Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

How MAGA Extremism Ends

| Jan. 12, 2021

If Trump keeps losing, the risk of future violence will abate.

For the past four years, Donald Trump has been playing two roles: one as president, and the other as the rallying point for a coalition of theocrats, internet fantasists, white supremacists, and various other authoritarians who are in no way committed to peaceful transitions of power. Wednesday’s insurrection at the United States Capitol made Trump’s latter role all too clear.

Before he incited the deadly attack, Trump still might have had a future in politics. Even after losing his reelection bid, Trump had been well positioned to launch his own media brand, maintain his spell over other Republicans, and make life hard for his Democratic successor, Joe Biden. But Trump’s role in the violent insurrection—which was intended to overturn the 2020 election and literally drove members of Congress into hiding—could and should turn him into an outcast. He’s been banned from Twitter. Many Republicans are distancing themselves. Some of his Fox News proxies are expressing shock at his actions. Trump even lost Bill O’Reilly and the PGA of America.

As the defeated president’s critics implore Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatens another impeachment, the president’s defenders are calling for mercy and unity. But the history of counterterrorism suggests that letting Trump off easily is exactly the wrong strategy. It will only encourage further extremism by his most fervent supporters.

“When the leadership promoting extremism is broken, it ends. If there are still opportunities to rebuild or recraft a strategy, it will give recruits hope,” Farah Pandith, the author of How We Win, a book about defeating extremism, told me. “You need to make it impossible for the group to get oxygen again.”

The decision of what to call the insurrectionists at the Capitol is politically fraught, but it surely fits my definition of domestic terrorism. People do not bring zip-tie handcuffs to the Capitol because they only want to exercise their First Amendment rights. No one who carries the parts for a makeshift gallows can be counted on to stick to peaceful protest. The insurrectionists had the same intention as other terrorist groups throughout history: to exert influence over the government by violently intimidating public officials and average citizens....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“How MAGA Extremism Ends.” The Atlantic, January 12, 2021.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot