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‘We’re in a War’: National Conservatives Hype Their Ranks to Seek Revenge

“The fight that our founders fought to get rid of governmental tyranny that pales in comparison to the tyranny we’re dealing with,” John Eastman told the crowd at the National Conservatism Conference.

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Former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who was recently disbarred related to charges of helping Trump plan to overturn the 2020 election results, spoke on a panel about “lawfare” at the National Conservatism Conference. Jae C. Hong/AP

A group of conservatives are plotting legal revenge against Democrats and argue that it’s justified because they see themselves at war.

“The fight that our founders fought to get rid of governmental tyranny that pales in comparison to the tyranny we’re dealing with,” Donald Trump’s former lawyer, John Eastman, said at the National Conservatism Conference in downtown D.C. this week. “Get in the fight, stay in the fight until we win this fight,” he added. The crowd of mostly young white men gave him a standing ovation.

The conference halls were filled with tables for right-wing organizations like Hillsdale College, one passing out stickers that read “Awake Not Woke” and, in the corner, a Project 2025 setup. Eastman, who was recently disbarred related to charges of helping Trump plan to overturn the 2020 election results, was speaking on a panel about “lawfare” — a portmanteau of law and warfare.

This kind of rhetoric isn’t entirely new: Last week, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said on Steve Bannon’s podcast that the country is “in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be,” gloating that Republicans were currently winning the battles.

But as Democrats frenzy over President Joe Biden’s ability to beat Trump in November, this language of war is taking a new, more tangible meaning. Hard-right national conservatives want revenge against Democrats, in part for how they view Trump’s treatment in the courts. If Republicans win in November, they would have enough power to seek it.

“If we look at warfare, the only way to get someone who just refuses to obey,” Mike Howell, executive director of the Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, said during the panel. “You have to retaliate against them in exactly the same way until you score some kind of deterrence.”

He added that Congress should be playing a bigger role. “What this looks like in practice is an avalanche of subpoenas that are enforced,” Howell said. “People in front of depositions every single day, not just a limited kind of shot.”

Since House Republicans took the majority in 2022, House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan has prioritized investigations into the Biden administration, Hunter Biden’s laptop, COVID-19 and more, which Democratic ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler described as “bogus” distractions from “anything meaningful” to NOTUS last month. But the investigations have had little substantive impact.

Speakers at the National Conservatism Conference were not hesitant to criticize the Republican Party and push it to be more aggressive.

“As a political party, if we aren’t willing to dish anything out, then we can just expect to keep taking it,” Will Chamberlain, from the conservative legal group Article III Project, said of Republicans.

“Talk to the doctors that talked about hydroxychloroquine. They all lost their license because nobody stood up,” Eastman added about the conservative legal movement.

The National Conservatism Conference started five years ago, founded upon a faction of “new right” ideology centered around nationalism, with keynotes this year from hard-right Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance and presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy.

Democrats have already raised alarm bells around the conservative movement’s push to use the judiciary for political purposes. Heritage’s Project 2025 includes increasing presidential power over the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It’s been a powerful enough argument against Republicans that Trump himself attempted to dissociate himself from the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 on Truth Social. Its architects, however, are primarily conservatives in Trump’s orbit or who worked in his prior administration. (Trump’s own policy agenda also lists plans to bring independent agencies under his control but does not explicitly mention the DOJ.)

In the meantime, the plan the national conservatives laid out focused on revenge, with the idea that weaponizing the courts is a path to winning their “war” and not having to do it anymore.

“The goal is to get back to a place where we aren’t using lawfare against each other because that is the best outcome,” Chamberlain said. “But the only way to get there is lawfare.”

In the short run, “I think it would be absolute justice to see Merrick Garland prosecuted for contempt of Congress in the exact same manner as Steven Bannon,” Chamberlain said, garnering a round of applause from the room. “Democrats do not change unless they feel the pain of their own rules.”

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect Project 2025’s proposal for increased presidential power over the DOJ and FBI.

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.