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‘Defund the FBI’—the MAGA Right’s Hypocritical New Slogan

An overnight switcheroo on ‘defunding’ or ‘abolishing’ law enforcement after the Mar-a-Lago search.
August 9, 2022
‘Defund the FBI’—the MAGA Right’s Hypocritical New Slogan
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Two years ago, in congressional and state elections, Republican candidates accused Democrats of supporting proposals to “defund” or “abolish” police. Actually, although anti-police slogans were widespread on social media and among protesters, very few Democratic officeholders supported these ideas. But Republicans didn’t let those facts get in the way. They smeared the whole Democratic party as an agent of crime and chaos.

Monday’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago—reportedly in pursuit of classified documents that former President Donald Trump may have illegally kept when he left office—has turned this issue upside down. Now that law enforcement has targeted Trump, conservatives are denouncing the FBI. Some want to defund the bureau; others are demanding its complete abolition. Here are some of the more egregious reversals.

1. Defunding is a gateway to abolition. In 2020, activists on the left wanted cities to shift some money from police budgets to social services. They argued that mental health counselors and other non-police workers could better handle situations previously assigned to cops. Conservatives accused the left of trying to abolish police altogether. Now some of the same conservatives are calling for abolition of the FBI.

2. Defunding is an attack on all law enforcement. In 2020, when progressives criticized police departments in certain cities, conservatives accused them of rejecting law enforcement as a whole. Two years later, the defund-and-abolish movement has indeed moved on to federal law enforcement—but now the people leading the movement are on the right, not the left.

3. Defunding law enforcement leads to more crime. Republicans often made this point when the context was urban crime. But when the context is possible lawbreaking by Trump or his associates, they no longer show much interest in deterrence.

4. Defunding law enforcement leads to anarchy. In 2020, critics of certain police departments argued that the departments were unsalvageable. In these cities, the critics proposed to disband the departments and reinvent them. Opponents on the right said this idea was nuts and would produce chaos. But now the right is making the same case against the FBI.

5. Don’t defund or abolish law enforcement over a few bad apples. In 2020, conservatives rejected broad-brush accusations against police departments, noting that most cops were honest. But in the conflict between Trump and the FBI, that point has been abandoned.

6. Democrats are the party of defunding. For two years, conservatives branded Democrats as the party of defunding and abolition. Now they’re adopting the same language.

7. Defunding law enforcement is bad only when it’s for Black Lives Matter. But apparently when the defunding is for Trump and MAGA, it’s virtuous and urgent.

8. Don’t let Democrats run away from their record. When President Joe Biden and other Democrats have made it clear that they oppose defunding police, Republicans have accused them of trying to shift positions. But the same Republicans are now blatantly shifting their own positions.

9. Republicans would never let anyone defund or dismantle law enforcement. Unless, of course, the people who propose to defund or dismantle law enforcement are Republicans.

10. How dare Democrats accuse Republicans of defunding law enforcement. These accusations are a slimy attempt at deflection, says convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza, who now advocates abolition of the FBI.

These are just a few of the shameless backflips by Republican lawmakers and conservative media figures since the Mar-a-Lago search. I found these on Twitter; there are more on TV, and others will follow.

If the trend continues, defunding law enforcement may turn out to be more popular among Republican politicians than it is among Democrats. Americans who care about law and order should vote accordingly.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.