Former U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he makes a visit to the Cuban restaurant Versailles after he appeared for an arraignment in connection with allegations he kept classified documents after leaving office, June 13, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Alon Skuy/Getty Images)
On the eve of his federal arrest and arraignment last week, former president and criminal espionage defendant Donald Trump fled to his social media safe place and commanded his fascist foot soldiers to come forth in multitudinous numbers for a big beautiful mob scene at the Miami courthouse.
“ALL HANDS ON DECK! SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY,” he decreed, and Miami police reportedly braced themselves for a as many as 50,000.
As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”
The turnout for Trump – a motley collection of dolts, nuts, and live-streaming loons – peaked that day at somewhere between 500 and 2,000 people.
Bill Mitchell, a prominent radio guy and erstwhile Trumper who has defected to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 GOP primary rival, tweeted: “Nice turnout Trump, you clown.”
According to traditional journalistic metrics, a huge crowd (especially a huge violent crowd) is, by definition, a big story. And an anemic crowd (especially an anemic non-violent crowd) is, by definition, a non-story. But, at least with respect to the teensy Miami freak show, I beg to differ.
Given the fact that Florida is Trump’s home turf, and that more than five million Floridians voted for him in 2020, you do have to wonder why turnout for Trump’s federal bust was such a bust.
Various theories are being banded about. Maybe he’s wearing out the MAGA masses with his roundelay of indictments and arraignments. Maybe they think the classified documents case is no big deal because they think his theft of the documents was no big deal, so maybe they’re waiting for a bigger case (Jan. 6, the 2020 election) to draw them into the streets.
I think it’s simpler than that. They’re afraid of winding up in jail.
Three cheers for the law enforcement authorities, who’ve responded to the Jan. 6 insurrection by dropping the hammer on the domestic terrorists who wreaked havoc and death at the Capitol. The message, from the forces of law and order, is obvious: If you take to the streets and commit a crime, you’ll get cuffed and may well do the time.
That seems like the best explanation for the anemic turnout in Miami, and the anemic turnout in New York two months ago when Trump was arraigned on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The Justice Department has made it crystal clear that if you raise hell in a MAGA mob that spins out of control, the consequences for your life could be dire.
When I last checked, more than 1,033 insurrectionists have been arrested for their Jan. 6 actions, 570 have pleaded guilty, 277 have been sentenced to jail terms, and 113 have been sentenced to home detention. A top insurrectionist leader, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced last month to 18 years in federal prison; the judge told Rhodes, “You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy.”
It’s called deterrence. What aspiring agitator wants to risk a close encounter with feds who mean business?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar of authoritarianism, tweeted this week that “prosecuting criminals protects society from further extremist violence. Trumpworld can heroicize the (Jan. 6) thugs, but the message that they will be held accountable is received…Prosecution of crimes sets an example (to show) democratic institutions able to work without threat or interference.”
Still, let’s not get giddy. The MAGA shock troops are busy at the grassroots, attacking gay people and harassing school boards, and Jeff Sharlet, who writes about what he calls America’s “slow civil war” is correct when he warns that mocking MAGA’s clownishness “is no antidote to fascism, a term that more and more historians and political scientists say at last applies to a mass American movement, even as many news organizations still shy away from it.”
I don’t shy away from it. But the federal law enforcement response to Jan. 6 should inspire all who love to democracy to defend it and fight for it wherever the seeds of sedition take root.
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