Over the summer, as racial justice demonstrations swept through American cities, President Donald Trump warned he would wield the powers of government to suppress violence. Embracing a “law and order” mantle, Trump himself announced from the East Room a surge of federal agents and castigated groups such as Black Lives Matter as cultivating “hate.”
“My first duty as President is to protect the American people, and today I’m taking action to fulfill that sacred obligation,” he declared.
A few months later, Trump’s only acknowledgment of his government taking down an alleged domestic terrorism plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan was to wonder why he hadn’t been thanked.
How Trump chooses to promote his administration’s efforts to enforce “law and order” follow a clear pattern of political calculation; in instances when the Justice Department finds cases that bolster his claims of fraudulent voting, rampant urban crime or deep state corruption, Trump is eager to participate.
But when the government has worked to combat extremist anti-government groups — which even his own FBI says present the most pressing threat to the nation — Trump has at best ignored the efforts and at worst used them to fan the very resentments held by the groups’ followers.
The situation could only become more fraught as the election nears and as some extremist groups seek to retaliate against continued lockdown orders. Trump himself has railed against continued restrictions and has pointedly refused to call for post-election calm, even as he makes false claims about a rigged vote.
Former officials and others familiar with the situation say Trump has demonstrated little interest in making efforts to combat domestic terrorism a priority for his administration, despite warnings from law enforcement officials, members of Congress and groups that track extremism about the increasing threat of extremist and far-right groups. Some have claimed White House officials attempted to suppress use of the phrase “domestic terrorism” altogether over the course of the Trump administration.
Others said it was evident Trump recognized his own supporters were among those being labeled “domestic terrorists” and believed it would damage his standing with his base to warn of their danger.
Animated instead by immigration enforcement and a crackdown on urban crime — issues he believes galvanize his voters — Trump has publicly downplayed the threat posed by armed militia groups and sought to focus attention elsewhere.
After the FBI investigated whether local officials in Pennsylvania improperly discarded ballots, Trump was briefed personally on the matter by Attorney General Bill Barr and revealed details of it during a Fox interview before they were made public.
He has also