Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

Trump's Assassination Fantasy Has a Darker Purpose

| May 23, 2024

The ex-president's stories of his own victimization make violence by his supporters far more likely.

When Donald Trump insinuated this week that his successor and the FBI were out to kill him, he showed how central violence has become to his conception of political leadership. The former president declared Tuesday on Truth Social, his social-media platform, that he "was shown reports Crooked Joe Biden's DOJ, in their illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL FORCE)."

Trump has a way of projecting his own vices onto others. His view of presidential power is absolute—to the point that his lawyer recently argued before the Supreme Court that ordering the military to assassinate a political rival "could well be an official act." There is probably some limiting principle to this particular argument, but the fact that the issue is even under discussion is not a good sign for our democracy. Perhaps he believes that Biden was out to shoot him because he thinks that's an order that presidents can freely give.

The genesis of the former president's complaint is that, when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 to obtain classified documents that were at the center of an investigation, agents were explicitly authorized to use force. This was not remotely unusual: FBI agents are routinely armed. The "reports" that Trump saw misinterpreted the parameters of the search, which—as the security analysts Asha Rangappa and Tom Joscelyn explained in Just Security—was guided by elaborate restrictions on when weapons could be used. The FBI subsequently said it followed a "standard policy statement limiting the use of force." Attorney General Merrick Garland noted today that similar conditions were used in a search related to classified documents at Biden's home in Delaware.

The FBI had also carefully arranged to enter Trump's property when he would be out of state—an odd way of carrying out an assassination....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“Trump's Assassination Fantasy Has a Darker Purpose.” The Atlantic, May 23, 2024.

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