The Coup Next Time

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S1: I think of Barton Gellman as a little bit of a prophet. He puts it differently.

S2: I feel like the bad news correspondent of the Catastrophe correspondent, and there are jokes in our household about not reading my stories at bedtime.

S1: Back in the fall of 2020, before we knew who would be elected president or what, the weeks and months after that election would look and feel like, Barton wrote this article. It was called the election that could break America. And when I read it, I thought, God, this guy is dramatic. Did you did you hear from people after that piece with that sentiment like, Oh boy, dread, I guess?

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S2: Yeah. Well, so I heard dread and concern and what can we do? And then I also heard people saying that it was really inconceivable what I was talking about, that this just wasn’t going to happen. And the Biden campaign at the time did not consider this article to be on message. They were afraid of scaring voters. If people felt fatalistic, then they wouldn’t show up

S1: at the polls. We all know what followed a contested election. Dozens of lawsuits, all of it culminating in a crowd of people storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

S2: I certainly didn’t predict that there would be a riot at the Capitol and that a mob would come to the seat of Congress and try to prevent. The counting of electoral votes, but it fit the pattern I was describing, and the events of January six weren’t a part of a coherent plan to prevent Biden’s victory from being certified and leading to his swearing in.

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S1: But you thought the risk was mostly political, not physical.

S2: I was not anticipating that there would be a noose and screams of hang Mike Pence as crowd searched the Capitol for him. No.

S1: Now, Barton has written a new piece. It’s called Trump’s next coup has already begun. I think it’s easy to feel like the storm has passed, but I wonder a year later if you are more or less anxious about all of the things that you wrote about back in 2020.

S2: I’m more worried that I was last time. Trump has a greater likelihood of success in overthrowing the next election than he did the last one.

S1: Today on the show, all the things that happened after January 6th are just as important as what took place on the day itself. Maybe more so. Barton Gellman explains Why I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what? Next? Stick around. Your latest work, you you try to understand not just how January 6th happened, but what it means for what might happen next. And you talked to some of these people who you say were summoned and still don’t trust the 2020 election results. You focus in on one man named Richard Patterson. He’s a retired New York firefighter. You got to know. Can you explain how you met him?

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S2: I met him walking around at a protest on behalf of the Jan. six defendants. It was called justice for January six, and the conceit of the of the demonstration was that these were Pelosi’s political prisoners and that they needed to be released.

S1: Had he participated in January 6th?

S2: He did not. He did not come, he would have, but he got thwarted in coming so.

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S1: He was looking at the same images on television that I was. But how did he see them differently?

S2: Well, actually, Don, that’s the fascinating thing. He he is not getting his news from mainstream sources. He had seen played over and over and over again the video in which there are three or four Capitol Police officers at a bicycle barricade and they pull the barricade back and give up because they’re outnumbered and they can’t defend the barricade and they simply stand aside and let protesters sweep past them. And he was told over and over again that that meant that the police were inviting the protesters to come into the Capitol. Huh. He had not seen what we’ve all seen, which is the footage of protesters beating police with flagpoles and hockey sticks and fire extinguishers and baseball bats and hand-to-hand combat and crushing officer Daniel Hodges in a doorway. He simply hadn’t seen that stuff and did not believe that the Jan. six protests were violent. And when I sort of showed him that they were violent, he blamed interlopers. He said that it must have been antifa and the way he had heard it. There were U.S. special forces in and among and allied with antifa in a plot that was both by Nancy Pelosi and also the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, both working together that had had sent in special forces with Antifa to pretend to be Trump supporters to make them look bad. Hmm. Which sounds absolutely crazy. Loopy, probably too many of the listeners of this podcast, but he honestly believed it.

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S1: Barton wanted to know where someone would encounter a theory this far out. So he asked the firefighter where he was getting his information, and he pointed Barton to Rumble, a YouTube style website popular with conservatives where a military guy was pushing these kinds of ideas.

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S2: And I went and found, and there’s a retired U.S. Air Force general guy named McInerney, who in fact did claim that special forces with Antifa had gone in and they had seized Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and found evidence of her treason on this laptop. And the evidence was about to be made public again, a kind of nutty, baseless story. But I wanted to trace that back, so I called up Mac underneath the general, and I asked him how he knew there were special forces there. And he said, well, they had short hair and looked physically fit. They looked like special forces. He wasn’t there, by the way. And I said, How did you know they took Nancy Pelosi’s laptop? He said, Well, somebody saw them with something square underneath their coat. So I said, so you don’t know whether it was a laptop and you don’t know whether it was Nancy Pelosi’s and you couldn’t possibly know what’s on it. And he basically acknowledged that and the thing to know about this guy is this this same general was all over the right wing ecosystem of information. Here’s what he said on Rumble was reproduced on info World Wars, the Alex Jones site and Gateway Pundit and I love Trump dot com and all these other websites and social media. He’s a regular commentator with Michael Flynn. This guy is regarded as an authority in Trump world, and so I went back to my firefighter friend and said, This guy does know he’s talking about. I mean, look, this is his basis for saying it. And Patterson, the firefighter, he just wouldn’t believe me. He had been subjected to such a volume of propaganda that. He just was not budging from from that knowledge.

