At the first presidential debate of the 2020 election, President Donald Trump shocked many viewers when he was given an opportunity to condemn white supremacists but declined. The president then told the Proud Boys, an alt-right hate organization, to “stand back” and “stand by.”
While Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists was the talk of the debate, his decision to skirt the subject is precisely in line with how he’s historically addressed violence on the part of hate groups and his supporters: He emboldens it.
As far back as 2015, Trump has been connected to documented acts of violence, with perpetrators claiming that he was even their inspiration. In fact, almost five dozen people, according to reports from the Guardian and ABC News, have enacted violence in Trump’s name.
In 2016, a white man told officers, “Donald Trump will fix them” while being arrested for threatening his Black neighbors with a knife. That same year, a Florida man threatened to burn down a house next to his because a Muslim family purchased it, citing Trump’s Muslim ban made it a reason for “concern.” Then there are the more widely known examples, like Cesar Sayoc, who mailed 16 inoperative pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and referred to Trump as a “surrogate father,” and the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 that left 23 dead, where the shooter’s manifesto parroted Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants.
In some cases, Trump initially denounces the violence, but he often walks back such statements, returning to a message of hate and harm. Recently, he defended a teenage supporter who gunned down three people at a Black Lives Matter protest. And on Thursday, he refused to condemn the domestic terrorists who allegedly planned to violently kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Instead, he criticized Whitmer and fished for compliments.
Trump has continually failed to recognize what’s at the core of this violence: hate that’s been nurtured under a tense national climate that he has helped cultivate.
Trump’s campaign rallies have always been incubation grounds for violence, the sites where Trump spewed hate speech that encouraged physical harm against dissenters. And as president, he has used his platform to encourage violence against American citizens, whether via the police and national guard or militia groups. Just this year alone, Trump infamously made it clear that protesters — those out demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism — should be met with force.
As much as the president and his supporters have to paint the picture that the cities and suburbs will burn in violence under a Joe Biden presidency, Trump is the one who has repeatedly proven that he has no interest in promoting peace.
Here is a timeline of Trump’s hateful rhetoric since 2015 and some of the moments when his supporters took heed.
2015: Trump officially announces his campaign for president and immediately employs rhetoric that suggests violence is the answer to opposition
Trump officially announced his candidacy for president of the United States in June 2015 and wasted little time inciting fear and hate in his first speech. That year, critics argued that his language led to attacks on innocent bystanders, and in some cases, acts of violence were directly connected to Trump’s words.
June 16, 2015: When Trump announced his bid for president at Trump Tower in New York City, he made disparaging comments about Mexicans, comments that have been said to incite violence and hate toward immigrants for years to come:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Even though his statement was almost entirely false, in the months following, Trump would defend the criminal threat of immigrants. “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.,” he said on July 6, 2015.
August 11, 2015: Trump indirectly took aim at Black Lives Matter protesters, calling Sen. Bernie Sanders “weak” after Sanders allowed protesters to seize the microphone at a campaign rally. “I thought that was disgusting. That showed such weakness — the way he was taken away by two young women. … They just took the whole place over.”
Trump added, “That will never happen with me. I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will. But that was a disgrace. … I felt badly for him, but it showed that he’s weak.”
August 19, 2015: Two Boston brothers invoked Trump when they were arrested for urinating on a homeless man and beating him with a metal pipe. While in custody, one of the brothers told the police, “Trump was right. All of these illegals need to be deported.” The 58-year-old Mexican man they assaulted was a permanent resident.
In response to the news that the Boston assault was inspired by his rhetoric, Trump did not denounce the violence, instead calling his supporters “passionate.” “I think that would be a shame. I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that,” he told reporters the next day.
On August 21, 2015, Trump backtracked a bit, taking a both-sides approach. “Boston incident is terrible. We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect. I would never condone violence,” he tweeted.
