Ever since a violent mob ransacked the Capitol earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has been warning of mobs everywhere and pledging to remain vigilant against them.
“I’m going to continue to represent the people of Missouri without fear of any mob,” Hawley said on Fox News Monday night.
But Hawley isn’t talking about the same mob that trashed the ultimate symbol of democracy in Washington, D.C., to undo the election of Joe Biden. He’s not talking about the mob that cheered for him that day before he formally objected to the election result. He is talking about a metaphorical mob that wants to obliterate Republicans, and he is pretending to be this fake mob’s most persecuted victim.
“If they think I’ll roll over and say, ‘Go on ahead, tear down the Senate, tear down all of our democratic traditions,’ I am not going to stand for it,” Hawley said. “The people of Missouri sent me here to represent them. That’s exactly what I’m going to do and I’m not going to be intimidated by the liberal mob.”
Hawley’s victimization narrative is one that has taken firm root in the Republican Party in the past decade. It plays to a similar sense of victimization expressed by the party’s voter base, including both the self-identifying white working class and wealthy conservative elites.
Although Republicans control 27 out of 50 governorships and 30 out of 50 state legislatures and have appointed six out of nine Supreme Court justices, Hawley and others insist they’re the ultimate underdogs.
A 2020 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute taken at the height of last year’s racial justice protests found 62% of Republicans still agreed with the statement that white people face similar discrimination as Black people and other minority groups. Among Trump supporters, Hawley’s main target audience, 69% agreed that whites face equal discrimination.
In 2016, PRRI also found that 74% of Republicans believed that discrimination against Christians was as bad as that faced by other groups.
The 2020 Republican National Convention played into this victimization complex by focusing on the party’s opposition to Black Lives Matter protests, even going so far as to feature Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the wealthy St. Louis couple indicted for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their mansion. (The protestors were simply walking past the McCloskey’s home on their way to protest in front of the mayor’s residence.)
“If you stand up for yourself, the mob, spurred on by allies in the media, will try to destroy you,” Mark McCloskey said at the convention.
This sense of grievance among both working-class and rich white conservatives fueled Trump’s political success. And he played into it by positing himself, the leader, as the physical representation of the people. Any attack on him was really an attack on them.
“Always remember,” Trump said in his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president in 2020, “they are coming after me because I am fighting for you.”
“Hawley likened the complaint against him to an effort to 'tear down the Senate, tear down all of our Democratic institutions' ― as though an actual mob had not just stormed the actual Senate.”
In the two weeks since the Capitol riot, Hawley and other Republicans have begun to complain more loudly about the backlash against them for sharing a common cause with the rioters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who initially said Trump bore responsibility for the attack but then recanted a week later by saying Trump had not “provoked” it, complained over the weekend that reporters observing his irreconcilable statements were treating him unfairly.
“The distortions of my comments are completely disingenuous,” McCarthy tweeted. His press team begged allies for retweets.
And on Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who refused to say the election wasn’t stolen and demanded an investigation of it ― even though dozens of state courts and the U.S. Department of Justice couldn’t find any fraud ― declared that calling Republicans liars is simply unfair.
“I won’t be cowed by liberals in the media who say there’s no evidence here and you’re a liar if you talk about election fraud,” Paul said.
But Hawley is playing victim on another level. When he lamented mob intimidation on Monday night, he was talking about Democratic senators filing an ethics complaint against him for his role in helping incite the Jan. 6 riot. He’d told supporters to “stand up” and even held out the possibility that Congress could overturn the election. Before the riot, he raised his fist to the crowd that stormed the Capitol within hours.
Nevertheless, Hawley likened the complaint against him to an effort to “tear down the Senate, tear down all of our Democratic institutions” ― as though an actual mob had not just stormed the actual Senate. Rioters talked on the Senate floor about Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) approving of their actions, according to a video published by The New Yorker.
Hawley seems to be making a deliberate effort to appropriate the word “mob.” After the riot, which left five people dead and dozens of police officers injured, Hawley first used the word not to describe the rioters, but to complain that a “woke mob” at publisher Simon & Schuster had canceled his book deal.
Then, in a guest column for a Missouri newspaper, Hawley explained why he voted to object to the election even after the insurrection at the Capitol.
“The reason is simple: I will not bow to a lawless mob, or allow criminals to drown out the legitimate concerns of my constituents,” he wrote ― as though the mob had not just cheered for him when he raised his fist.
The word “mob” usually refers to a large, angry crowd of people bent on violence. To Hawley, a mob is his Democratic colleagues, or a book publisher, or anyone who disagrees with him.