For decades, conservative activists and leaders have warned that “jackbooted thugs” from the federal government were going to come to take away Americans’ civil rights with no due process and no recourse. Now they’re here—but they’re deployed by a staunchly right-wing president with strong conservative support.
While Republicans have often portrayed themselves as devoted to law and order and defending the police, there’s also a strong libertarian current in the conservative movement that bristles at the growth of federal law enforcement. This became especially strong following the deadly federal sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and Waco, Texas, in 1993. The ATF in particular became a bête noire.
Yet on Thursday, as reports emerged from Portland of heavily armored federal agents attacking law-abiding citizens, the NRA announced it was endorsing Trump for a second term, praising him for “stand[ing] tall for the constitutional freedoms in which our members believe.”
The silence of many high-profile conservatives (with some exceptions) in the face of Trump’s attempt to create a national police force to crush dissent has much to do with the specifics. The subjects of the government’s repression are not white, rural gun owners, as at Ruby Ridge, but a multiracial coalition of urban residents, who tend to lean liberal, and who are protesting police violence against people of color. (The NRA has been conspicuously quiet when police violate Black people’s right to bear arms.)