Boston incident is terrible. We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect. I would never condone violence.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2015
October 23, 2015: After repeatedly being interrupted by protesters at a campaign rally in Miami, Trump warned he’ll “be a little more violent” next time when addressing protesters. “See the first group, I was nice. ‘Oh, take your time.’ The second group, I was pretty nice. The third group, I’ll be a little more violent. And the fourth group, I’ll say get the hell out of here!” he said. On video, the pro-immigration protesters could be seen being forcibly dragged out of the campaign event.
November 21, 2015: At a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump demanded the removal of Black activist Mercutio Southall Jr. after he yelled, “Black lives matter!” Onstage, Trump exclaimed, “Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!” In a video captured by CNN, Southall fell to the ground as Trump made his statements and white men appeared to kick and punch him.
As security guards removed Southall from the rally, the crowd chanted, “All lives matter,” according to the Washington Post. Trump told Fox News the next day, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a troublemaker who was looking to make trouble.”
December 2015: The Trump campaign devised a strategy to address protesters who demonstrated at rallies. Instead of harming the protester, the campaign suggested they chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until a security guard removes the protester. The campaign began playing an announcement of the plan at rallies in mid-December, which started with the line, “If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please do not touch or harm the protester. This is a peaceful rally.” According to the Washington Post, attendees laughed when the announcement was played at a rally.
2016: At campaign rallies, Trump models the violence that he encourages by making a spectacle out of ejecting protesters
At his large campaign rallies, Trump became notorious for yelling “Get ’em out!” at protesters who demonstrated, whether they stood there silently, held up a sign, or chanted. Though Trump often alleged that the protesters were violent, reporters found no evidence to suggest that protesters ever attacked Trump supporters inside any rally.
In 2016, Trump sharpened his rhetoric against Muslims, suggesting that the country must scrutinize mosques and newly arrived Muslim migrants. The year 2016 also gave rise to the chant that advocated for violence against then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton: “Lock her up!”
January 8, 2016: Rose Hamid, a 56-year-old Muslim woman wearing a hijab, was escorted out of a Trump rally after standing up in silent protest over Trump’s speech in which he said Syrian refugees fleeing war were affiliated with ISIS. Hamid attended the rally to show Trump supporters what Muslims are like (Trump had already called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in December 2015), and told CNN’s Don Lemon that the people sitting around her were “very nice” and “sharing their popcorn.”
But once the crowd “got this hateful crowd mentality,” as she was being escorted out, “it was a vivid example of what happens when you start using this hateful rhetoric and how it can incite a crowd where moments ago were very kind to me.” Hamid said one man yelled to her, “Get out! Do you have a bomb? Do you have a bomb?”
January 23, 2016: At a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump, in describing the loyalty of his supporters, notoriously said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
February 1, 2016: At a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Trump told the crowd that his security team informed him that there may be somebody throwing tomatoes. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us,” he said.
February 23, 2016: At a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Trump said of a protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” As security guards escorted the protester out of the rally, Trump mocked him, saying, “He’s smiling. Having a good time.” He then reminisced about being able to get away with violence: “There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. We’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” Trump also called the protester “nasty as hell.” CNN reported that the man did not appear to fight with the security guards taking him outside.
At the same rally, Trump would double down on his support for waterboarding, a banned interrogation method. “They said to me, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?’ I said I think it’s great, but we don’t go far enough. It’s true. We don’t go far enough. We don’t go far enough.” At a February 6, 2016, Republican debate in New Hampshire, Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” if he were elected president.
February 27, 2016: Trump advocated for police state violence, lamenting how officers are afraid to do their jobs because America is “becoming a frightened country.” “You see, in the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this. A lot quicker. In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast — but today, everybody’s politically correct,” Trump said. “Our country’s going to hell with being politically correct. Going to hell.”
