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Not if, but when

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I’ve seen enough, as the political catch phrase goes, to call the quote of the year in Idaho, and maybe nationally.

It didn’t come from a politician, or even a public figure; we don’t even know the guy’s name. We do know it was real, captured on video and heard clearly.

The occasion was October 26 at a Nampa gathering for the national conservative student group Turning Point USA; the event was moderated by the group’s founder, Charlie Kirk.

Kirk was taking questions, and one of them came from someone identified only as an audience member. After he offered a short introduction, he said:

“At this point, we’re living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns? No, and I’m not — that’s not a joke. I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

Quote of the year: “When do we get to use the guns?”

Followed by the clarification that he wasn’t joking. (In the past, people often would follow statements like this with, “but it was only a joke …” No longer.)

That statement reverberated not just around the state but around the nation and even around the world. For good reason.

Here’s the man’s statement rephrased only slightly: “When can we start using these precious high-powered firearms we’ve been stockpiling (as our preferred media outlets have been steadily counseling), load them and hit the streets to mow down anyone we suspect doesn’t think the way we do?”

Kirk seemed a little taken aback, but there were two layers to his response. His first words appropriately seemed to catch the lunacy, the madness: “Now, I’m going to denounce that and I’m going to tell you why.”

Okay. Then, seemingly, as he had a few seconds to digest what he might say that on one hand wouldn’t encourage people to hit the streets with their AK-47s and starting mass murders, but also that wouldn’t turn off his otherwise enthusiastic audience, he explained his why: “Because you’re playing into all their plans and they’re trying to make you do this. … They are trying to provoke you and everyone here. They are trying to make you do something that will be violent that will justify a takeover of your freedoms and liberties, the likes of which we have never seen.”

In other words: yeah, you’re right, it’s all a conspiracy against you, you’re right to hate them as much as you do, just be careful about it so our side isn’t damaged politically. Your paranoia is right on.

He did reference things audience members could do that are peaceful and legitimate parts of how our society works, such as winning elections. (Some oddball and impractical but nonviolent stuff was mixed in.) But all of that seemed anti-climactic and beside the point.

The quote from the anonymous audience member would have seemed just a spooky outlier a few years ago. The times are making it something else, notably in places like Idaho.

A series of surveys are making the point. A report from the University of Chicago settled on the figure of 21 million Americans who think the “use of force is justified” to re-install Donald Trump in the White House. And polling by the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that 39 percent of Republicans agree that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

It’s a safe bet the percentage of people who think that way is higher in Idaho than nationally.

So it’s not that one guy said something outrageous. It’s that a lot of people – a lot of Idahoans – likely agree with him.

The frame for his question seems grimly appropriate: Not if, but when.

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