A disturbing new report from POLITICO highlights Donald Trump and his campaign’s “long dalliance” with violent rhetoric. We’ve long highlighted the physical violence stemming from Trump’s supporters on our “Trump Hate Map” here. But as the POLITICO report corroborates, Donald Trump and his campaign have done little to nothing to dissuade his followers from engaging in harassment and violence — and, oftentimes, appear to instead encourage it.
Back in March, Trump offered to pay the legal bills of a man who sucker-punched a Black protester at one of this rallies. The Trump supporter later told a news program that he would kill the protester if he saw him again because he might be a terrorist. “‘There is no question that there’s more violent and hateful speech’ in this campaign than in past presidential contests, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic extremism and hate speech.”
The POLITICO piece comes on the heels of Trump’s latest attack, this time suggesting his opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be assassinated. “‘Hang the bitch’ and ‘kill the bitch’ have grown increasingly common at Trump rallies,” notes POLITICO.
Militia groups and others filled with rage against the government and Democrats like Clinton and Obama “are emboldened by this campaign and its rhetoric.”
Beirich and others blame Trump for legitimizing talk of violence throughout the campaign, including his jokes about punching and roughing up protesters, his defense of torturing terrorist suspects and even his infamous crack — complete with a pantomimed gunshot — that he could “shoot somebody” in midtown Manhattan and not lose any political support.
Trump supporters say he can’t be held responsible for every incendiary comment made by someone he knows or who supports him, and note that Trump himself has been the target of online death threats, some of which the Secret Service has investigated.
“Certain members of the media and various organizations seem to expect Mr. Trump to instantly track down and condemn every irresponsible comment posted anywhere on social media by anyone claiming to be a supporter,” Jason D. Greenblatt, executive vice president and chief legal officer of the Trump Organization wrote in a letter to The Washington Post in May. Trump, he added, is “not responsible for other people’s irresponsible invective.”
But Democrats say that’s not good enough. “The truth is he is responsible, because he could stand there and say, ‘Stop it,’ and tell them no. But he doesn’t,” says Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist who has run several presidential campaigns.
For instance, Trump only mildly rebuked Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative and informal campaign adviser, after he said on a radio show last month that Clinton should be shot for treason related to the lethal September 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Baldasaro advises Trump on veterans’ issues and has appeared next to Trump at campaign rallies.
After Baldasaro’s statement circulated nationally, Trump’s spokesman Hope Hicks said only that the Trump campaign was “incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.” Trump did not sever ties with Baldasaro, whom he called out by name at a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday. “Al has been so great,” Trump said. “Where’s Al? Where’s my vet?”
By contrast, when Hillary Clinton’s 2007 New Hampshire campaign co-chairman made a public reference to Barack Obama’s use of marijuana and cocaine as a young man, he was forced to relinquish his campaign title, and Clinton personally apologized to Obama on an airport tarmac.
Trump issued a stronger response in May after media reports revealed that a longtime butler at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida had posted several Facebook messages calling for Obama’s execution. One April 2015 post by the 84-year-old Anthony Senecal said Obama should be “hung for treason,” while another in May of this year lamented that Obama had not been shot years ago. In that case, Hicks issued a statement noting that Senecal had not worked for Trump for years and that “we totally and completely disavow the horrible statements made by him regarding the President.” (According to news reporters, both Senecal and Baldasaro were investigated by the Secret Service, which routinely follows up on threats against presidents and presidential candidates.)
Another Trump associate to call for Clinton’s death is his longtime political adviser Roger Stone, who tweeted in July 2014 that Clinton “must be brought to justice — arrested, tried, and executed for murder.” (Stone was replying to another tweet which accused “leftists” of “making common cause with jihadis.”) Stone spent several years as a Trump confidant and helped to run his 2016 campaign before the men parted ways last fall over undefined strategic differences.
Calls for violence against Clinton are not hard to detect at Trump events. At an event in Ashburn, Virginia, last week, a pre-teen boy in the press area shouted “take the bitch down!” with his nearby mother’s approval. On Tuesday, a reporter at a Trump rally in North Carolina tweeted that someone had shouted, “Kill her! Kill her!” — a refrain that has been heard at more than one Trump campaign events in recent weeks, along with calls for Clinton’s hanging.
The proceedings at last month’s Republican National Convention did not threaten Clinton’s life, but did feature loud calls for her imprisonment for using a private email server while she was secretary of state. Chants of “lock her up” repeatedly emerged from the crowd on the convention floor on two different nights.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in American politics,” said Shrum, who argued that the vitriol around the Trump campaign exceeds even the often-coded racial signals surrounding the 1968 campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace. “Those were dog whistles. Trump’s a siren.”
The POLITICO piece is a must-read and available in full here: “Trump’s long dalliance with violent rhetoric.”