March 1, 2016: At a campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump repeatedly yelled, “Get out of here! Get em’ out of here! Get him the hell out!” to a group of protesters, galvanizing the crowd to chant, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and physically shove the group of Black protesters. Trump continued: “Don’t hurt him! If I say, ‘Go get him,’ I get in trouble with the press, the most dishonest human beings in the world. If I say, ‘Don’t hurt him,’ the press will say, ‘Well, Trump isn’t as tough as he used to be!’ . … So you can’t win.”
March 9, 2016: A 78-year-old white male Trump supporter punched a Black male protester being escorted out of a Trump campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The Trump supporter was recorded on video saying he enjoyed “knocking the hell out of that big mouth” and “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” He was arrested and charged with assault a day later, though he attacked the protester directly in front of law enforcement officials.
Instead, at the time, law enforcement officials tackled the protester to the ground after he had been punched in the face.
Two days after the assault, Trump said such attacks on protesters were “very, very appropriate” and the kind of action “we need a little bit more of.” Trump called the protesters “very violent,” though multiple news outlets at the time reported that there were no documented cases of protesters inciting violence against Trump supporters.
March 10, 2016: At a Miami Republican Debate, Trump denied that his tone incited violence at his rallies and insinuated that the anger toward protesters was justified. “I will say this,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We have 25 [thousand], 30,000 people. You’ve seen it yourself. People come with tremendous passion and love for the country, and when they see protest — in some cases — you know, you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen, I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger.”
He added: “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous … And if they’ve got to be taken out, to be honest, I mean, we have to run something.”
March 11, 2016: Trump abandoned a planned Chicago campaign rally after fights broke out between his supporters and protesters. Five people were arrested and two police officers were injured, according to the Chicago police. In a tweet, Trump blamed “thugs” for the chaos.
The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2016
March 31, 2016: Three people who say they were assaulted at a March 1, 2016, Trump campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, sued the then-candidate, alleging that he riled up his followers and encouraged violence when he repeatedly yelled, “Get ‘em out of here!” The group sued Trump for incitement to riot, and in April 2017, federal Judge David Hale ruled that their claim was valid since there was sufficient evidence proving their injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s comments. “It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.”
Trump appealed the case, and in September 2018, a federal appeals court dismissed the protesters’ claims, saying that Trump’s words were protected under the First Amendment and did not “specifically advocate imminent lawless violence.” An attorney for the plaintiffs called the ruling “unprecedented” and “dangerous,” and a “free pass” for a candidate for public office.
July 2016: By July, the infamous “Lock her up!” chant in response to any mention of Hillary Clinton became a facet of Trump’s rallies and even the GOP convention. On July 19, at the Republican National Convention, the crowd chanted “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” as Chris Christie delivered a speech. At a rally in Colorado Springs on July 29, Trump, after resisting joining in on the chant at rallies, told the audience, “I’ve been saying let’s just beat her on November 8th. But you know what, I’m starting to agree with you.”
Trump’s comments came after Clinton spoke ill of him in her Democratic National Convention address. “You know it’s interesting. Every time I mention her, everyone screams, ‘lock her up, lock her up.’ They keep screaming. And you know what I do? I’ve been nice,” Trump said. “But after watching that performance last night — such lies — I don’t have to be so nice anymore. I’m taking the gloves off.”
But crowds and commentators didn’t stop at “Lock her up!” As the Atlantic reported, some called for Clinton to be “hung on the Mall in Washington D.C.” or “put in a firing line and shot for treason.”
December 2016: After Trump bullied then-Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly for months, Kelly came forward to allege that Trump’s social media manager was responsible for the many death threats she was receiving. “The vast majority of Donald Trump supporters are not at all this way,” Kelly said, according to the Guardian. “It’s that far corner of the internet that really enjoys nastiness and threats and unfortunately there is a man who works for Donald Trump whose job it is to stir these people up and that man needs to stop doing that. His name is Dan Scavino.”
