Resolute Square

Taking On The FBI, The GOP Serves Its Cult Leader

Covering up Trump's corruption is a full-time activity for cult followers like Rep. Jim Jordan
Published:May 25, 2023

Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

"Get ready for garbage politics," I wrote in February about the recently-created House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Housed under the Judiciary Committee, the Republican-led subcommittee's avowed purpose is to strike back at political bias within government institutions. Its actual purpose is damage control. Its work involves intimidating and harassing anyone who can harm the GOP's cult leader, Donald Trump, or draw attention to the party's complicity in Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election and remain in power illegally.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is the perfect choice to chair this sham subcommittee. A longtime Trump cult loyalist and veteran practitioner of disinformation campaigns and coverups of abuses of power, Jordan knows how to generate piles of distracting garbage-content that will be amplified by far-right information warfare outlets around the world. The recent attempt to depict the FBI as a Democratic tool, complete with FBI "whistleblowers" who were paid off by Trump defender Kash Patel, is typical.

Authoritarians always seek to discredit sectors of government and society that are devoted to investigation and impartial inquiry. That's why intelligence services, which have their own histories of anti-democratic activity, can find their agents meeting the same fates as journalists, researchers, and prosecutors if the leader and his party fear they will expose his corruption or know too much about things he wants buried.

The GOP's claim that institutions are being politicized by Democrats also has an illiberal history. In Chile, the Augusto Pinochet regime used the slogan of "anti-politics" to justify purging civilian and military intelligence —only those espousing far-right politics could remain. In Russia, President and former FSB head Vladimir Putin, needing scapegoats after early setbacks to his badly-conceived war on Ukraine, turned on his intelligence services. He purged 150 agents in April 2022 and sent some to prison. This time the charge was shoddy work caused by insufficient loyalty.

The subcommittee's cooked-up crusade against the FBI came after the agency revoked the security clearances of three agents whose behaviors with regard to investigating Jan. 6 cases "brought into question their allegiance to the US," as the agency stated in its report to Congress. These individuals, who Jordan presented as brave revealers of Democratic machinations, had parroted conspiracy theories about Biden's stolen victory, been present at the insurrection, or believed that the FBI should be dismantled.  

Take former FBI agent Steve Friend, who espoused right-wing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and Jan. 6. He refused to investigate Jan. 6 rioters, transferred FBI documents to an unauthorized flash drive, and criticized the Biden administration in Kremlin propaganda outlets Russia Today and Sputnik. The title of Friend's Sputnik interview, "Under Biden Federal Agencies Turned into Instrument of Intimidation, FBI Whistleblower Says," shows how GOP and Putin talking points align.

The GOP's defense of these anti-democratic FBI agents is alarming from the point of view of national security. It tells us that the party does not want the FBI to discipline or clean house of any extremists—quite the contrary. The Republicans need those extremists and Kremlin sympathizers in place inside the FBI to poison the atmosphere and prepare the purges Trump has vowed to resume against the FBI and other government agencies if he becomes president again. 

It also reminds us that the GOP is a party in thrall to a cult leader. Patel, the "fixer" of this sordid smear operation, is a Trump diehard who has tried to delegitimize the FBI ever since it started to investigate his idol's Russia ties. Patel continued his faithful servitude as Chief of Staff to Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller—during the period when Trump sought to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. So, who better to call on than Patel to encourage Friend's loyalty by finding him a job after he resigned from the FBI and paying him thousands of dollars?

Appearing as a prop of the Trump cult, and turning the whistleblower into a figure who covers up, rather than unmasks, lying and corruption, was the least Friend could do.

"Either the deep state destroys America, or we destroy the deep state," the former president declared ominously at a March campaign rally. Until Trump returns to the White House and has the power to neutralize any investigative body that might harm him, the FBI included, his devoted followers will use this sham subcommittee to do their leader's work.