During his The Last Word program on MSNBC News last night, actor and anchor Lawrence O’Donnell claimed South Carolinian senior senator Lindsey Graham was “what Winston Churchill would call a Quisling” – meaning what, exactly?

O’Donnell then proceeded to give his listeners a history lesson about Norwegian military officer Vidkun Quisling, who died on October 24, 1945.

The reason O’Donnell alleged that Churchill would have called Graham a quisling was that Graham had predicted “riots in the streets” if former president Donald Trump is prosecuted for mishandling classified information. 

Here’s a primer on what exactly a Quisling is, where the word gets its meaning, and why Lawrence O’Donnell used it to describe senator Graham.

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Where does the word ‘Quisling’ get its name from?

Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling – surname pronounced like “quiz” and “ling” – was a Norwegian military officer, politician and Nazi collaborator, according to Britannica.

He first came to prominence for his collaborations with the polymath, explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Fridtjof Nansen. Quisling also organized humanitarian relief during the Russian famine of 1921.

But his notoriety comes from founding the facsist ‘Nasjonal Samling’ (National Union); his attacks on the political left in Norway; and attempting to seize power in the world’s first radio-broadcast ‘coup d’état’ during the German invasion of Norway in April 1940.

His collaboration with the Nazi government of Germany enabled him to serve as prime minister of Norway from 1942 to 1945. He filled his government with ministers from his ‘Nasjonal Samling’ party; Quisling even participated in Germany’s ‘Endlösung,’ or Final Solution.

The Focus has reached out to Lawrence O’Donnell for comment.

How does the meaning of ‘Quisling’ relate to Lawrence O’Donnell’s criticism of Lindsey Graham?

Quisling’s name has become a byword for a citizen or politician of an occupied country who collaborates with an enemy occupying force.

In a more basic (and less literal) sense, it refers to someone who collaborates with an enemy of their country.

The word is most prevalent in Scandinavian languages – Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. It’s also familiar to some English speakers, especially since O’Donnell’s comments on Monday.

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell claims he believes Republican senator Lindsey Graham is a Quisling, meaning he thinks he is a collaborator with an enemy of the United States.

The Focus has reached out to senator Graham for comment on O’Donnell’s remarks.

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What did Graham do or say that O’Donnell regards as Quisling-like?

“Senator Graham said something this weekend that you’ve never heard another United States senator say,” O’Donnell said during his MSNBC spot yesterday.

“Lindsey Graham said something that no other senator has ever said. In the history of the United States senate.”

The thing Graham said that so irked O’Donnell was that there would be “riots in the streets” if Donald Trump is prosecuted for mishandling classified information. His prediction comes off the back of the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

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“Lindsey Graham is what Winston Churchill would call a Quisling,” O’Connell said.

Churchill was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945. Vidkun Quisling was the prime minister of Norway for three years during this period. It is not clear, however, whether Winston Churchill actually called anyone a “Quisling.”

Quisling was a living politician during Churchill’s premiership, and the word may not have yet entered the English language outside of its use as a Norwegian surname.

How have people reacted to Graham and O’Donnell’s remarks?

People have interpreted Lindsey Graham’s prediction that there will be “riots in the streets” in different ways.

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Some counter his prediction, claiming that there will be “no riots” following a potential future prosecution; one commentator questions why a US senator would say the things he said.

O’Donnell’s reaction to Graham’s prediction is well known; one O’Donnell fan thanked him for “reminding” them of the word “Quisling.”

One Twitter user called it an “interesting historical parallel” to draw a line between Lindsey Graham and Vidkun Quisling.

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