2017: With Trump in office, white supremacists organize and are emboldened to march and protest in public; Trump also amplifies his attacks on the press
In 2017, Trump sharply criticized the press, calling it the “enemy of the American people,” fueling hostility toward journalists that many say had led to violence. He also failed to condemn white supremacist and white nationalist groups that organized in Charlottesville, Virginia. The “Unite the Right” rally became a turning point for the nation, prompting many people to finally stop and question the impact of Trump’s rhetoric.
January 25, 2017: On the day the Trump administration instituted a ban against travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a Muslim Delta employee wearing a hijab was physically and verbally attacked at JFK International Airport in New York. The perpetrator told the victim “[Expletive] Islam. [Expletive] ISIS. Trump is here now. He will get rid of all of you,” according to ABC. On the campaign trail, Trump said he was open to the idea of closing mosques and creating a database of all Muslims in the US, consistently saying that Muslims were a “problem” and a “sickness.”
February 17, 2017: In what the New York Times called a “striking escalation in his attacks,” Trump tweeted that the news media is “the enemy of the American People.”
Trump had long blamed news organizations for misrepresenting his agenda and performance, but in February officially positioned the media as a key opponent. At a press conference on February 16, 2017, Trump strategically called the media “dishonest” and labeled reporting from outlets like CNN “fake news.”
Onlookers argued that Trump’s rhetoric toward the press led to violent attacks on reporters. As Jeff Guo reported in 2017, “Anti-media rhetoric has abounded since the election,” pointing to examples of physical hostility toward journalists at the time:
In West Virginia last month, Dan Heyman of Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested at the state capitol building for posing questions to Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services. And in Washington last week, a reporter from CQ Roll Call was pushed against a wall by security guards for asking an FCC commissioner questions in the lobby of a public building.
July 28, 2017: During a speech to law enforcement officials in Long Island, New York, Trump encouraged police to be more violent when handling suspects and potential offenders:
“Now, we’re getting them [criminals] out anyway, but we’d like to get them out a lot faster, and when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
In the 35-minute speech, Trump discussed his plan to fight MS-13 gang violence, calling the gang’s members “animals” who had “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into blood-stained killing fields.”
August 12, 2017: One of the clearest moments Trump refused to denounce violence, and thereby encourage it, to the country’s dismay, was when he equated the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of a “Unite the Right” rally with the leftist protesters who demonstrated against them. During the rally, a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The evening before, on August 11, the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups marched at the University of Virginia, carrying lit tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, in response to the impending removal of a Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue.
As Tara Golshan reported for Vox, Trump’s very first response to the events in Charlottesville was to condemn violence on the part of many players, while initially refusing to even mention the presence of white supremacist groups. In a short statement issued Saturday evening, Trump said from his golf club in New Jersey, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
That same night, he tweeted condolences to Heyer’s family, but made no mention of who was responsible for the violence. Trump called for there to be “a study” to understand what happened in Charlottesville.
Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
On the Tuesday following the weekend rally, Trump infamously said, “You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
The president also attempted to identify the “good people” in the sea of white nationalists that weekend: “You had people and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. They should be condemned totally. […] You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
September 22, 2017: At a rally in Alabama, Trump took aim at football players like Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and systemic racism. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” he said.
In the following days, Trump underscored his disdain for the anthem protests:
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
Ultimately, Trump turned the NFL player’s silent protest about police violence into a debate about nationalism — becoming emblematic of how Trump would spin issues of racial injustice as an affront to American life, using it as a way to rile up his base (many supporters set fire to NFL team merchandise).
2018: Donald Trump still fails to condemn white supremacists at a time when hate crimes are on the rise
Multiple studies released between 2017 and 2019 pointed to how hate crimes reached a high during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. A report from the FBI found that hate crimes, especially against Muslims, increased by 5 percent in 2016 and were up 17 percent in 2017; in 2018, hate crimes reached a 16-year high, with a significant rise in violence against Latinos.
According to a 2019 report, counties that hosted a rally with Donald Trump as a headliner experienced a 226 percent increase in hate crimes. The report’s authors noted: “Trump’s rhetoric may encourage hate crimes.” At the middle point of his term, when confronted with opportunities to condemn white supremacy and ultimately attempt to unify the country, Trump declined to do so.
