US President Donald Trump this week issued a thinly veiled threat of violence against his opponents, saying that members of the police, military and biker gangs could “play it tough” if they “reach a certain point.”
It was a disturbing remark, but even more disturbing is the fact that it’s part of a long history of Trump encouraging his supporters to engage in violence. Largely unchecked by his party’s leadership, Trump’s rhetoric has become normalized despite its real-world ramifications.
“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump,” Trump told Breitbart in the interview, which he later tweeted. “I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
“I think it sounds very much to me like he’s encouraging them to engage in something that’s probably illegal such as assaulting people, you know behave in a dangerous way,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told MSNBC. “That sounds like a threat to me. I think it’s appalling.”
The president later deleted his tweet as news began to trickle in of a mass shooting in New Zealand that left at least 49 worshiping Muslims dead on Friday. While there are no signs that the suspect was a close follower of Trump, he did mention the U.S. president once in his rambling manifesto, calling Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump has previously banned those from majority-Muslim countries from coming into the U.S., keeping families apart under a racist policy.
It’s impossible to ignore how Trump’s continued rhetoric of violence and fear of other ethnicities has inspired his supporters to carry out attacks. Pro-Trump extremists sought to slaughter Somali Muslim immigrants in Kansas before authorities managed to intervene. The men chose their targets after Trump called refugees “the greatest Trojan horse of all time,” according to court testimony.
The case is one of more than a dozen where apparent Trump supporters attacked or plotted to attack Muslims. Acts of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have surged during Trump’s presidency, with more than 150 instances of Trump-related taunts and attacks, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
But it’s not just hate speech the president gloms onto when encouraging violence. During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Trump continuously called for his supporters to commit violence against protestors.
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump said at a 2016 rally in Iowa. “Seriously, OK. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.”
It worked. Videos taken at Trump rallies show his supporters lobbing punches at protestors.
In 2017, a gaggle of white supremacists committed acts of violence in Charlottesville, leading to the killing of anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer. It should have been a layup for the president to condemn the attack. He defended his racist supporters instead.
“You have people who are very fine people on both sides,” Trump said.
GOP leaders have largely ignored Trump’s repeated calls for violence. After Trump claimed to have the might of the military on his side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stayed quiet. Sens. McConnell and John Cornyn (R-Texas), along with Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) did not respond to HuffPost’s requests asking if they would condemn Trump’s latest remarks.
As the GOP fails to respond to Trumps’ threats, the violence continues. Last October, pipe bombs were mailed to the political enemies of Trump and to the New York offices of CNN, which Trump has consistently deemed the “enemy of the people.” The Florida suspect in that case drove a van plastered with images of the president, and had told coworkers he “wanted to go back to the Hitler days.”
Just days after authorities caught the pipe bomb suspect, another wave of terror hit when a man went into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people. Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers later met with the president to remind him that “hate speech leads to hateful actions.”
The rabbi’s words apparently fell on deaf ears.