The Cult Is Armed

Last week, Politico ran an interview with a scholar of autocracy.You really–really–need to click through and read it in its entirety, because I lack the space and ability to offer a coherent synopsis.

The scholar, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, had made accurate predictions about Trump’s likely refusal to concede his 2020 defeat, and she made them well in advance of the election. During the course of the interview, she made several other penetrating observations. Among them: the likely permanence of the changes Trump has effected to the GOP. She says that his sway over the party has permanently transformed its political culture, changing it to an authoritarian party in which you don’t only go after external enemies, but also after internal ones. Authoritarian parties don’t allow dissent

When somebody like Trump comes on the scene and holds office, it’s really like an earthquake or a volcano, and it shakes up the whole system by gathering in this big tent all the extremists, all the far-right people, and giving them legitimation. The GOP was already going away from a democratic political culture, but he accelerated it and normalized extremism and normalized lawlessness. And so the GOP over these years has truly, in my estimation, become an authoritarian far-right party. And the other big story is that his agenda and his methods are being continued at the state level. Some of these things were on the agenda way before he came in, like getting rid of abortion rights and stuff like that. But these states are really laboratories of autocracy now, like Florida, Texas.

Ben-Ghiat made a particularly important point about a favorite Republican talking point that she noted is a time-honored strategy of right-wing authoritarianism. Authoritarians like to label democratic systems as tyrannical. (Psychiatrists might call that projection.) According to Ben-Ghiat, Mussolini was the first to make the accusation that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem. That introduced a whole century’s worth of the strategy of calling sitting Democrats dictators. “Biden as a social dictator, [is] a phony talking point. It has so many articulations from “They’re forcing us to wear masks.”

Her observations about the “Big Lie” were equally interesting, especially for those of us who have read psychological profiles of Trump.

The genius of the “big lie” was not only that it sparked a movement that ended up with January 6 to physically allow him to stay in office. But psychologically the “big lie” was very important because it prevented his propagandized followers from having to reckon with the fact that he lost. And it maintains him as their hero, as their winner, as the invincible Trump, but also as the wronged Trump, the victim. Victimhood is extremely important for all autocrats. They always have to be the biggest victim.

There are several other points in the interview worth pondering, especially her acute observations about Ron DeSantis, but the one that really struck home with me was her response to the question whether the U.S. faces a civil war. She began by saying that she thought it unlikely.

But then she made a point I’d not previously considered.

I think that it’s not out of the realm of possibility, because if the Republicans tried to impeach Biden and impeach Harris, there would be protests. Whether that becomes a civil war is very different because it’s predominantly only one side which is armed, first of all….

The wild card is guns. No other country in peace time has 400 million guns in private hands. And no other country in peacetime has militias allowed to populate, has sovereign sheriffs, has so many extremists in the military, and that matters because of these other things. And in fact, if January 6 didn’t bring out a massive protest, what is going to bring out a massive protest? Because that showed that groups of people who were there were people unaffiliated with any Proud Boys or any radical group. And Robert Pape, who studied them, called them middle-aged, middle class, but they were all armed. Some of them had private arsenals and they showed up at January 6. So that’s the wild card. That’s one thing that’s extremely American, that violence, that the population believes it has the right to rebel against tyrannical government. Like Matt Gaetz says: The Second Amendment is not just about hunting. And here we go back to the idea of Biden as a dictator. And that only works if your citizenry is armed and ours is to a degree that no other country is in the entire world.

The insanity of America’s gun culture has been evident for a long time. What hasn’t been evident is the fact that “only one side is armed.”

Read the whole interview.


  1. Thanks Prof. And now we see that Corporate America has resumed funding these crazies. They paused for a short time after Jan 6, but they are back funding the crazy. I guess selling Toyotas is more important than the country that allows their success.

  2. I think you’d be surprised how many not on team treason are also well armed. We aren’t nearly as numerous as they are but I think in the unlikely event the shooting starts there are enough that the insurrection supporters will be whining like the babies they about the amount of gunfire from income rounds of people stepping up to protect themselves and the institutions that have made America America. Many of us are also military/former military, hunt, target shoot or collect, one major difference is we seldom confuse our firearms with masculinity, they are tools or, in some cases, works of art.