June 24, 2018: Amid his administration’s family separation crisis, Trump fanned the flames of anti-immigration sentiment. On Twitter, Trump tweeted rhetoric that justified his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which featured ICE raids and migrant detention facilities. Between October 1, 2017, and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children were split from their families at the border. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents …” he wrote.
August 11, 2018: A year after the inaugural “Unite the Right” rally, organizers planned a second “Unite the Right” event, yet Trump still failed to condemn the hate groups by name. Ahead of the rally, he tweeted a rather numb statement against hate and did not acknowledge and condemn the people perpetrating the violence.
The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2018
October 18, 2018: At a rally in Montana, Trump celebrated Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte (MT), who body-slammed a reporter in May 2017, telling the crowd, “Any guy who can do a body-slam … he’s my guy.”
Gianforte assaulted journalist Ben Jacobs after Jacobs asked him a question about the GOP health care bill. The Congress member ultimately apologized (after his spokesperson first denied the assault) and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, and a $300 fine along with an $85 court fee.
As Jeff Guo reported for Vox in 2017, the assault revealed how the Republican Party, at Trump’s behest, has grown comfortable with verbal and physical violence against the press.
October 22-November 1, 2018: Cesar Sayoc, a Florida Trump supporter, mailed 16 inoperative pipe bombs to Democratic leaders, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, who had been critical of Donald Trump’s presidency. Sayoc had been living in a van that was covered in photos of Trump and “decals attacking the media,” according to NBC News. Sayoc’s lawyers argued that Trump’s rhetoric fueled his actions and that Sayoc viewed Trump as a “surrogate father.” On August 4, 2019, Sayoc was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Trump first condemned Sayoc’s action but then walked back his condemnation. “In these times we have to unify,” Trump said. “We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
As Vox’s Alex Ward reported, Trump had multiple opportunities to unite the country after Sayoc was detained, but instead blamed the media and Democrats for the anger that his supporters were acting out on.
A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2018
October 27, 2018: An anti-Semitic terrorist murdered 11 worshippers and injured seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Though the shooter criticized Trump for being a “globalist” who was controlled by Jews, many critics linked Trump’s rhetoric to the mass shooting. Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh wrote an open letter to Trump demanding that he “fully denounce white nationalism” before visiting a city in mourning. “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the letter said. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”
Trump first lamented the shooting but then suggested that the victims should have protected themselves by having an armed guard inside the synagogue and distanced himself from the National Rifle Association when asked about his ties to the organization.
2019: Mass shootings and hate crimes connected to Donald Trump continue, while Trump lashes out at a group of newly elected congresswomen
Instead of denouncing the white supremacy and hate that fueled mass shootings, Donald Trump highlighted mental illness as a key factor behind domestic terrorism. As Trump returned the campaign trail in an attempt to gain a second term, he targeted a new group at his campaign events — a group of young congresswomen of color, known as “the Squad.”
May 8, 2019: At a Florida rally, Trump turned the idea of shooting migrants and asylum seekers into a punchline. After a woman at the rally yelled “shoot them” in regard to immigrants, Trump said, “That’s only in the Panhandle, you can get away with that statement.”
Vox’s Aaron Rupar reported that Trump’s statement came a day after it was discovered that a border patrol agent said of migrants, “Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them. … We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”
July 14, 2019: Donald Trump attacked the group of congresswomen known as “the Squad,” saying on Twitter that they should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” Trump didn’t initially name the lawmakers whom he was attacking but it was clear he was directing his ire at a group of progressive then-first-term members that includes Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The women, who advocate for progressive policies, became the target of backlash and scrutiny.
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
Three days later at a Trump 2020 campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, the crowd repeatedly chanted “Send her back! Send her back!” directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom Trump began to single out from the Squad, which he described that night as a group of “hate-filled extremists.”