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S1: One of the things that you note about the firefighter that you met is that he’s had years of grievances with the world around him and how it’s changing, like you talk about how he wanted to be a firefighter and affirmative action seemed to get in his way. And you know, he’s part of a declining white minority in his Bronx neighborhood. Why did you want to note that

S2: I picked this firefighter, in part because he fit the profile nationally of the people that political scientists have identified as the group that is inclined to believe two propositions? One is. That Biden is illegitimate and too, is that violence is justified to restore Trump to power. That’s eight percent of the population, or about 21 million people, according to public opinion data gathered at the University of Chicago. It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of American adults, and most of them own guns, and one in six of them are prior military and they could make a lot of trouble. The other thing about that group, if you ask what they think about, you know, a whole long list of political opinions and propositions. There’s only one that gets sort of supermajority support from them, and that is that white people are being replaced by minorities in this country, which is also known as the great replacement theory. It is a formerly fringe belief by white power white supremacist groups that there’s a secret elite who’s trying to manipulate the country by bringing in more and more minorities to displace white people from their rightful place in society. The strongest correlation the researchers found among the people arrested for crimes on January six was that they came from counties where the white share of population in their county had declined from one census to the other.

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S1: The researcher that you’re alluding to, who’s who’s studied, the people who are involved, the January six, the people who support it. He made interesting historical comparisons to me. Well, he looked at the Jan. six rioters and he compared them to anti-Muslim Serbs that were egged on by Slobodan Milosevic. He can also compare Jan. six rioters to Catholic Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the Troubles. How is this historical parallel clarifying for you? Because for me, I see that and I think, whoa, that feels really different than what’s going on here. Why does it not feel different to him and maybe to you?

S2: This guy’s name is Robert Pape. He’s a political scientist at Chicago. He has spent a career studying political violence. The comparison he made to the Muslims in the service was like this. He looked at Trump’s own speech, and he did a close analysis of Trump’s speech on January 6th and said that it reminded him of a notorious speech that Slobodan Milosevic had made in 1989, in which he told Serbs that Muslims in the former Yugoslavia were trying to extinguish them or trying to displace them, that the fate of the nation was being decided, that they, the Serbs, were the where the real patriots and had to act now or forever lose their place in society. And he said that same message which manipulated toward political violence, is the message that Trump described in his Jan. six speech. And then we talked about Northern Ireland in a different context, and that was just the context of the eight percent that we were talking about earlier. And, you know, in other polls, the number of Americans who believe that there may soon come a day when violence is required, which is a slightly softer version of that statement that was 12 percent support among Americans.

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S1: So by no means a majority,

S2: by no means a majority, but a lot of people. And he’s I mentioned the 12 percent to him and he said, Well, let’s look at Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. There were 13 percent of Irish Catholics in the North who believed that violence was justified to get out from under British rule. And within a year, the Provisional IRA was formed and had substantial support from among the wider population. It doesn’t take more than that to foster violence.

S1: Yeah, he’s saying a spark is what causes a fire.

S2: Right? So what he’s worried about is another spark from Republican elites, from a party leader word and specifically from Trump. Trump summoned the mob to Washington on January six, and he’s capable of summoning them again.

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S1: I wonder how you think of the differences in these comparisons, though, too, like I was thinking about that Slobodan Milosevic speech. And I was thinking, how, you know, he was in his 40s when he started fanning the flames of ethnic hatred like that. Donald Trump is 75. And I’m wondering. If he himself can carry the movement he created forward. And what that means about how durable it is.

S2: Hmm. That’s really interesting. But as you’re implying, biology has an answer to Donald Trump, he’s not going to live forever. But he remains right now as we speak. The overpowering dominant force in Republican politics. And the only politician in the country who has tens of millions of passionate supporters who would do just about anything for him and who see him in a way that they don’t see any other figure in public life.

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S1: We’ll be right back. Barton Gellman says Trump may not need to be around for the groundwork he laid to undo American democracy. That’s because since the election, Republicans have been working at the state level around the country to strip power from some elections officials and flood some of these elections positions themselves. It’s all under the guise of election integrity. States like Arizona, Texas and Georgia, they’ve all made it easier for partisan actors to control election outcomes.

