Following a long and controversial history of Black American deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers, the 2020 killing of George Floyd provoked activists around the nation to march for social justice in cities like Milwaukee. Chief among their calls was a demand to “defund the police” during their protests.
The idea was universally scored and weaponized by Republican leaders, to condemn the activists and attack Democratic politicians. Now, some GOP members have co-oped the rally cry in response to the lawful actions by the FBI. Many fear that the rhetoric has stirred White Nationalists to commit acts of domestic terror against federal law enforcement.
On August 8, the FBI conducted a legally authorized search for classified documents reportedly stored in violation of three federal laws on the ex-president’s property. The Department of Justice was acting on behalf of claims made by the National Archives that Trump brought 15 boxes of documents containing classified information with him to Mar-a-Lago, after leaving the White House in January 2021.
To execute the search warrants, Justice Department officials needed approval from a federal judge, along with overwhelming evidence indicating a crime had likely been committed. FBI Director Christopher Wray, who signed off on the search, was himself appointed by Trump in 2017 after the former President fired James Comey.
Advocates for defunding the police have said that the idea was meant to provide more humanitarian resources for communities that were overly policed. Republicans have twisted the meaning behind the phrase, following their usual authoritarian playbook.
Trump liked to tout himself as a “law and order” president. His political supporters and MAGA followers also claimed to “back the blue,” even though those very same loyalists brutalized law enforcement officers while attacking the Capital building during the January 6 insurrection.
The change of tune comes in stark contrast to conventional conservative rhetoric. But it follows the Republican Party’s ongoing strategy of claiming victimhood and in an effort to instigate Culture Wars.
Following the legal recovery of stolen classified documents at Trump’s residence, an early tweet to “defund the FBI” came from U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). She inspired numerous statements from prominent Republican members of Congress and commentators. The very same individuals who embraced Greene’s rhetoric previously savaged activists for the same statements after George Floyd’s death.
The Bulwark’s William Saletan listed ten points in his article Defund the FBI: the MAGA Right’s Hypocritical New Slogan. He offered an insightful summary of how conservative rightwing politicians have changed their narrative, for their own benefit and driven in large part by fear.
1. Defunding is a gateway to abolition. In 2020, activists on the left wanted cities to shift some money from police budgets to social services. They argued that mental health counselors and other non-police workers could better handle situations previously assigned to cops. Conservatives accused the left of trying to abolish police altogether. Now some of the same conservatives are calling for abolition of the FBI.
2. Defunding is an attack on all law enforcement. In 2020, when progressives criticized police departments in certain cities, conservatives accused them of rejecting law enforcement as a whole. Two years later, the defund-and-abolish movement has indeed moved on to federal law enforcement — but now the people leading the movement are on the right, not the left.
3. Defunding law enforcement leads to more crime. Republicans often made this point when the context was urban crime. But when the context is possible lawbreaking by Trump or his associates, they no longer show much interest in deterrence.
4. Defunding law enforcement leads to anarchy. In 2020, critics of certain police departments argued that the departments were unsalvageable. In these cities, the critics proposed to disband the departments and reinvent them. Opponents on the right said this idea was nuts and would produce chaos. But now the right is making the same case against the FBI.
5. Don’t defund or abolish law enforcement over a few bad apples. In 2020, conservatives rejected broad-brush accusations against police departments, noting that most cops were honest. But in the conflict between Trump and the FBI, that point has been abandoned.
6. Democrats are the party of defunding. For two years, conservatives branded Democrats as the party of defunding and abolition. Now they are adopting the same language.
7. Defunding law enforcement is bad only when it is for Black Lives Matter. But apparently when the defunding is for Trump and MAGA, it is virtuous and urgent.
8. Don’t let Democrats run away from their record. When President Joe Biden and other Democrats have made it clear that they oppose defunding police, Republicans have accused them of trying to shift positions. But the same Republicans are now blatantly shifting their own positions.
9. Republicans would never let anyone defund or dismantle law enforcement. Unless, of course, the people who propose to defund or dismantle law enforcement are Republicans.
10. How dare Democrats accuse Republicans of defunding law enforcement. These accusations are a slimy attempt at deflection, says convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza, who now advocates abolition of the FBI.
One Republican standing behind the FBI’s actions has been Congressman Adam Kinzinger. An opponent to the 45th president and other Republicans supporting his actions, Kinzinger tweeted on August 11, “Listening to Republicans attack law enforcement is wrong, dangerous, and shameful. They will pick their cult leader over anything, but this is especially wrong.”
The representative went on to say that every Republican official who did not agree with attacks on law enforcement must speak out “if there are any patriots left.”