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Opinion: Trump, MAGA threats of violence trickle down to Colorado in U.S. Constitution case

September 28, 2023, 11:33 am

A Colorado judge fears for her safety.

In the context of history, that’s an extraordinary situation, but as part of the Trumpist erosion of constitutional order, it’s routine. It’s how the ascendant fascist forces on the American right do their thing.

Physical intimidation from former President Donald Trump and his followers is present throughout their political campaigns. Increasingly, it’s also present throughout their legal strategy. But if they’re allowed to normalize threats of violence in policy debates, and if their intimidation tactics in the courts aren’t countered exhaustively, democracy and the rule of law will succumb.

Quentin Young

On Friday, Denver District Court Judge Sarah B. Wallace, considering a protective order as part of a lawsuit against Trump to keep him off the Colorado ballot as an insurrectionist, made the startling admission that she he had concerns about “safety for the parties, for the lawyers and frankly for myself and my staff, based on what we’ve seen in other cases.”

What’s happened in those other cases?

“If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” Trump said on social media the day after he was arraigned on federal charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Special counsel Jack Smith asked the court for a gag order, writing, “The defendant has repeatedly and widely disseminated public statements attacking the citizens of the District of Columbia, the Court, prosecutors, and prospective witnesses.”

Trump warned of “death & destruction” in relation to the adult film star hush-money case in New York, where he is charged with falsifying business records.

In Georgia, where Trump and others were charged for alleged stop-the-steal felony crimes, Trump supporters disseminated personal information of the grand jurors, and the FBI had to investigate threats of violence against county officials.

“As the prosecutions of Mr. Trump have accelerated, so too have threats against law enforcement authorities, judges, elected officials and others,” prompting “concern about the potential for an election campaign in which Mr. Trump has promised ‘retribution’ to produce violence,” reported the New York Times.

We know MAGA is violent in practice, not just in rhetoric. Jan. 6 proved it, but there are other examples. Last month, an armed, self-described “MAGA Trumper” threatened President Joe Biden before being shot by FBI agents who attempted to serve a warrant at his home in Utah.

Trump, Williams and the rest of the anti-democracy right are creating an atmosphere of harassment with the hope that judicial norms will dissolve and strongarm threats will prevail.

Some prominent figures in Colorado regularly make similar threats. Shawn Smith, who leads an “election integrity” organization launched by the conspiracist MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, repeatedly suggests on social media that Colorado state officials “deserve due process” — which his audience understands as “execution.”

Amid cascading indictments against Trump, Smith in July wrote on social media, “What do you think will happen if 100+ million law-abiding, gun-owning American citizens conclude that there is no law or justice in the United States, due to corruption of our justice system?” and suggested the country had reached “a tipping point.”

And as the plaintiff’s lawyer pointed out to Wallace, Dave Williams, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, an intervenor in the case against Trump, called the filing of the lawsuit “treasonous” behavior — a capital offense.

This is the behavior of fascists. Trump, Williams and the rest of the anti-democracy right are creating an atmosphere of harassment with the hope that judicial norms will dissolve and strongarm threats will prevail.

As if to herald Wallace’s wisdom in issuing a protective order Friday, Trump on the very same day implied that America’s top general, Mark Milly, should be put to “DEATH” (yes, all caps). Just this week, in response to an adverse ruling regarding his fraudulent business practices in New York, Trump released a statement full of blistering abuse against the New York attorney general, prosecutors and the “DERANGED” judge (all caps).

That’s why Wallace entered a protective order in the Colorado case that bars parties from taking any threatening or intimidating action against anyone involved.

At one point during the Colorado hearing, Trump’s lawyer, Scott Gessler, rose to protest the protective order. Gessler is a former Republican secretary of state — the top election official in Colorado — and there he was reduced to speaking on behalf of the most shameless election denier the nation has ever known. Much of Gessler’s objection rested on a most contemptible both-sides argument — he tried to assert that Trump critics were as guilty of “inflammatory” speech as anyone, such as when Secretary of State Jena Griswold stated that Trump had tried to “steal an election.”

But this served to remind those present what the case was all about. Trump tried to steal an election, a brazen rejection of democracy that culminated in a violent attempted coup.

The lawsuit says the Constitution bars Trump, the leading GOP candidate for president in 2024, from returning to office after what he did, and the court must be able to make an impartial ruling based on the facts and the law, not physical threats.

Trump tried to use intimidation to remain in the White House. He must not be allowed to use it to secure access to the Colorado ballot.

Editor’s note: This opinion column first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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