I made a joke on Twitter the other day that I thought deserved a better reception than it got. I was reading about Kari Lake bleating about how other Americans, if they wanted to “get” to Donald Trump, would have to “go through me” as well as “through 75 million Americans just like me … most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA.” I said that Lake’s political career was like the origin story of Jonathan Matthias.
I made that joke because I’m a nerd and I’m old. Matthias is the bad guy from the classic 1971 Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man, a postapocalyptic thriller in which almost everyone in the world is wiped out by a germ-warfare disaster. Heston has an antidote; the other survivors end up as light-sensitive ghouls that can go out only at night. Matthias (played by the legendary character actor Anthony Zerbe) was, before the plague, a blustery celebrity television newscaster, and he later uses his charisma to organize his fellow sorta-vampires into a cult built around hating Heston and all modern technology.
It’s less funny if you have to explain it, but the idea of Kari Lake going from television anchor to cult leader after a pandemic seemed pretty on the nose, and her whole Grand Guignol act is so close to Zerbe’s melodramatic thundering that I couldn’t resist.
But maybe the joke isn’t that funny. Lake may be inane, but insofar as any of her followers believe that she’s issuing a call to action, she is also dangerous. She’s not alone; after news of Trump’s indictment broke, two of the most disgraceful members of Congress, Andy Biggs and Clay Higgins, essentially called for open conflict with their fellow citizens. “We have now reached a war phase,” Biggs tweeted on Friday. “Eye for an eye,” he added, going full Hammurabi.
Higgins, meanwhile, issued a tweet of paramilitary babble:
President Trump said he has “been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM.”
This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors. Hold. rPOTUS has this.
Buckle up. 1/50K know your bridges. Rock steady calm. That is all.
As Jeff Sharlet wrote in The Atlantic this weekend, Higgins is trying to sound like a militia commander, issuing orders to his troops on behalf of “rPOTUS,” or the “real president of the United States.”
My first reaction to both of those tweets was basically: Whatever, Sgt. Rock. But perhaps that’s not enough. Trump and his cult followers, especially those in public life, have made threats of violence a routine part of the American political environment. (I have received many such threats over the years that I’ve been writing about Trump.) Notice, for example, how Trump has gone out of his way to name Special Counsel Jack Smith’s wife: Trump knows that Smith is a tough prosecutor who has dealt with some hard characters and is unlikely to fear a weak man like Donald Trump, so he put Smith’s wife in the public eye—and in the crosshairs of his supporters. It’s become commonplace to say this is Mafia-like behavior, but that’s something of an insult to the old-school Mafiosi who generally left family members alone when settling their beefs.