  3. On January 6, 99% of the population republican or democrat disagreed with what was going on. Again I’m going to restate this conservative radio host all disagreed with what was going on. Even Trump himself told people to go home by 3 PM that day. The fact that people enter the capitol building was wrong. The autocrats are on both sides of the aisle, anyone that over steps the constitution, and the law and the individual states set themselves up to be an autocrats that’s either Trump or Biden. Right now Biden is in office so he is the autocrat of all the mandates that came down he is the autocrat but the fact that he doesn’t want energy independence in the midst of a war that’s going on and people need American fuel, he is the autocrat. It’s a shame that people view GOP versus Democrat and all that we are talking about it’s neither one side or the other. It’s like people who are involved in politics look at voters as mindnumb robots that they can control. It’s a shame that people don’t want what’s best for the country either republican or democrat. When you think about who’s going to run this fall it’s usually who’s in charge that is responsible for what’s going on. Right now we are in a world of problems. No one is listening on how to get it solved. No one has actually taken any action to get them solved. We are actually selling our own oil reserves to foreign countries which is not what it is for.
    Trump and DeSantis actually run neck and neck for 2024. It’s not that they don’t think Trump did well or did good for the country. It’s rather that they were just kind of like, you know, move onto the next candidate that will fulfill things without all the craziness. But who is responsible for the craziness, is it only Trump and his “cult or is it actually those that are on the left that have 95% of the time in the media has put him down. To say that we can’t find out that the media all vote Democrat, well look at the polls they do vote Democrat. Their ideology is way left a center. All you have to do is look at what happened when somebody bought Twitter and they no longer controlled it, they all went crazy. So who are the autocrats, those people that are in control and can’t stand it, it it’s almost tyrannical if somebody gets to say something.
    They actually stated on the view that women annoying and minorities will be subject to the white males comments. Remember when Martin Luther King stated it’s not the color of your skin it’s the continent of your character. Look at the characters that are running crazy

  4. “Worry, why do I let myself worry?
    Wondering what in the world did I do?
    Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
    I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying.”

  5. The sentence that I use when someone tries to justify their support of Trump;” So , to be clear , you support an autocratic, authoritarian, anti-democratic, nationalistic, narcissistic, seditious, treasonous, twice impeached insurrectionist “? Cue the confused, blank look of the Trumper when they hear this …. fun to watch . Massive stammering from their direction usually follows . Try it .

  6. I’ve been following Dr. Ben Ghiat for months. Her study of authoritarians and dictators is fascinating and frightening all at once. Historically, the followers of these people end up being duped, hurt and often killed.
    Sadly, the cult who believes these politicians have their best at heart are in for a huge surprise!
    Watch the ‘Dictators Playbook’ from PBS for more historical information on what we are in for if we acquiesce to these thugs.
    Even Todd may have to agree on this for once!🤣

  7. Everyone I have a secret to share.
    Today is the one and only…
    It’s JoAnn’s Birthday today!

    Let’s wish her all a happy day, cheers!

    Happy Birthday JoAnn

  8. From MAY 28, 2020 / DAVID YAMANE:

    # of Individuals in the United States who own guns: 76,414,161.

    # of Households in the United States that have guns: 47,892,051

    # of People in U.S. Households that have guns: 125,956,094

    These are the registered guns we know of, so let’s assume that a majority of those 125,956,094 are right wingers. They would have at 3 weapons per person. That is a lot of firepower, no matter how you look at it. Add to their advantage in numbers of guns, their zealotry about their belief that this is a white Christian nation and it is their right to rule. This is a bad brew, no matter how you stir it. (Numbers are for 2019)

  9. Maybe, Beth.

    However, I’ve read several of her interviews and opinions about 1/6 and not a single one goes beyond Trump. How can anybody discuss the GOP, especially on the state level, and not discuss Charles Koch and his dark money network?

    If you are paying attention to the Musk and Twitter drama, the founder of Twitter, Jack Dempsey, tweeted yesterday, that he is happy that Twitter is being taken away from “Wall Street and the advertising model.”

    Meaning, that Musk is taking Twitter back into the private realm vs the corporate boardroom and shareholders.