Trump’s rhetoric toward Omar and the rest of the squad led to death threats and increased security for the women. In April, just hours after a man was charged for threatening to assault and murder Omar, Trump doubled down on his harmful lies about her at an event. The man told officials that “he loves the president” and “hates radical Muslims in our government.” In June, Tlaib read out a death threat she received that said, “The only good Muslim is a dead one.”
August 3, 2019: In one of the larger calamities of Trump’s presidency, a 21-year-old white man opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people and injuring 22 others. As Alexia Fernández Campbell reported for Vox, the shooter drove more than 10 hours to the store to target Mexicans. Officials believe that the gunman was the author of a racist, xenophobic online manifesto that warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas and echoed the president’s language, according to the New York Times. Trump responded to the shooting in a brief speech but “said nothing about widespread criticism of his own anti-immigrant rhetoric, which some say inspired the El Paso attacks,” Fernández Campbell reported.
August 5, 2019: A 39-year-old Montana man was charged with felony assault for choking, slamming, and fracturing the skull of a 13-year-old boy who didn’t take his hat off for the national anthem. The man’s attorney told the local newspaper that Trump’s “rhetoric” led to the violent act. “His commander in chief is telling people that if they kneel, they should be fired, or if they burn a flag, they should be punished,” the lawyer said, referencing Trump’s harsh words against athletes like Colin Kaepernick who protested for social justice.
October 1, 2019: A New York Times report stated that Trump, as part of his border security plan in early 2019, reportedly wanted to shoot migrants in the legs and keep them away from the southern border with a trench filled with water, alligators, and snakes. Trump also reportedly asked for a cost estimate for an electrified wall with spikes that could “pierce human flesh.”
November 1, 2019: A 61-year-old Milwaukee man was arrested and charged with a felony hate crime after allegedly throwing acid at a Peruvian American who was walking to a Mexican restaurant. The perpetrator accused the victim of being inside the country illegally, asking him, “Why you invade my country?” and “Why don’t you respect my laws?” before attacking him. When police searched the perpetrator’s home, they found three letters addressed to Donald Trump. The victim suffered second-degree burns.
2020: Trump is explicit about the kinds of violence he is willing to use against Black Lives Matter protesters. Meanwhile, Americans, particularly Black and Native Americans, are being ravaged by the coronavirus.
As Black Lives Matter protests swept the country this summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a key thread running through Trump’s response was to call for and send in law enforcement officials — the National Guard, Secret Service police, local police, US Park Police, and state troopers — who dressed in riot gear and used a variety of weapons, from tear gas to rubber bullets. While he said violence was out of hand in cities, the protests were mostly peaceful, outside of escalation by police.
In fact, after the deployment of Department of Homeland Security agents in Portland in the summer, violent demonstrations increased from under 17 percent to over 42 percent, according to a report. Amid the unrest, Trump also repeatedly failed to identify and call out white supremacist agitators and counterprotesters who traveled to cities and towns and incited violence.
And throughout the country, Asian Americans faced violence due to fears about the coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly used a racist name for the virus, calling it the Chinese flu or the Chinese virus.
March 14, 2020: 19-year-old Jose L. Gomez stabbed three members of an Asian American family, including a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, at a Sam’s Club in Texas. According to the FBI’s report obtained by ABC News, Gomez said he attacked them because “he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” Gomez was charged with three counts of attempted capital murder and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
In a report released in late March, the FBI warned that hate crimes against Asian Americans would surge (and were already surging) due to rhetoric that associated the disease with China and Asian American populations. Trump began calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” early in the pandemic and defended his use of the phrase, despite many calls against it, saying, “It did come from China. It is a very accurate term.”
Catherine Kim reported for Vox that the phrase fits into Trump’s “pattern of xenophobia” and “pattern of deflecting blame.” After a week of anti-Asian rhetoric, Trump tweeted, “‘it was very important we protect our Asian American community’ (before othering Asian Americans — “they” and “us” — one tweet later) … but the damage has already been done.”
