Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) thinks that Trump has crossed another line, this time when he weaponizes the Mueller investigation and directs it at Trump’s voters: Trump’s latest rally rant is much more alarming and dangerous than usual
Robert D. Chain, who was arrested this week for allegedly threatening to murder journalists at the Boston Globe while mimicking Trump’s language, also connected Mueller’s investigation to the media. “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every f–––ing one of you,” Chain snarled into one employee’s voicemail, according to FBI documents. “Why don’t you call Mueller, maybe he can help you out.”
Trump surely knew about this arrest when he repeated his attacks on the news media Thursday night — and when he connected the media to the Mueller investigation as part of a grand conspiracy against him and his voters.
Here’s what went down.
At his rally on Thursday night in Indiana, President Trump unleashed his usual attacks on the news media, but he also added a refrain that should set off loud, clanging alarm bells. Trump didn’t simply castigate “fake news.” He also suggested the media is allied with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — an alliance, he claimed, that is conspiring not just against Trump but also against his supporters.
“Today’s Democrat Party is held hostage by left-wing haters, angry mobs, deep-state radicals, establishment cronies and their fake-news allies,” Trump railed. “Our biggest obstacle and their greatest ally actually is the media.”
In case there is any doubt about what Trump meant by the “deep state” that is supposedly allied with the news media, Trump also lashed out at the FBI and the Justice Department, claiming that “people are angry” and threatening to personally “get involved.”
And Chain got involved. Now start connecting the dots. I don’t know how you can not believe that Trump is guilty of incitement to violence. Well, I guess a lawyer better schooled in matters of incitement would be able to instruct me.
Periodically in this country, whenever there is violence with a political cast, or whenever political rhetoric strays into something more menacing than usual, we hold debates about the tone of our politics and their capacity for incitement. Whether rhetorical excess can be blamed for violence or the threat of it is a complicated topic with no easy answers. But even so, in most or all of these cases, whichever side is culpable, most of our elected leaders on both sides have used their prominence to calm passions in hopes of averting future horrors.
This time, something different is happening. At this point, there is no longer any denying that Trump continues to direct incendiary attacks against working members of the free press even though his own language is being cited by clearly unhinged people making horrifying death threats against them.
John Cassidy adds more details of the Chain incident and reports more instances of how Trump’s Attacks on the News Media Are Getting Even More Dangerous. At a rally in Indiana on Thursday, Donald Trump tore into members of the news media yet again, saying, “These are just dishonest, terrible people. I’m telling you that.” Following is Cassidy’s column reposted.
Donald Trump picked an awkward moment for his latest tirade against the news media. On Twitter, early on Thursday morning, he lashed out at CNN and NBC News, two of his favorite targets, singling out their respective top executives, Jeff Zucker and Andy Lack, for ridicule. In a separate tweet, Trump wrote, “I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda. This includes fake books, which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!”
Hours later, federal agents arrested a sixty-eight-year-old man in Encino, California, and charged him with making threatening phone calls to the Boston Globe, which included vows to kill some of its staff. The F.B.I. said that the man, Robert D. Chain, placed about fourteen calls to the newspaper, beginning on August 10th, after the Globe announced that it was rallying other publications to join it in publishing editorials responding to Trump’s “dirty war against the free press.”
In a criminal complaint, prosecutors accused Chain of calling the Globe from a blocked phone number and saying that the paper had made “treasonous and seditious attacks” on the President. The complaint said that on August 16th, the day the editorials about Trump and the press ran in the Globe and other publications, Chain told a Globe employee that he would start shooting people at four o’clock in the afternoon, adding, “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every fucking one of you.”
When officers went to arrest Chain—a white retiree with no prior criminal record—they seized twenty guns from his home. At a court hearing, prosecutors conceded that they didn’t have any evidence that he had made plans to travel to Boston. After he was charged with issuing threats, a federal magistrate ordered him released on fifty thousand dollars’ bail, on the condition that he surrender his passport and his guns. A neighbor described him to an Associated Press reporter as “a bombastic personality” who “could frequently be heard yelling while watching television.”
This isn’t the only time in recent weeks that employees of news organizations have been subjected to death threats. On August 22nd, someone called the Los Angeles bureau of the A.P. and said, “At some point we’re just gonna start shooting you fucking assholes.” Earlier in the month, a man identifying himself as “Don” from State College, Pennsylvania, called C-span and threatened to shoot CNN’s Don Lemon and Brian Stelter. MSNBC’s Katy Tur said on air that she had received a letter that said, “I hope you get raped and killed.”
Fortunately, none of these threats were actual attacks. But, given their rising number, the poisonous political climate, and the number of guns in this country, media organizations are rightly taking the situation seriously. Some are quietly beefing up security at their offices. Security guards now accompany network news reporters to Trump rallies.
In July, at a meeting with Trump, at the White House, A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, warned Trump that his “inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.” Sulzberger also told Trump that some newspapers were hiring armed guards because of a rise in threats against their journalists. According to Sulzberger, Trump responded by expressing surprise that they hadn’t previously employed armed guards.
As his legal troubles have deepened in recent weeks, the President’s anti-media rhetoric has become even more inflammatory and personal. In the past few days, he has accused Lester Holt, the NBC News anchorman, of doctoring a May, 2017, interview in which the President said he fired James Comey as F.B.I. director because of the Russia investigation, and called Carl Bernstein, the CNN contributor and Watergate legend, a “degenerate fool.” At a rally in Indiana on Thursday night, he tore into members of the media yet again, saying, “These are just dishonest, terrible people. I’m telling you that. Not all of them, honestly, not all of them. I’d say eighty-five per cent.”
Some of Trump’s associates are open about the fact that his effort to discredit the media, which in recent days has expanded to attacking tech companies like Google, is now central to his survival strategy. But political expediency provides no excuse whatsoever for demonizing journalists and describing them as the public enemy. That is the language of dictators and despots. One of these days, God forbid, it is likely to produce more than threats.
It may indeed. And if it does, Trump will be hit with more legal troubles. Consider this Supreme Court decision (snippets from Wikipedia) on an appeal of the conviction of a KKK member for an inflammatory speech.
Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed Brandenburg’s conviction, holding that government cannot constitutionally punish abstract advocacy of force or law violation. The majority opinion was per curiam (issued from the Court as an institution rather than as authored and signed by an individual justice). …
The per curiam majority opinion overturned the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism statute, overruled Whitney v. California, and articulated a new test – the “imminent lawless action” test – for judging what was then referred to as “seditious speech” under the First Amendment:
…Whitney has been thoroughly discredited by later decisions. See Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, at 507 (1951). These later decisions have fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
The Brandenburg test (also known as the imminent lawless action test) … The three distinct elements of this test (intent, imminence, and likelihood) have distinct precedential lineages.
[In a concurring opinion, Justice William O.] Douglas dealt with the classic example of a man “falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic”. In order to explain why someone could be legitimately prosecuted for this, Douglas called it an example in which “speech is brigaded with action”. In the view of Douglas and [Hugo] Black, this was probably the only sort of case in which a person could be prosecuted for speech.
So if Trump asks his audience to “punch” a reporter, and someone in that same audience does so, then all three elements of the Brandenburg test have been satisfied. Or so it seems to me.
The bottom line is that spouting off about “enemy of the people” is protected by the First Amendment - unless one of Trump’s cult takes violent action against one or more members of the press. Then the only question is about ’intent“ because the ”imminence“ and ”likelihood" tests are physically evident.
Let’s hope that this test never need be applied.