Right-wing media figures have reacted to the news that the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago resort by calling for mass purges of any individual or agency they deem responsible for holding the former president, his associates, or his supporters accountable for their potentially criminal actions.
This new development turns the right’s recent history of election denialism and January 6 revisionism into an all-encompassing electoral strategy in the coming midterms and 2024 presidential election. Conservative media is drawing a line in the sand and calling for total fealty to Trump. Any deviation is tantamount to treason.
“The next president of the United States needs to prosecute everyone. Needs to clean house everywhere,” conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder said. “Any Republican right now in office or running for office who does not actively champion the defunding, the dismantling of our intelligence agencies, I will not vote for.”
“The term skeleton crew should be a generous application to what the FBI will be when the next president is through with him,” Crowder continued.
Right-wing radio host Jesse Kelly simultaneously called for defunding the FBI and investigating Republicans’ political enemies.
Russ Vought, a Christian nationalist and former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump, echoed the point on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle.
“They are now telling with clear and convincing evidence to a Republican political class that has been unwilling to fight back against this with the leverage that they have,” Vought said. “And I think this is a wake-up call for those in Congress to be able to use the tools at their disposal to defund the FBI, to ask the right questions, and to prepare for a Church-style commission next year, if given a Republican majority, to dismantle the FBI into a thousand bits.”
Fox News was also quick to link the Mar-a-Lago search with recent news that the IRS is getting additional funding to go after wealthy individuals and corporations.
Though those topics appear disconnected, right-wing media outlets have spent months claiming that conservatives are being singled out by the FBI and IRS for politically motivated prosecution, a manufactured narrative with no evidence to support it. They’re now latching onto this latest development to escalate that rhetoric and whip conservative voters into a frenzy in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, with many claiming that President Joe Biden targeted Trump personally or that Trump was the victim of a deep state “witch hunt.”
But beyond the defenses of Trump as an individual, many on the right attempted to turn what appears to be a lawful investigation of a powerful person into a story of David and Goliath, with the former president cast as the underdog against an all-powerful state set on eliminating its opponents.
In this Bizarro World version of events, Trump is the canary in the coal mine. If the FBI could search his house, the argument goes, then that meant that no conservative was safe. “The real target of this investigation isn't Trump,” said Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “The real target of this investigation is you or anyone who dares to call out and take on the rank corruption of the D.C. establishment.”
Right-wing radio host Buck Sexton offered almost the exact same talking point. “They’re sending a message now to President Trump and his supporters that they’ll come for you if you stand against the machine,” Sexton said. “This is a chilling moment in the country's history.”
Others on the right put forward a related argument that Trump is being targeted by the FBI specifically because he stands as the lone protector of the forgotten man.
Both of these claims are a way of turning any attempt to hold Trump accountable for crimes he may have committed into an imagined assault on his faux-populist supporters. If “they” – an unnamed, state-sponsored enemy – can target someone relatively as powerful as Trump, then “you” – the right-wing media consumer – will soon be ground to dust by the same forces. Trump’s legal battles, then, aren’t his alone. They belong to his entire movement.
Conservative pundits have spent months recently laying this groundwork, though a larger persecution narrative on the right goes back decades. In the days prior to the Mar-a-Lago search, conservatives reacted to news that landmark legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act would include $80 billion for the IRS by claiming the new funding would turn the agency into a militarized, political police force.
The reality is the exact opposite. The new funding is specifically designed to provide the IRS the resources it needs to target powerful people and organizations, instead of the low-hanging fruit the agency has gone after following decades of conservative sabotage. Just like in the responses to the Mar-a-Lago search, however, the right reflexively transformed the issue from one of higher tax collection aimed at billionaires and transnational corporations into a wholly manufactured narrative about a supposedly out-of-control government bureaucracy coming for Trump supporters.
“They’re going to weaponize the IRS, use the government to intimidate every single Trump supporter and MAGA supporter in America,” conservative pundit John Fredericks said.
In July, Tucker Carlson devoted his entire opening monologue to similarly arguing that prosecution of anyone associated with Trump’s January 6 attempted coup was, by definition, an example of totalitarian overreach. Carlson spent about 16 minutes of the most watched cable show on prime time mischaracterizing 14 investigations into right-wing media figures or politicians, positioning the FBI as an explicitly political secret police force targeting conservatives.
“The signature tactic of the Biden administration … has been the criminalizing of American politics,” Carlson said.
Again, this characterization could not be more absurd. Both presently and historically, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have disproportionately targeted, investigated, and prosecuted left-wing people and organizations. The FBI is more conservative than the population in general, and current FBI Director Christopher Wray was appointed by Trump. If anything, the United States has a history of allowing rampant lawbreaking by powerful people to go unchecked. No high-level officials involved in the torture program under President George W. Bush were ever prosecuted, for example, and many went on to successful careers inside and outside government.
The conservative response to all of these developments – the Mar-a-Lago search, new IRS funding, the prosecution of insurrectionists – underscores a basic tenet of their philosophy. As the classical music composer and internet commentator Frank Wilhoit wrote in 2018: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
This pithy remark has almost become a cliche at this point, but it explains a great deal about the last several years. Conservatives constantly claim to “back the Blue,” but when a movement can seamlessly pivot from Blue Lives Matter to Defund the FBI, there is clearly an operating principle at work other than an abstract respect for “law and order.” Their real commitment is to a certain kind of order – one defined by social hierarchies across race, class, and gender.
Neither the FBI nor the IRS actually threaten to subvert those hierarchies, but the conservative imagination transforms them into all-powerful entities that can. Conservative pundits reacting to the Mar-a-Lago search are arguing for a system that protects them, their donors, and their sponsors, no matter the charges against them. The David versus Goliath narrative they’re now pitching to viewers is merely a useful fig leaf toward that end.