Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter @JillFilipovic. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
The GOP bills itself as the party of law and order. But more and more, it risks becoming the party of criminality and chaos.
This week, Solomon Peña, a Republican former candidate for the state legislature in New Mexico, was arrested as the alleged ringleader of a criminal conspiracy to shoot at the homes of several elected Democrats – motivated, police say, by election denial. The mayor of Albuquerque said an investigation confirmed “these shootings were politically motivated.” (CNN has contacted Peña’s campaign for comment and has been unable to identify his attorney.)
According to the allegations, Peña and four men he contacted fired shots at the homes of four Democrats, two county commissioners and two state legislators. One of them, Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, said she narrowly missed being in the house when bullets tore through it. “It was terrifying,” she said in a statement. “My house had four shots through the front door and windows, where just hours before my grandbaby and I were playing in the living room.”
Luckily, no one was shot in any of these assaults. But people could have very easily been injured or killed.
It’s easy to imagine how conservatives might spin this in coming days: Peña is on the fringe, an aberration, not representative of anything. Oh, and remember the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Rep. Steve Scalise in 2017? See, Democrats do it too!
But Peña’s involvement in an alleged criminal conspiracy in which he is accused of pulling the trigger at least once in a series of shootings at Democrats’ homes is not aberrational. That he was a Republican candidate for office speaks both to the caliber of person this party is attracting and to a broader pattern of right-wing violence, fueled by the rhetoric coming from Republicans who hold some of the most powerful positions in the country.
This is a GOP problem. Yes, there are many Republicans who are law-abiding and condemn political violence and the Republican Party of New Mexico issued a statement to the Associated Press saying that “if Peña is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” Still, the New Mexico shootings are the entirely predictable outcome of a party that pulls in gun-obsessed conspiracy theorists divorced from reality not just as voters – which is bad enough – but as leaders while also feeding its base a steady stream of unhinged lies about its political opponents and working overtime to stop even the most basic efforts to regulate access to deadly weapons.
The “Stop the Steal” movement, which culminated in mobs breaking into the Capitol building intending to overturn the results of a free and fair election, left multiple people dead, and should go down in history as one of the greatest stains on American democracy since our founding. And it is just one of many examples. In 2020, a group of far-right militia members engaged in something of a practice run for Jan. 6, when they conspired to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state government. (Whitmer called out then-President Trump after the plot was thwarted, saying he had “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” Over a year after leaving office, Trump referred to the plot against Whitmer as a “fake deal.”)
Those men were convicted. And hundreds of January 6 rioters have been arrested and charged as well; some are going to prison. Still, a majority of Republicans continue to believe that the 2020 election was stolen – and they believe it because it’s what their leaders are telling them. And that’s an inherently dangerous situation, one that carries with it the risk of violence.
Right-wing terrorism has long been a more widespread problem than left-wing terrorism or Islamic extremism, and according to the ADL, most right-wing terrorism comes from anti-government extremists, who often