Members Only | October 6, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

After one big failed coup, the GOP has regrouped to launch countless mini-insurrections

The right wing has cynically declared war on easy targets like teachers and nurses in the hopes they will quit out of fear or frustration.


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This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland convened a task force to combat the recent spike in violence and intimidation against school board members, school administrators and teachers. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced a structurally similar initiative to investigate violence against election officials. These task forces are desperately needed as the Republican Party’s strategy to retake power shifts from one big insurrection to many mini-insurrections. 

But what’s really needed is a holistic approach. Threats against school board members, election workers and public health officials are the same threat in different guises: The right-wing assault on democracy. 

School board meetings are being systematically and sometimes violently disrupted by right-wing activists with shifting grievances, from critical race theory to trans bathrooms to mask mandates. 

Threats against school board members, election workers and public health officials are the same threat in different guises: The right-wing assault on democracy. 

A school board in Vail, Arizona, was forced to call the police and flee its meeting room after an unmasked mob forced its way into the building. Having forced the elected officials to depart for their own safety, in a move that echoed the January 6 insurrection, the mob proceeded to hold its own fake “election” of school board candidates. 

Last month, men with military-grade zip ties burst into an Arizona elementary school principal’s office and threatened to kidnap her over the school’s mask and quarantine policies. A few days earlier, a Florida man attacked a student who criticized him for not wearing a mask. 

In late September, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden begging for help with what it called the “immediate threat” posed to the nation’s public education system. 

The violence against school board members is reminiscent of the intimidation campaigns that are being waged against election overseers and public health officials. Reuters uncovered hundreds of incidents of threats and harassment against election workers and officials nationwide. Since the start of the pandemic, public health officials have been subjected to a range of tactics, from death threats to armed protests at their homes, prompting a wave of resignations

The chaos is the point. The Republican Party is hoping to sweep back into power by stoking and exploiting grassroots rage. They are trying to replicate the model of the Tea Party where local cells propelled the Republicans to big wins in the midterm elections. 

This strategy is being implemented by big names in GOP politics. According to its website, Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA “is helping parents and students engage the American Culture War head-on at their local school boards.” The Koch-funded Independent Women’s Network is organizing parents to resist mask mandates in schools. 

Right-wing pundits are freaking and accusing Garland of attacking their entire movement. Which says a lot about how they conceive their movement. They are afraid the Justice Department will expose the links between violent protests and national Republican groups. The probe is threatening their most valuable asset: plausible deniability. 

The National Review denounced the probe as “an appalling crackdown” and accused the AG of trying to send a message to “one side of the debate.” It’s funny how only one side of the debate needs reminding not to threaten local officials. Debates over covid safety, election integrity, anti-racism and trans rights are all hugely contentious. Passions run high on the left and the right, but only the right is engaged in a concerted bid to intimidate and threaten local officials. Having failed at one big coup on January 6, the Republicans have regrouped to launch countless mini-insurrections on softer targets. 

The local officials who run our schools, our elections and our health departments are doing the hard work of administering a functional democracy. They don’t have bodyguards and they open their own mail. They are easy targets, because they are our neighbors. The right wing has cynically declared war on them in the hopes that they will quit out of fear or frustration. The Attorney General is right to muster the power of the federal government to defend them, because these harassment campaigns are an attack on democracy itself. 

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

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