    Twitter became a tool of the US government via Wall Street. The US government cannot censor people, but they can hand a list to the CEO and have those names censored.

    If Trump was such an authoritarian genius, why have all his entities collapsed? Even his new social media stab is a failure.

    This professor seems to be selling the RussiaGate conspiracy which is also the DNC fallacy.

    The GOP belongs to Charles Koch…if the Dem Party was worried about “Trump’s authoritarianism” why hasn’t the 1/6 Committee subpoenaed Charles Koch?


  10. Now for a comment about guns.
    I cannot help but to notice that here in Indianapolis, a city quickly becoming the homicide center of the US, that on the local news reporting the latest shooting, there is never mention of the lack of gun control in Indiana. NEVER! No in-depth report on how our lack of regulations and laws pertaining to guns allows weapons into the hands of every crazy, violent, evil intending fool. No report on which members of the state legislature are the ones receiving contributions from the gun lobby and the connection of that money to their votes. No, what we get is sentimental coverage about the latest group of “pastors” out praying for the violence to stop and a mournful report from some police official who parses his words so that he does not disturb the Republican Party.

  11. I made the mistake of watching a 2020 documentary called “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” ( it pulled together what we have been saying here for years about the current risks to the republic. We are in a tsunami of risks right now that may not be survivable for democracy and our rights and freedoms. No less than that.

    Republicans without patriotism, without regard for any future but their own power, like Trump, have found the keys to organizing the mob, like Jan 6, and are looking forward to them electing whoever they are told to. We barely survived 2020. A few more changed votes and the country would be changed forever.

    Anyone who thinks that we are now safe is kidding themselves for once a mob forms, dispersing it is very difficult, and once authoritarians hold the keys to forming new mobs, there is very little in their way. Of course that’s why encouraging mobs is a temporary illusion of leadership for once they form they know no master. Mobs are eventually out of everyone’s control.

    For proof, visit the Ukraine.

  12. The citizenry has been taught to fear everyone not them. The guns, therefore, have a very different roles in households than when we were young. Today, the kids are raised in an environment of fear at home and at school. They are NOT taught to respect the power of the firearm.

    That said, John S’s rant was pretty confusing. Please clarify in a few sentences.

    Happy Birthday, JoAnn. The trick is to keep having them.

  13. Happiest of Birthdays to you, JoAnn!!! As a daily reader that almost never comments, I relish your comments as much as I avoid TS’s ….

  14. I read the entire interview with Ruth Ben-Ghiat and now my stomach hurts. She has confirmed what I already pictured might happen to our democracy.
    As Bette Davis said: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

  15. The very best to you, JoAnn, for this day and many, many to come. The sense, un- and plain ole common, that you add to this blog/conversation is totally appreciated. Thank you!

  16. The pot boils and the frog sits. The “sane Republicans” are too loyal to their party to do what needs to be done and let the GOP go the way of the Whigs, so the “moderates” will give the GOP a majority and the autocrats will take over.

    Too much apathy and denial all around.

    The Right is out there. TV ads inundate me with “proud conservatives who support Trump” and “outsiders”, because who would want someone who actually knew something.

    Happy Birthday JoAnn. You can’t a day over 38. I claim 39 and holding. I stole that fair and square from Jack Benny who no longer needs that age. 8)>

  17. Psychological projection is done unconsciously. Authoritarians project intentionally. “Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty.” – Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

    “The consistent pattern that emerges from our data is that … there is no left-right division, but rather a division between the right and the rest of the media ecosystem.”
    – “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” (2018) exhaustive analysis of media networds and behavior Yochai Benkler et al of Harvard’s Klein Center for Internet and Society
    – quoted in Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge

  18. I have had guns for hunting. But Iearned a lot of safety guidelines. It was a really strong experienc provided by my father. I would use one of my guns (a 22 pistol, a 22 rifle and a 12 guage shot gus) for protection, I suppose. But I’ve never hade occasions to think about that. Idiots who have guns, however, don’t have a clue regarding how one is to handle firearms. It is crazy to even point a gun at another human being.

  19. Presuming that “Liberals” don’t own guns would be a miscalculation. The fact that we don’t flaunt them doesn’t mean we don’t have them.

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