If you need a chilling preview of what a MAGA Republican Congress will do if put into power on Tuesday, Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and his Republican colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee just provided it. On November 4, they issued a minority members’ staff report seeking to undermine the FBI by shamelessly portraying it as partisan and dishonest.
The report accuses the FBI and its “woke forces” of “artificially inflating statistics about domestic violent extremism” in order “to feign a national problem.” This at a time when news outlets report accelerating threats daily against election officials; armed gunmen “monitoring” Arizona drop boxes; and even a hammer attack on the husband of the House Speaker by a home invader committed to the false “stolen election” narrative that Jordan himself helped popularize.
The public record eviscerates the specific claims that the Republican minority’s report makes. For example, it asserts that “[t]he FBI appears to have manufactured . . . the attempted kidnapping of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.” As evidence, the report cites arguments from the kidnappers’ defense counsel that the FBI “set up” the scheme.
But the report omits this minor detail: In August, a Michigan jury convicted the ringleaders of the kidnapping plot and rejected their entrapment defense. The Detroit Free Press described the proceeding as a “trial that highlighted the growth of violent extremism in America.” (Seven members of the militia group, Wolverine Watchmen, have been convicted in connection with the plot and two acquitted.)
The Republican report is a classic example of the Alice-in-Wonderland messaging that Donald Trump has mastered: Accuse the other side of dishonesty, the very behavior that he and his allies promote, tolerate, and excuse. The aim is to confuse the public about who is telling the truth so that ordinary people busy with their lives disengage and give up trying to figure out the facts. That keeps citizens from cohering as a unified force to safeguard the institutions that protect us.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder put it best: “Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves.”
For politicians like Trump aiming to garner power for themselves, it isn’t enough to villainize your opponents and sow discord by undermining public confidence in elections. It takes a multi-pronged effort targeting every institution built up over decades to defend the Constitution.
Among the most important of those institutions is nonpartisan law enforcement. An apolitical FBI is crucial for keeping ours an orderly society based on the rule of law.
That kind of FBI is a clear threat to autocrats who mean to put themselves above the law. So they seek to “investigate the investigators,” accusing the country’s premier law enforcement of becoming politicized so they can weaken the agency in the public mind. As we have seen in every totalitarian society, dictators need to control police forces to control the population.
Here’s the current irony. Republicans have centered their midterm messaging around rising crime. Then they attack the federal agency meant to control it. Demagogues like Jordan and his colleagues, allied as they are with Trump, want to tarnish as “partisan” the FBI’s investigation of the seditious plots hatched as the former administration’s end game. They want us to deny that the attempt to overturn the Constitution took place or to consider it unimportant.
To do that is to give up on America as the experiment its founders envisioned. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, one of the great difficulties “[i]n framing a government which is to be administered by men over men . . . lies in oblig[ing the government] to control itself.”
History tells us that totalitarianism starts by delegitimizing government institutions upon which law and order stand. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, has tweeted, “You delegitimize the sitting govt & depict it as an existential threat. Polarizing people thru disinfo is just the start; you get them into survival mode so they see violence as necessary.”
Polarization through disinformation is precisely what the Republican minority’s report is designed to do, and its release is plainly timed for the midterms and beyond.
Jim Jordan is in line to chair the House Judiciary Committee if Republicans take over Congress in January. You can bet that FBI Director Chris Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland will be hauled before the committee and lashed with the kind of false MAGA narratives that the November 4 minority members’ staff report foreshadows. That, in turn, will all be about preparing to turn America’s premier law enforcement agency into a McCarthy-esque inquisitorial tool in the Republican presidential administration that they are preparing for.
The FBI’s nonpartisan future on the ballot on Tuesday. And so is our freedom.