At his rally Friday night in North Carolina, Donald Trump, without even a hint of awareness of his own glaring hypocrisy, declared to his supporters, “We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party.”
Using “the sinister actions of one individual to score political points” is Trump’s stock-in-trade. In fact, we should call that move “pulling a Trump” because he has so perfected it. And there’s zero doubt Trump would be doing that very thing if the alleged “MAGA bomber” Cesar Sayoc was a Muslim (or an immigrant), instead of a Trump super fan who had attended Trump rallies, used social media to target Trump critics and whose van looks like the Trump mobile. The same goes for alleged right-wing terrorist Robert Bower, who appears to have committed a horrific murder of Jewish Americans at their place of worship.
After all, this is the same Trump who just five days after the 2015 San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack carried out by two Muslims, a husband and wife, sought to ban an entire religion from the stepping foot on U.S. soil with his infamous call “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That was politics at its worst but Trump knew the GOP base would be energized by this, and he was right, as 65 percent of Republican primary voters in 2016 agreed with Trump’s total Muslim ban.
And as president, Trump again used the “the sinister actions of one individual to score political points” after the 2017 terrorist truck attack in New York City by the Uzbekistan born Muslim Sayfullo Saipov that left eight dead. The day after this attack, there was Trump literally blaming Chuck Schumer on some level for this crime in his tweet: “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.”
Trump then tried to use this tragedy to serve up red meat to his anti-immigrant base by calling for an end to both the Diversity Visa program and what he dubbed “chain migration,” which the rest of us refer to family unification. That is the very definition of using “the sinister actions of one individual to score political points.”
But to me the more unique and intriguing question is this. Given that Trump played a role in radicalizing Sayoc, what would be the reaction if Trump weren’t the president, and weren’t a white man? Suppose, for example, that Trump was a Muslim cleric. Before you respond, let me add a few more facts. This is not the first instance in which self-professed Trump supporters have engaged in violence or terrorist plots targeting the very same people or groups that Trump has called out by name.
The first incident occurred just a few months after Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower in June 2015 and kicked off his campaign by claiming Mexico is sending to America people who are “bringing crime,” “bringing drugs” and are “rapists.” Well, just two months later in Boston, two men beat up a homeless Mexican man and then told the police after their arrest, “Donald Trump was right: All these illegals need to be deported.” Both men were later sentenced to prison time for this hate crime.
Then there were the three men in Kansas arrested in fall 2016 for plotting a terrorist attack to kill Muslim Somali refugees in the state. One of the defendants was Patrick Stein, a big Trump fan who was recorded by the FBI bragging that he would be dipping his bullets in pig’s blood before shooting the Muslims. If that sounds familiar it’s because Trump on the campaign often repeated a debunked story that U.S. general John Pershing had dipped bullets in pig’s blood, which worked at stopping “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Another self-professed Trump supporter in September 2016 also apparently took Trump’s Muslim-bashing to heart and burned down a mosque in Florida. The man was later charged with a hate crime and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
And in March of this year, yet another Trump supporter who was such a big fan he had actually submitted a serious proposal to build Trump’s wall was arrested along with two others for throwing a firebomb into a Minnesota mosque that caused extensive damage. Why did these three men drive from their home state of Illinois to Minnesota to bomb a mosque attended primarily by Somali refugees as opposed to targeting a mosque closer to home? Could it be tied to Trump specifically targeting Somali Muslim refugees in his campaign stops in Minnesota, including one just days before the election where he claimed without evidence “that very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge” and warned that they are “spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.”
Then there’s Trump’s ginning up fears of the media as the enemy of the people. Given this, there’s no doubt that Trump played a role in radicalizing yet another American who made it clear he was standing up for his beloved Trump. In August, after the Boston Globe organized other newspapers to publish a unified op-ed pushing back on Trump’s attacks on the media, Robert Chain responded by launching a barrage of threatening phone calls to the Globe. Chain’s calls included threatening to shoot people in the head until the newspaper stopped its “treasonous and seditious” attacks on Trump.
Did Trump radicalize Chain, or is it truly just a coincidence that days before Chain made his first calls to the Globe, Trump again ginned up hate of the media with his tweet: "The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick.”
So if a Muslim cleric in America had used his fiery sermons to rail against a few targets over and over and his followers had actually acted on his words by sending bombs to those targets, burning down their places of worship or making terroristic threats, what would the reaction be among conservatives and Americans at large? Any doubt that Trump himself would be calling for the surveillance of and even the arrest of that cleric? Would social media companies remove that cleric’s videos from its platforms?
What we do know is that when it comes to Trump, there he was back at his rally Friday night only hours after the arrest of one of his supporters for a wave of terrorism against his political opponents and the media where his supporters chanted “CNN sucks” and “Lock her up.” Do you think Trump will stop if people are killed in his name? Given Trump’s track record, tragically the answer to that question is probably “no.”