Editor's Note: (Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.)
(CNN) Today's Republican Party is building a political bomb -- and the ingredients for the explosive concoction are being mixed before our eyes. When it all blows up -- and it will, unless the party changes course soon -- the result will be not just rhetorical extremism but could well include real violence.
If you thought the events of Jan. 6 were shocking, what comes next could be far worse.
A chilling new poll by PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute, found that nearly one in four Republicans (that's tens of millions of people) believe the QAnon mythology that "the government, media, and financial worlds in the US are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles." You might just shake your head and laugh at this nonsense, except that that they also believe that "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country."
This is no fringe cult. The number of people believing these and other outlandish QAnon conspiracies is enormous. There is a current of poison circulating in American society, threatening its cohesiveness and its social and political order. "If it were a religion," according to PRRI founder Robby Jones, "it would be as big as all white evangelicals Protestants, or all white mainline Protestants."
Poll after poll has also found that a majority of Republicans, 61% according to the latest from Reuters/Ipsos, believe the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Inspiring these legions to keep their weapons handy for political purposes are the likes of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has taken to campaigning with that other GOP "luminary," Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. During a joint appearance with Greene in Georgia on Thursday, Gaetz declared that the Second Amendment is "not about hunting." Instead, he said, it's about "the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary."
Then there's Greene, whose deranged comments about Jews and space lasers, and her offensive suggestion of an equivalence between mask wearing requirements to protect against coronavirus and the targeting of Jews in the Holocaust, drew much attention -- along with the rarest rebuke from some GOP leaders. Greene first emerged as a fringe candidate, a QAnon supporter, dismissed by Republican leaders. But when Trump extolled her as a "future Republican star," many party leaders became hesitant to criticize her.
Her Holocaust comments finally forced their hand. But perhaps more pernicious is what she said from that stage on Thursday. "You know, Nazis were the National Socialist Party," she explained, "just like the Democrats are now a national socialist party."
So, let's take a step back and look at how this bomb construction is going. Countless Republican leaders either spread or refuse to deny the Big Lie, the claim that the election was stolen. Tens of millions of Republicans erroneously believe Trump won. Almost one-quarter of Republicans believe it may become necessary to use violence to "save the country." Then they are told by Republican outrage peddlers that the US Constitution protects their right to own firearms for the purpose of rising up against the government. And then -- the match to start lighting the fuse -- they are told that Democrats are similar to Nazis.
If that's not the recipe for disaster -- not just for Republicans but for the entire country -- tell me what it is.
As Republicans pave the way for another insurrection, this one potentially much better attended than the Jan. 6 disaster, the leaders of the party, the "grownups," have abandoned their responsibility to the country, focusing instead on winning the next election. America may blow up, but at least they'll try to eke out a majority in Congress -- even if it means blocking an investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by enraged Trump supporters.
A smattering of principled Republicans are speaking out. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska fulminated against the GOP leadership and against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's personal push to block the commission, calling it "a decision for the short-term political gain," ignoring the imperative to defend principles of democracy -- including a peaceful transition of power. "I kind of want that to endure beyond just one election," she said grimly.
Some may view these maneuvers about the Jan. 6 commission, the reluctance to declare the legitimacy of the election and the implications of the increasingly extreme rhetoric as just a sign of a more polarized political system. This thinking fails to grasp the seriousness of what is building. And unless GOP leaders wake up to the danger, the US may soon face something far more dangerous than over-the-top rhetoric and a disputed election.