Opinion: Republicans Unleash Vigilante Justice, Destroy Rule of Law

On October 1 a Maryland man was arrested for murdering his brother and sister-in-law.

The reason?

He believed his brother, a pharmacist, was killing people by administering the COVID-19 vaccine to them.

The delusion and denial of scientific reality aside, this turn of events is also disturbing for what it signals about the ever-increasing rejection of the rule of law.  It wasn’t just that this man had fallen prey to a conspiracy theory, believing right-wing madness that the vaccine not only did not protect people but could fatally harm them, but that he also felt he had the license to take the law into his own hands and act as judge, jury, and executioner.

Whatever happened to picking up the phone and calling the police if you believed someone had committed murder? If it’s an emergency, dial 911.

Well, clearly this man knew his pharmacist brother was not breaking any socially-sanctioned law and that the police likely would not act.

He acted according to law and sense of distorted justice he and other conspiracy theorists had invented.

And why wouldn’t he believe he had the right to take the law into his own hands?

Texas legislators recently passed the infamous abortion ban, the enforcement of which is not placed in the hands of state authorities but in those of private citizens. Private citizens are empowered to sue anybody they believe may be violating the law and, if they win, receive an award from the defendant of at least $10,000 plus their legal expenses. If plaintiffs lose, they do not have to pay the defendant’s legal fees, granting private citizens a hefty power to exercise a kind of vigilante justice without impunity.

On a broader scale, we have seen the Republican Party encourage private citizens to reject legal democratic processes and state authority.

Just take their reaction to the events of January 6. Congressional Republicans, with the exceptions of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have opposed any serious investigation into the insurrection and its planning. Based on their response, it’s perfectly fine with them that the rioters assaulted and killed police officers.

And this is what we saw for four years when Democrats sought to uphold the rule of law and investigate Trump and his administration.  Trump and his people refused to honor subpoenas; when Trump’s circle, including the likes of Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort, were convicted of crimes, they held out for pardons from Trump.

The lesson? Americans have the right to disrespect the law and play by their own rules.

Again, we see it not just from private citizens but from government leaders. Indeed, Republicans refusing to increase the debt limit to pay the nation’s debts they incurred and approved is just one instance where we see them setting the example where it’s acceptable to not play by the rules and to inflict great damage on the nation and its people.

We are at a dangerous moment in America. Republicans have effectively sanctioned violent vigilante justice, and we can expect to see more of it from both inside and outside the government.