Trump puts a target on the FBI: Cincinnati gunman shows danger posed by an endless supply of dupes
Donald Trump (AFP)

The main reason that Donald Trump is forever turning Republican campaign events and conservative conferences into fascistic rallies featuring two-hour stemwinders is that he's a champion narcissist with a vampiric need to feed off the adulation of blockheads. But a major secondary reason is what happened on Thursday, when a deranged Trump supporter named Ricky Shiffer fired a nail gun at the FBI offices in Cincinnati, Ohio, before getting killed in an hours-long standoff with the police.

As reporters covering right-wing extremism swiftly documented, before much of it was taken down, Shiffer was all wound up by Trump's lies about the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago Monday, lies that have been amplified and validated by right-wing media outlets like Fox News and much of the GOP establishment.

"Kill the FBI on sight, and be ready to take down other active enemies of the people," Shiffer apparently posted on Truth Social, a Trump-owned social media site, according to Andy Campbell of HuffPost.

"Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn't. If you don't hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it'll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me," Shiffer allegedly posted on Trump's site, right after the nail gun attack, according to NBC News.

The saddest part is that, while Ricky Shiffer took it to the next level, he's far from alone.

Truth Social was set up in large part to give Trump, who was banned from Twitter after inciting the January 6 insurrection, a platform to keep up his stream-of-consciousness bigotry, lies, and conspiracy theories. It also, under the guise of "free speech," serves as a clearinghouse for fascist sentiment and violent rhetoric. As with Trump's rallies, much of it is about keeping his followers on the hook by making them feel close to their hero, an illusion he knows how to strategically bolster. In May, for instance, Trump endorsed a post by a user fantasizing about "civil war." It raised alarms about how Trump is still inciting violence, but also, crucially, it allowed his followers to believe that he reads their social media posts and cares about them.

Keeping these people hyped with lies and conspiracy theories, all meant to feed their ridiculous persecution complex, is mostly about Trump keeping the fountain of cash and worship turned on. But, as the January 6 committee has carefully demonstrated, Trump is also keenly aware that these folks are well-armed and awash in violent fantasies, making them a weapon he can wield to intimidate those he has a quarrel with.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

"They put their faith, their trust, in Donald Trump ... he deceived them," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said during a July 12 hearing of the committee. The hearing featured testimony from Stephen Ayres, who was convicted of rioting on January 6 at the Capitol, and who feels remorse over his role in it. He portrayed himself as a dupe of Trump's, testifying, "I felt like I had horse blinders on, I was locked in the whole time."

Keeping these people hyped with lies and conspiracy theories, all meant to feed their ridiculous persecution complex, is mostly about Trump keeping the fountain of cash and worship turned on.

Trump is once again tapping his supporters as a violent resource for intimidation against Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI with his lies and public tantrums over the document search. While he is careful to avoid direct calls for violence, Trump's tactics rely on the universal understanding that his supporters are unhinged and armed maniacs, many of whom, as Ayres testified, are so caught up in their fantasies of "civil war" that they aren't thinking about the consequences. Trump's hyperbolic language about being "persecuted," for instance, was amplified by his stooges, such as Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, who floated false claims that the FBI was targeting Trump for assassination. Everyone knew that the chance of one of Trump's supporters going off like this was high. Indeed, after January 6, we can know that Trump himself frequently hopes his words have exactly this effect.

Trump's magic trick with his followers is convincing them that they're in on the con, when, in fact, they are his marks. Take his inciting speech on January 6, for instance. He made sure to wedge the word "peaceful" into it so that he had something to point to later when people correctly accused him of sending a violent mob to ransack the Capitol. The audience for that speech definitely heard the quotation marks around the word "peaceful," and understood that it was a CYA move to keep Trump out of trouble. I'm sure it was quite thrilling to many of them, to be part of one of Trump's schemes to slide away scot-free, covered by the legal magic of that disingenuous use of the word "peaceful."

In fact, they got so caught up in the drama of Trump's clever ass-covering, however, that they didn't stop to consider that his was the only ass covered by that bad faith deployment of the word "peaceful." Once his followers actually rioted, the word "peaceful" did nothing to protect them, only Trump. Of course, you cannot claim intent to be peaceful when you're the one beating cops with a flagpole.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

I have no doubt that Trump's followers are deeply invested in his neo-fascist movement and stick by him because they think he's the single best shot they have of creating the authoritarian state they desire. However, in their fanaticism, they keep missing the part where Trump always puts Trump first, and so often his machinations are more about serving his personal interests than their movement.

This situation around the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago is looking to be an example of this.

We still don't know why Trump was squirreling away illegally-held documents from the U.S. government. Reporting from the Washington Post suggests that nuclear secrets were in the boxes Trump was refusing to relinquish to the feds. There are a lot of uses that Trump could find with such information to achieve his personal goals, but it's hard to imagine how hanging onto it serves the wants and needs of his supporters. Whatever higher cause Shiffer deluded himself into thinking he was following, we can bet "helping Trump hang onto nuclear secrets" was not among them.

Yet Trump is out there now, claiming it's a "hoax" that what he's hoarding is related to nuclear intel. Because even he knows that even his most delusional supporters are going to think twice about being Trump martyrs for the "cause" of letting Trump hang onto some pricey info that serves his interests but not their movement.

The saddest part is that, while Shiffer took it to the next level, he's far from alone.

The FBI and the judge who signed the warrant have been deluged with threats from Trump supporters. These people aren't acting like maniacs because they want to make sure Trump has a box of valuable information he could sell on the black market. They are telling themselves a story about how Trump is some great MAGA hero that is being persecuted by the deep state. The QAnon folks are clinging to this bizarre hope that Trump is about to expose an international pedophilia ring and that's why the FBI is going after him. Some of these people know that their cause is fascist. Some are just delusional. But none of them are facing up to the fact that the number one "cause" that Trump is using them to protect is his own sorry ass. Trump wants what he wants, often for petty and selfish reasons, and doesn't care how many of his followers he has to feed into the gunfire to get his way.