The FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago is a big deal, and not just for the criminal investigation it represents. For many Trump supporters, the raid set off a nuclear bomb at the heart of our democracy. It was an apocalyptic event, a sign of the terrible decline of the federal government, and an omen for how much worse things will become.
Our media environment feeds off sensationalism, and even still the reaction to the raid on Mar-a-Lago is exceptional. Trump set the tone early, announcing in a public statement on his website that “These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before.” Trump took aim at the federal government, decrying “the weaponization of the Justice System” and asserting that “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before.”
Everyone else caught the talking points:
- Rep. Elise Stefanik: “The FBI’s raid on President Trump’s Florida home is a dark day in American history.”
- Commentator Dan Bongino: “This is probably one of the darkest days in American history.”
- Rep Thomas Massie: “In third world countries and banana republics they prosecute the former presidents/leaders and their staff. Right now, we look beneath them.”
- Sen. Marco Rubio: “Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships. But never before in America”
- Rep. Marjorite Taylor Greene: “This is the type of rogue tactics that happen in countries right before they fall into tyrannical dictatorships. No one should tolerate this!!!”
- Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a graphic of his father with the words “In reality they’re not after me they’re after you.”
- Rep. Lauren Boebert: “You may not realize it yet, but they’re coming for all of us.”
I could go on.
The implications of the raid won’t be clear for a while, but we can already see a few things playing out: Congressional Republicans will open an investigation once they reclaim the House, newly-victimized Trump is a shoe-in for the GOP nomination in 2024, and, perhaps most importantly, Trump loyalists have declared war on the FBI and the Justice Department.
The War on the Feds
It wasn’t too long ago that Democrats criticized the FBI for serving as a tool for right-wing causes. As journalist Todd Purdum wrote in 2018, “for decades — from J. Edgar Hoover’s 47-year reign, through the McCarthy era, the civil unrest of the 1960s and right down to the Clinton impeachment — the FBI and the GOP have almost always been in sympathy, and often in sync.”
As recently as 2016, that remained largely true. As the agency investigated Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified emails, Politico ran a piece entitled “The FBI looks like Trump’s America,” noting that its demographics skew distinctly toward Trump’s base, including a quote from an ex-FBI official that the organization is by and large made up of Republicans, and describing FBI Director James Comey’s struggle to maintain a non-partisan image for the agency.
While Trump was critical of the agency for not pressing charges against his presidential rival, when Comey announced he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s emails just before the election Trump said, “I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made.”
But Comey wasn’t only interested in Clinton. On March 20, 2017, Comey announced that the FBI would be investigating “possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attempts to influence the election.” A month-and-a-half later, Trump sacked Comey. Promising a new start, Trump wrote, “The FBI is one of our Nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement.”
Little changed. Eight days after Comey was fired, Robert Mueller was appointed the Special Counsel in the Department of Justice’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
For an instant, it seemed like Mueller could quickly exonerate Trump, and his allies responded accordingly. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tweeted, “Robert Mueller is [a] superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” Just one month later, Gingrich wrote that “Mueller is now clearly the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.”
And that’s more or less where we’ve landed. The FBI, the DOJ, and other federal agencies became enemies of the Trump movement, and calls to dismantle them proliferated.
Then came January 6th, sending everything into overdrive. As federal agents investigated and prosecuted the rioters, allegations of their corruption and political motivation piled up. Rioters transformed into political prisoners, jailed after engaging in “legitimate political discourse,” and the DOJ and the FBI are their captors.
In Tucker Carlson’s three-part special on January 6th, Patriot Purge, he explains how the deep state, after spending 20 years fighting the war on terror, changed its focus to the US after we exited Afghanistan.
“They’ve begun to fight a new enemy in a new war on terror. Not, you should understand, a metaphorical war, but an actual war. Soldiers and paramilitary law enforcement guided by the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, hunting down American citizens, purging them from society, throwing some of them into solitary confinement.”
“Now, 20 years later those same ungloved hands that tortured and killed suspected foreign terrorists have been unshackled on behalf of a political party here at home. Suddenly the United States of America has political prisoners.”
When the FBI finally came for Mar-a-Lago, it triggered a meltdown.
Almost immediately after Trump’s press release announcing the raid, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted, “DEFUND THE FBI!” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote “The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted, “I will support a complete dismantling and elimination of the democrat brown shirts known as the FBI.” Popular commentator Candace Owens tweeted “The FBI must be legally and formally dissolved.” A Florida state representative running for US Congress, Anthony Sabatini, said to “Gut the FBI like a fish.”
The calls to dismantle the FBI appeared so rapidly after the raid on Mar-a-Lago because they were years in the making. The raid didn’t change the mission, but it certainly made it more pressing.
The Risk to the Rule of Law
The destruction of the FBI, if it is carried out, would be a blow to the rule of law in America. Federal law enforcement serves as a critical check on corruption, capable of conducting investigations that local agencies cannot and operating far more independently of politics than a Congressional investigation ever could. Like the calls from the Left to defund local law enforcement in 2020, little good would come of this.
With federal law enforcement’s decline, Congressional hearings and local law enforcement would take its place. This is already in the works, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy telling Attorney General Merrick Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” for the House investigation they will be opening. It also fits neatly into a larger push to undermine the federal bureaucracy, which has recently engulfed the IRS.
The fate of the FBI rests on one question: “What exactly did they find in the raid?” Trump supporters are right to point out that the raid is unprecedented, and the FBI did cross the Rubicon by showing up in Palm Beach unannounced. Already, Trump, Rep. Jim Jordan, and Marjorie Taylor Greene have suggested that the FBI planted evidence when they searched Mar-A-Lago. That’s a good sign that Trump is worried about what they found, but only time will tell.
While the raid could bring crucial accountability to Trump for crimes he may have committed, it may lead to the demise of the FBI if they have little to show for it. The pitchforks have come out, and this investigation is now about a lot more than Trump’s records.