….is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
On October 8, 2020, a few days after being released from Walter Reed medical center where he was treated for the virus, Trump released a video in which he again blamed China. “China’s going to pay a big price for what they’ve done to this country,” Trump said.
May 29, 2020: Following the first weekend of social justice protests, Trump immediately threatened to shoot looters in Minneapolis, in a tweet thread that kicked off the tone that would dominate his reaction to the unrest in the following months. He called protesters “thugs” and said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet for “glorifying violence.”
….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
As Katelyn Burns reported for Vox, a day later, “Trump tried to walk back the phrase on Twitter by claiming he meant that when looting starts, people end up getting shot.”
Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
June 1, 2020: Police officers in Washington, DC, attacked hundreds of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square with tear gas to make way for Donald Trump who traveled from the White House to St. John’s Church for a photo op. Before visiting the church, Trump delivered remarks in which he said, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” The remarks fit into Trump’s repeated call for “law and order.”
This is what happened on the other side of the White House only 5 minutes before President Trump began remarks in the Rose Garden. pic.twitter.com/n3UNLTBAKn
— Allie Malloy (@AlliemalCNN) June 1, 2020
August 29, 2020: At an emergency operations briefing in Texas, Trump expressed interest in sending the National Guard to Portland to meet protesters with force.
“We sent in 1,000 National Guard, and that’s not even a big force. We could clean out — as an example, Portland: We could fix Portland in, I would say, 45 minutes.”
The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing. The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer.The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard! https://t.co/bM6ypak94t
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020
August 31, 2020: After 29-year-old Black man Jacob Blake was killed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, protests broke out across the country. The next day, a group of armed men including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois showed up in Kenosha, saying they were there to protect property. Rittenhouse, a law enforcement enthusiast and a Trump supporter, shot and killed two people and injured another; he was later charged with murder.
Trump later appeared to justify Rittenhouse’s actions by saying he was acting in self-defense. At a press briefing, Trump told reporters, “I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him and it was something we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. But it’s under investigation.”
September 1, 2020: Before traveling to Kenosha, Trump said he was going to the city to show support for law enforcement. He did not visit Blake’s family or mention Blake by name. Instead, he said the officer who shot him must have “choked.”
Trump also said that law enforcement was ready to stop protests “very powerfully.” “As soon as they came in, boom, the flame was gone. Now maybe it will start up again, in which case they will put it out very powerfully,” he said.
Blake’s family and Wisconsin leaders feared that Trump’s visit would lead to more violence and destruction.
September 29, 2020: At the first presidential debate for the general election, when given the opportunity to denounce white supremacy, Trump spoke directly to a hate group, the Proud Boys, instructing them to “stand back” and “stand by.” In response, the Proud Boys instantly expressed gratitude and joy at being recognized by the president.
Days later, after receiving bipartisan criticism, Trump told Fox News that he condemns far-right hate groups. “Let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists,” he said. “I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”
However, as Rolling Stone argued, there are multiple reasons to believe that Trump knows who the Proud Boys are, from his connection to Roger Stone — who has close ties to the Proud Boys — to the fact that Proud Boys regularly attend Trump rallies, with a Proud Boy co-chairman sitting directly behind Trump at a Miami rally in 2019.
October 8, 2020: Six men face conspiracy charges in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop reported, “the conspirators were in contact with a militia group based in Michigan — training in tactics and weapons with the group, and attempting to build an explosive device with a militia group member.” The men were reportedly angry about Whitmer’s coronavirus shutdown policies.
In response to the FBI’s investigation, Trump demanded that Whitmer thank him. Trump also chastised Whitmer for the very thing that the conspirators targeted her for — taking action against the spread of a deadly virus.
…today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist—while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2020
…I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2020
In a livestream address, Whitmer said that Trump gives “comfort” to those who “spread fear and hatred and division.” She pointed to Trump’s comments at the presidential debate and called him “complicit”:
Just last week, the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups. […] Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.
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