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S2: What’s happened is that Trump’s acolytes and supporters have looked pretty systematically at where his effort to overturn the election failed. What were the points of failure? And it has assaulted each one of those points of failure with kind of a many pronged attack? Let’s just take the example in Georgia. Georgia had a Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, lifetime Republican politician who oversaw the counting of the votes in Georgia. They counted once, and then they recounted, and they recounted again. And after the third time he’s certified Biden’s victory, which was his obligation as a good faith referee of who voted for whom in the state,

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S1: and famously he did this on under a lot of pressure. At some point, he released a phone call that he had with the president, who is pressuring him to find votes.

S2: President was telling him he might be breaking the law by allowing all this so-called fraud to go unpunished. He said fine to me eleven thousand seven hundred eighty votes, which which is the margin that Biden won by just fine me. Those votes, I don’t care how you do it. And even with that pressure, he certified. So what has happened? Trump has endorsed an opponent to unseat him from his job. The state Republican Party has censured him because he did his job at the state. Republican Legislature has changed the law so that the secretary of state no longer has a vote on the certification board. That a stay, even if they don’t push Ratzenberger out of his job in the next election, he won’t have any role in certifying the election. So they’re simply stripping him of that power and for good measure. They’re accusing Fulton County, which is the Democratic stronghold of Atlanta, of all kinds of irregularities in the last election, and therefore the Legislature passed another new law, which gives it the power to fire county election authorities in places like Fulton County and replace them with other people who will be in charge of the count. And so there’s this full bore partisan takeover of the election administration. I mean, it’s one thing to suppress your opponent’s vote. It’s another thing to be able to say, Well, we’re in charge of the counting the vote and we count that we won. And you’re seeing this all over the country. You’re seeing partisans with the explicit justification that Biden stole victory, that Trump really won the election. And because of that, we’re making these partisan changes in the law and will be in charge of counting next time.

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S1: And this is why your latest article was called Trump’s next coup has already begun. But here’s a direct question. If for some reason he doesn’t run in 2024, how much do you think all this preparation on the Republican’s part matters?

S2: I think it matters a lot. I mean, if people build an apparatus that lets them take control over the election and they do so on the spurious grounds that the winner is not the winner and the loser is not the loser, then I think they’re going to use it.

S1: Meanwhile, the Democrats hold the reins of power in Washington, but they seem unable to stop what’s going on in the states. Back in July, Joe Biden gave a speech that was billed as a major defense of voting rights.

S2: There’s an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to

S1: vote

S2: and fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty,

S1: an assault on who we are, who we are as Americans. But for all his rhetoric, the president didn’t lay out a plan for how to meet this assault. Sure, he name dropped voting rights legislation, but he didn’t explain how Democrats are supposed to break through unified opposition to what they want to do.

S2: He said that the things we’re seeing in terms of elections, subversion and suppression efforts. It hardly ever said the word Republican, but he said that that democracy at risk. In fact, he said specifically that there was a graver threat to American democracy now than at any other time since the Civil War. Very big words from a president, and it seemed to me that that should signal a commensurate effort on the part of the president to do something about it, and that just didn’t happen. Biden said he is in favor of federal voting laws. Well, that’s nice. But they’re being filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and have no chance of passage unless something is done to modify the filibuster. He didn’t mention the filibuster in his speech, and my point in the story is that he was right to say there is an urgent threat to democracy that is emerging right now. There is an actual risk that the person who wins the election in 2024 will not be allowed to become president and the person who loses will be declared the winner. And that being the case, urgent action is called for.

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S1: I had this question after reading some of your reporting, which was, who are you writing your articles for? Because when I read your writing? I think Bart Gellman is really nervous, and he thinks I should be nervous, too, but I’m not sure what you want me to do with that alarm that I am now feeling.

S2: That’s a great question that I wish I had a better answer for. Who I’m writing for is always meant to be an open minded reader interested in the facts. I can’t fool myself into believing that I’m going to have a very large number of readers among Trump true believers. But I’m writing it for anyone who wants to know what I think is really happening and what the implications are. And a lot of readers are asking what they should do. And that’s just not my job. I’m not competent to tell them what to do, and they should be glad I’m not in charge of what to do because I don’t know. I think that my job is to call attention to something that I think has been underplayed to say that I think there’s an urgent emergency here and that it requires people’s focus and time and energy and then let smarter people than me figure out what to do about it.

S3: Barton Gellman, thank you for joining me.

S2: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

S1: Barton Gellman is a staff writer over the Atlantic. You can read his piece. Trump’s next coup has already begun. Over at their web site. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Carmel Delshad Mary Wilson, Danielle Hewitt and Alaina Schwartz. We are led by Alison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. I’m at Mary’s desk on Twitter. Go find me. Say Hello. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.