You don’t need a deep dive into the history books to find an example of how talking cavalierly about violent clashes and resisting the federal government at a contentious time can lead to dark places.
Three years ago, Republican politicians and pro-Trump influencers likened efforts to overturn the 2020 election to 1776 and invoked militaristic rhetoric like “combat.” It turned out a bunch of people took that literally, launching the first large-scale attack on the U.S. Capitol in 200 years.
Despite that relatively recent cautionary tale, some people are offering a similar framing for a tense dispute between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and the Biden administration over the southern border.
Repeatedly in recent days, Republicans and conservative media have alluded to the prospect of the situation forcing soldiers to choose between loyalty to their state and loyalty to their country — even proposing that matters could turn confrontational and violent. Some have invoked another civil war.
The comments have increasingly referenced a situation in which President Biden would try to federalize the National Guard. (A few current and former Democratic members of Congress have called for such a step, after Abbott signaled that the Texas National Guard would continue laying razor wire along the border despite the Supreme Court saying federal authorities can remove it. The White House has shrugged off such calls to federalize the Guard.)
A Newsmax host on Thursday mentioned Guard members potentially refusing to be federalized — essentially disobeying their commander in chief — and asked, “Does that put us on course for a force-on-force conflict?”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) didn’t exactly deny the possibility, going so far as to suggest that the Guard would be standing on principles in resisting.
“This is a powder keg worth of tension,” Stitt said. He noted that these are “still Texans” and added, “I think they would be in a difficult situation to protect their homeland or follow what Biden’s saying. I think it would be very interesting.”
Stitt echoed the comments Friday morning on Fox News, saying that Guard members were “trying to obey their boss” but that they disagreed with the administration’s policies and handling of the border.
Steve Doocy to Got. Stitt: ‘Have you thought this through? If you send you Oklahoma National Guard down there, and a bunch of other states send them down there, all Biden has to do is federalize all of them … your National Guard could be working for Joe Biden.’ pic.twitter.com/WXBT0XSq6u
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 26, 2024
Stitt added in another media appearance on Friday that Biden would put Guard members in a “tough situation” by asking them to “obey what they know is a very, very foolish policy.” He said they might have a “hard time” doing it.
Earlier this week, after the Supreme Court ruled against Texas, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) tweeted that “the feds are staging a civil war, and Texas should stand their ground.”
Fox News and Fox Business hosts have also played up the possibility of a conflict.
Martha MacCallum cited “a confrontation, potentially, between federal agents and the Texas National Guard.” Stuart Varney on Friday said the dispute “could mean a direct clash at the border between federalized troops and the state authorities.” Greg Gutfeld on Thursday cited a possible civil war multiple times, apparently jokingly. “Hypothetically, civil war is coming. It’s coming,” he said. “We have 24 states on Texas’s side, that leaves 26 [on the other]?”
Like Gutfeld, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had some fun with the possibility. He promoted a satirical article titled, “Ted Cruz Grows Out Mutton Chops In Preparation For Civil War,” adding: “Fact check: true.” Cruz responded to a critic of the tweet by saying, “Democrats have ZERO sense of humor.”
Around the same time, Cruz posted a mocked-up flag featuring razor wire over the words, “Come and take it.”
The slogan and the styling of the flag evoked the Gonzales flag. That flag was flown in 1835 at the battle that touched off the Texas Revolution, in which residents rebelled against the government of Mexico.
Come and take it. pic.twitter.com/1VMfEoSoRN
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 25, 2024
Cruz is an avid troll on X, formerly known as Twitter. And it’s easy to play all the talk off as joking and deride your opponents for being humorless, as he has.
But there are those who take the situation seriously as a challenge to Texas sovereignty. Abbott is taking actions that, while not actually violating the Supreme Court’s order — the order said that the Department of Homeland Security could remove the wire, not that Texas must stop using it — are certainly provocative and invite a power struggle. DHS recently accused Texas of denying U.S. Border Patrol access to a part of the Rio Grande to investigate reports of migrants drowning. (The day after the Border Patrol was denied access, three migrants’ bodies were found — those of a woman and two children.)
Former president Donald Trump on Thursday encouraged other states to send their National Guards to help “protect the Safety, Security, and Sovereignty of Texas.”
While the White House has declined to weigh in on federalizing the Texas National Guard, it is within the president’s power to do so. It would be an extreme and historic move, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower did it in 1957 when Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus used his state’s Guard to halt school integration.
The prominent conservative voices are essentially pointing to a scenario in which Guard members would either reject such an order or engage in some other kind of standoff with the federal authorities who would remove the razor wire.
This kind of talk is couched as merely gaming out a scenario and warning the Biden administration against inflaming the situation. But the thrust of it — especially in Stitt’s interview — is that the Guard would be standing on principle by resisting. He framed the choice as being between combating fentanyl and “terrorists” on one side, and appeasing “some administration that has a political agenda” on the other.
That’s a pretty stark framing. And if enough people internalize it, you could certainly see how things could get out of hand.