Juan Williams: Trump's toxicity fuels fear of violence

You can handle the truth.

Here is the truth from a Florida school board member about being threatened by parents whipped into rage by the Trump echo chamber.

“I don't reject people coming here and speaking their voice,” Jennifer Jenkins of the Brevard County School Board in Florida said at a recent meeting. “I reject them following my car around. I reject them saying that they're coming for me, that I need to beg for mercy."

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“I reject [them] going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors.”

Jenkins’ first-person testimony pulls the cover off the lies coming from Trump Republicans.

They claim a need to loudly defend — to the point of disruption — their right to speak at school board meetings. That’s a lie. There is no effort to shut down public speech.

Here’s the reality.

The Trump Party is manufacturing grievances to stir up voters in off-year elections, especially this fall’s race for governor in Virginia.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyBob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors Facebook unblocks Rittenhouse searches MORE (R-Mo.) even falsely accused the Biden administration of “sending FBI agents to try to silence voting, taxpaying parents, trying to silence them” in a recent interview on Fox News.

The editorial board of the senator’s hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, rightly called out his propaganda-like distortion.

Hawley “offers the Orwellian notion that confronting harassment and intimidation by parents against school board members is, in itself, harassment and intimidation. Is Missouri’s Republican junior senator trying to incite more of the kind of violence he incited on Jan. 6?"

It isn’t that Senator Hawley and his fellow members of the GOP are trying to incite more violence.

The awful truth is that they do not care if they do.

In Virginia last week at an event for the Trump-backed candidate, the former president’s followers pledged allegiance to a flag that supposedly flew at the rally that immediately preceded the Jan. 6 riot.

Recall how Hawley put his fist in the air to salute the mob that later stormed the Capitol. The Kansas City Star’s editorial board said that act left him with “blood on his hands in the Capitol coup attempt.”

Trump admirers demanded law and order during overwhelmingly peaceful protests to halt police brutality in 2020. Now they are happy to close their eyes to actual instances of violent behavior against school board officials.

They get fired up by pretending some radical racial theory is regularly taught in public schools. It is not. And they pretend the use of masks to protect school children against COVID-19, as urged by scientists, is tyranny.

The intimidation and threats are so out of control that the National School Boards Association recently sent a letter to President BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE asking for federal help.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the letter read. “The National School Boards Association (NSBA) respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”

The letter detailed more than 20 specific instances of violence or chaos. It said such “heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Predictably, that message was quickly distorted. In the rightwing echo chamber, the letter became an effort to have Biden label conservative parents as terrorists.

Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at a conservative think tank, The Manhattan Institute, wrote to the Associated Press that the Biden Administration is “using the FBI to suppress parents and criminalize dissent.”

This is in line with distortions used by Trump to vilify election workers as he pushed them to say the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats.

Those election officials also complained about threats coming from Trump and his followers.

“Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” Gabriel Sterling, a top aide to Georgia’s secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said of Trump. “Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed and it’s not right.”

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Later Raffensperger himself, who was dubbed “an enemy of the people” by Trump, told ABC News the former president’s lies about the election led to death threats against him, and to Trump supporters going after “young poll workers and election workers in Gwinnett County and also folks in one of our offices.”

After the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump’s effort to have GOP officials refuse to certify the presidential election, a February poll from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) found 56 percent of Republicans said they support the use of force to stop “the traditional American way of life” from disappearing.

Now schools are the prime theater for the Trump threats.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisMore voters would pick Trump over Biden if election were held today: poll 17 Democratic state AGs back challenge to Florida voting limits The Memo: Media obsess over Trump's past as he eyes comeback MORE at one point threatened to fine school boards that mandate students and teachers wear masks to halt the spread of COVID.

The atmosphere fueled right-wing threats at school board meetings and threats by people outside the home of the chair of a Sarasota school board.

“I’m not sure if it was the Proud Boys,” said Shirley Brown, the board chair, noting that one of the protesters “had a Proud Boys t-shirt on.”

“I know they stormed the Capitol with guns,” she added. “I don’t know what they are going to do here.”

Where does this end?

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.