Mary Ann Robinson, climbing onto the bridge connecting Palm Beach Island to the Florida mainland the day after the FBI searched Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, holds a White Claw alcoholic beverage in one hand and resents the actions of federal law enforcement, the Irish Times reports.
“When they raided our president[’s home], I felt hurt, then anger,” said the retired healthcare administrator. “I come to these rallies to bring attention to what is happening in our government. We know the Godless commies will never take this republic down as long as we are here.”
Robinson was part of a relatively small group of unbending Trump supporters who staged a rally in defense of the former president, many waving huge flags and honking.
Their reactions were riddled with conspiracy theories about both the 2020 election and the political motives behind the FBI search, echoing Trump's own statement about the raid. They also ominously suggested that the backlash could escalate into violence, especially if the former president is arrested or not allowed to run for re-election in 2024.
“We’re going to fight until the end, whatever it takes,” said Mark Harvey, a Florida local who fishes in the waters around the Trump residence and introduced himself as “Beach Cracker”. “Ninety-nine per cent of Republicans are armed and ready to go. We’re ready to take it to the next level if it comes down to it.”
Such threats and rage were not limited to Palm Beach. From the moment Trump announced that federal agents had searched his home, anger swept across conservative America.
Republican lawmakers lashed out at the FBI and the Justice Department for complicity with the repressive federal regime and the "deep state" bureaucracy that sought to stifle any political opposition.
Other Republicans linked the FBI's actions against Trump to the $700 billion economic package recently passed by the US Senate and endorsed by President Joe Biden. The bill includes measures to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service to check the rich who evade paying taxes, which some conservatives have characterized as another sign of impending government harassment.
“The federal Regime is targeting those it dislikes for disfavored treatment,” Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, told his supporters in a fundraising email on Wednesday.
When Scott Perry, a Republican lawmaker from Pennsylvania who is one of Trump's most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, reported that his phone had been seized by the FBI after he was subjected to a thorough congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the anger of the far right increased.
“This is America, and these Gestapo tactics are not welcome. There will be a reckoning,” Lauren Boebert, the pro-Trump Republican lawmaker from Colorado, said on Twitter.
The reaction highlighted the extent to which many Republicans have tilted toward Trumpian skepticism about federal law enforcement in a party that has traditionally positioned itself as a tough on crime.
Even senior Republican leaders in Congress openly attacked the Justice Department and the FBI after the search, and Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, promised an investigation against Attorney General Merrick Garland if they regained control of the lower house of Congress in November.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates announced fundraisers amid the search and promised retaliation. “The question is what comes next,” said JD Vance, the author and venture capitalist running for a Senate seat in Ohio. “We either have [a] Republic or we don’t. If we do, the people who’ve politicised the FBI in recent years will face investigation and prosecution.”
Republican strategists hope the search will bolster their advantage over US voters in the midterm congressional elections. But there is a risk that this anger could alienate moderate and independent voters, showing how deeply anti-Washington extremism has infiltrated the Republican Party and the extent to which the party remains at Trump's mercy.
On social media, rage erupted with equal force. Within hours of news of the Mar-a-Lago raid, the number of tweets referencing "civil war" and "FBI Gestapo" peaked at over 3,000 in a single hour. Two days later, an average of 1,000 such tweets were still sent every hour.
Many on Twitter, Telegram and Trump's alternative platform TruthSocial pointed to the raid as evidence of the ongoing persecution of Trump and his supporters by Biden and the so-called "Deep State." Conspiracy theories quickly circulated Tuesday and Wednesday, accusing the FBI of planting evidence to prevent Trump from running for president in 2024.
On far-right platforms such as the Telegram channel QAnon and message boards TheDonald and 4chan, the threats of violence were more overt and targeted, with many posting death threats against Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray. One popular post on TheDonald read: “They have awakened a Dragon and it’s coming for them.”
Meanwhile, former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon urged supporters to mobilize. “Get an overwhelming majority in the House, take the Senate, take every school board, every election board, every canvassing board, every medical board in every state,” he added.
But it was outside of Trump's adopted home in Florida that feelings were most acute and troubling. "“When the FBI raided Trump’s home, we stepped into an entirely new realm,” said Charles Molesphini, a retiree from Delray Beach.
Linda Ulmer, a retiree from Jupiter Beach, added: “If Trump is put in prison, there will be a civil war. People will be out on the streets. Buildings will burn. People will take down the Capitol.”