the far-right’s petulant inclination towards violence for years.
Right after “denouncing violence”, Kirk went on to lay out a plan for “peacefully” getting states like Idaho to essentially secede from the country (all transcripts here via Media Matters for America’s work documenting this):
The line is when we exhaust every single one of our state ability to push back against what’s happening. We haven’t even started. We have not even started the process of having Idaho or states like Idaho get back to self-government as our founders envisioned. They gave us state sovereignty. You outnumber the liberals like eight to one here in this state. Why don’t we start to use that muscle peacefully through local government, through city council?
And so what is the line? Look, man, I think, I think we’re – I think we’re at the teetering edge of a regime that knows that good and decent Americans are going to get to the place in the movie Network, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore, right? Well, guess what? Know that there’s a deeper game at play. Understand the psychological warfare that’s being played here. They’re trying to animate you. They’re trying to get you to do something that then justifies what they actually want to do. So what’s the solution? We need to start to demand Idaho to be Idaho, and the federal government can stay out of the state of Idaho for most, just about everything.
You could, like CNN did here, give Kirk credit here for advocating peaceful solutions. But the “solutions” he is advocating are for solving the “problem” of the government saying you should wear a mask and take a vaccine for a disease so deadly it has already killed 739,000 people in the U.S. (and also all the other stuff about taxes and guns or whatever bugbear the right is using to mobilize people to vote against their own self-interest).
But more importantly, what Kirk is also saying is that there is a line that can be crossed, and that at a certain point, violence is the answer. He is personally insulated from any backlash here because he disavowed violence at this time, so clearly, if someone jumps the gun and shoots up a school board meeting it’s not his fault, because he would only ever advocate for “peaceful” expressions of power at school board meetings or protests—like showing up with guns (in open carry states) and yelling at people.
The modern conservative movement, and in particular the people rallying its base by dog-whistling to the far right, basically only exists these days because of the concept of plausible deniability. This is their wheelhouse, and they’re just good enough at it that they largely still get a pass from the mainstream media. No one at the New York Times is going to come out and call Madison Cawthorn a white nationalist, even though half the things he says are vaguely white nationalist and he won’t stop liking posts by an account called “Worth__fighting__for” that only posts “traditional” (white) aesthetic memes on Instagram. Ditto for Kirk, Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, and so on.
At a certain point, it’s unrealistic to expect mainstream institutions to get with the program. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to take it at face value. We can see it for what it is: a tool to keep the dumbest and angriest among us involved enough to establish minority rule in the country.