Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trump's rhetoric sets the occasion for right-wing violence

Here is the short version of the 2014 Las Vegas shootings from Wikipedia.

The 2014 Las Vegas shootings occurred on June 8, 2014 in northeastern Las Vegas, Nevada, when a married couple, Jerad and Amanda Miller, committed a shooting spree in which five people died, including themselves. The couple, who espoused extreme anti-government views, first killed two Las Vegas police officers at a restaurant before fleeing into a Walmart, where they killed an intervening armed civilian. The couple died after engaging responding officers in a shootout; police shot and killed Jerad, while Amanda committed suicide after being wounded.

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, I reacted with Why extreme rhetoric matters: Setting the occasion for violence and terrorism. My post is reprinted below.

In response to the recent Las Vegas shooting, Greg Sargent in the Washington Post takes conservatives to task for their hyperbolic, apocalyptic rhetoric.

… there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

At this point, conservatives will weigh in with “false equivalence” saying liberals do it too.

To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way: Find me all the examples of people who shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case.

The Las Vegas shooting is just one instance - get set for more.

And I promise you, these murders in Nevada will not be the last. It may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands. But they shouldn’t have a clear conscience, either.

Sargent knows that he will attract lots of flak for this column. Indeed, we have a precedent right here at home. Recall a similar argument made by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik when Gabby Giffords was shot. Both Dupnik and Sargent are spot on. The over-heated right-wing rhetoric is not a cause for any particular incident, but it does, in psychological terms, set the occasion for the violence.

Over four years later, nothing has changed - other than now having a president who does “set the occasion for the violence” we have witnessed just within the last week.

At Blog for Arizona, Bob Lord lays On the Hands of America’s President, the Blood of 11 American Jews. He says: “Bristle at the bluntness of the title of this post if you wish. But the chain of causation is clear.”

He cites a piece in the Washington Post by Julia Ioffe who asks How much responsibility does Trump bear for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh? She concludes:

The president did not tell a deranged man to send pipe bombs to the people he regularly lambastes on Twitter and lampoons in his rallies, so he’s not at fault. Trump didn’t cause another deranged man to tweet that the caravan of refugees moving toward America’s southern border (the one Trump has complained about endlessly) is paid for by the Jews before he shot up a synagogue. Trump certainly never told him, “Go kill some Jews on a rainy Shabbat morning.”

But this definition of culpability is too narrow, too legalistic — and ultimately too dishonest. The pipe-bomb makers and synagogue shooters and racists who mowed a woman down in Charlottesville were never even looking for Trump’s explicit blessing, because they knew the president had allowed bigots like them to go about their business, secure in the knowledge that, like [Putin adversary] Nemtsov’s killers, they don’t really bother the president, at least not too much. His role is just to set the tone. Their role is to do the rest.

Lord then cites Adam Serwer of the Atlantic: In Trump’s Caravan Hysteria Led to This, Serwer explains:

Before committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at hias, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “hias likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread and that his followers chose to amplify.

So there you have it. To stoke the anger of his right-wing base in the lead up to the mid-terms, Trump chose to rant dishonestly and incessantly about the so-called caravan from Honduras. As any moron could have predicted, Trump’s dishonest message lent credibility to the anti-Semitic vitriol of haters on the far right, who raged about Jewish sponsorship of immigrant “invaders.” Sure enough, a crazed killer, acting on the combined messages he’d received from Trump and Trump’s alt right base, took it upon himself to murder 11 innocent congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Let’s be clear, Trump did not commit murder. Trump’s actions don’t fit the legal definition of murder. He didn’t know in advance that his actions would lead directly to the killing of 11 innocent American Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

So, no, Trump didn’t commit murder.

But he may as well have. After all, he set in motion the chain of events that led to the murder of 11 innocent Americans by an enraged anti-Semite with an AR15. The end result was no different than if Trump had pulled the trigger of that AR15 himself.

Donald Trump, an American president with the blood of innocent Americans on his hands.

No, Trump did not shoot those 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. Neither did he make and mail the pipe bombs to his critics. But as explained above, his rhetoric directed at the other set the occasion for those violent acts.

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