Donald Trump has warned the public that immigrants “violently changed” Europe’s culture — and will do the same to America’s, if they get the chance. He has said that Democrats “want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they are, to pour in and infest our Country” because liberals “view them as potential voters.” He has insinuated that the Democratic Party’s leadership — including the Jewish megadonor George Soros — organized an “invasion” of the United States by Central American migrants last year, in a bid to steal the midterm elections through mass voter fraud.
Trump has also decried the mainstream news media as “THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE”; suggested that Central American immigrants are largely criminals who were expelled to the U.S. by their governments; and accused federal law enforcement of treasonously attempting to remove him from power.
In other words: The president has been using his bully pulpit to tell the American people that illegal immigrants threaten their lives today, and are on the cusp of irrevocably destroying their culture tomorrow; that Democrats are hell-bent on increasing illegal immigration; that it may not be possible to defeat Democrats at the ballot box because they are ready and willing to rig elections (and the media is eager to cover it up); and that those tasked with impartially enforcing the rule of law cannot be trusted.
Trump broadcasts these incendiary lies so incessantly, they’ve achieved a status similar to that of sirens and screeching tires in New York City — abrasive sounds so omnipresent, they barely register in one’s consciousness. Thus, the fact that our Republican president recently accused a Jewish financier of attempting to destroy the United States through unfettered immigration did not stop him — or congressional Republicans — from decrying Ilhan Omar as a vile anti-Semite for suggesting that AIPAC dictates American policy toward Israel.
Every once in a while, however, some psychopath will offer a reminder of just how dangerous the bile pouring out of our president’s gaffe-hole is. Last fall, Cesar Sayoc dressed up his van as the world’s worst comments section, and then (allegedly) tried to murder Soros, a wide swath of the Democratic Party’s elected leadership, and CNN employees with explosives. Shortly thereafter, Robert Bowers decided that a Pittsburgh synagogue was trying to destroy (white) America’s culture by flooding the country with nonwhite immigrants, and opened fire on its worshippers.
Just this week, federal prosecutors revealed that Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard officer in Maryland, allegedly stockpiled weapons, while developing a plot to assassinate a long list of Democratic politicians, CNN anchors, and MSNBC hosts, as part of a grand plan to transform the U.S. into a white ethno-state. The suspect’s recent Google searches reportedly included “civil war if trump impeached” and “what if trump illegally impeached.”
Hasson’s arrest has triggered the same maddeningly misguided debate that occasioned Bowers and Sayoc’s. In each case, some of Trump’s critics suggested that he was directly responsible for the alleged crime, Trump’s defenders then scrounged for evidence that the suspect was unstable or racist before the mogul entered politics, and everyone missed the point.
This time around, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (whom Hasson allegedly planned to kill) said of Hasson, “Donald Trump fans the flames of hatred and many that are out there that support him are responding to it.” The Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry then searched federal court documents for evidence that Hasson was no Trumpist. And he managed to put together a facially plausible case that the Coast Guard officer’s Google searches were misleading — that Hasson hadn’t been outraged at the thought of Trump being illegally impeached, but rather, had been hopeful that such an event might spark a cleansing race war.
According to prosecutors, Hasson wrote in an email drafted June 2, 2017, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” though he lucidly acknowledged that he would likely need “the unwitting help of another power/country.” He faults “liberalist/globalist ideology” for “destroying traditional peoples esp[ecially] white” ones.
… Then you get to the part of the email that makes sense of his interest in the potential impeachment of Trump or some civil war resulting from his presidency.
Hasson wrote, “Look up tactics used during Ukrainian civil war. During unrest target both sides to increase tension. In other words provoke gov/police to over react which should help to escalate violence. BLM protests or other left crap would be ideal to incite to violence.”
Hasson didn’t care about Trump. He was looking for a catalyst that would help spark his fantasy, which included shooting up liberals, becoming town sheriff, and learning the periodic table.
Scarry’s project here is morally odious (if your primary response to the news that a psychopath who hated liberals and globalists had a plan to kill Donald Trump’s critics is to worry that someone might blame Donald Trump for demonizing liberals, globalists, and his critics, then you should rethink your worldview). And his analysis is tendentious: The email he cites is from 2017, whereas the Google searches about Trump’s impeachment and civil war are from January of this year. Given that Hasson specifically planned to kill critics of the president (he allegedly targeted CNN and MSNBC hosts, but not Fox News ones; Democratic leaders but not Republicans), it’s far from clear that the man was not sympathetic to, or influenced by, Trump.
Nevertheless, Hasson reportedly claimed to have been a white nationalist for more than three decades. He subscribed to many white supremacist ideas that Donald Trump has never endorsed. It is possible the president’s rhetoric emboldened Hasson, or influenced whom he chose to (allegedly) target. Regardless, the “flames” of his hatred were fanned by plenty of other men. In an alternate universe where Trump is still hosting the Celebrity Apprentice, it’s quite conceivable that Hasson is just as (if not more) violently racist than he is in our realm.
It also doesn’t matter. No one is calling for Donald Trump to be arrested as Hasson’s co-conspirator. They’re calling on the president to stop demonizing immigrants and reporters, and to cease suggesting that the Democratic Party poses an existential threat to American culture, and that this threat can’t necessarily be countered through nonviolent political action. This is something that all Americans who believe that politicians shouldn’t lie to the public about a vulnerable minority group’s propensity for crime — or about the legitimacy of their nation’s elections — should be comfortable calling for every day. Trump’s rhetoric on these matters would be worthy of condemnation, even if there were no evidence whatsoever that such words might inspire acts of violence. Hasson’s arrest merely reminds us that the president’s conduct isn’t just contemptible, but dangerous. Regardless of whether the Coast Guard officer took inspiration from Trump, he believed in malicious fictions similar to those our president spreads — and saw those fictions as rationalizations for violence. Hasson allegedly believed that immigrants were threatening to violently change his culture with the help of Democrats and the media. Trump tells a global audience much the same thing every day. We don’t need to prove that Trump radicalized Hasson to establish that this is unacceptable.
Of course, politicians cannot control how their words are interpreted. Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric about GOP health-care policy ostensibly inspired a terrorist attack in 2017. But that rhetoric consisted largely of empirically grounded claims about the likely distributional and public-health consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Sanders’s claim that tens of thousands of Americans would die from preventable deaths may have been inflammatory. But it served the defensible purpose of calling attention to (one plausible estimate of) the effects of pending legislation. When Donald Trump asserts, without evidence, that Democrats want to “infest” the U.S. with criminal aliens in order to win elections, no defensible purpose is served.
A responsible, center-right party would understand this. But no such party exists in our country. And so the GOP’s affiliated organs have responded to a thwarted terrorist attack on mainstream journalists by excoriating those very journalists for having the temerity to ask the president to cease telling vicious lies that terrorists believe.