President Trump has a long history of violent rhetoric. From telling his rally crowd to assault hecklers and promising to pay their legal fees during his 2016 campaign, to praising a Congressman who assaulted a reporter last year, to making a joke about his supporters’ desire to murder migrants a few months ago, Trump’s aggressive stance energizes his followers. And this comes with consequences.
ABC reports that at least 36 times, perpetrators or planners of criminal violence have directly invoked Donald Trump since his election. In nine cases, a violent actor invoked Trump while committing their violence or in the immediate aftermath. In another ten cases, Trump and his rhetoric were invoked to explain violence. 29 of the 36 cases were people turning Trump’s rhetoric into action.
For example, Montana man Curt Brockway believed he was acting on the direction of President Trump when he fractured the skull of a thirteen-year-old who hadn’t removed his hat during the national anthem. Brockway was released without bail last week despite having a criminal record. Though Brockway suffers from a head injury of his own, it doesn’t take debilitation to be spurred to action by Trumpian rhetoric.
The perpetrator of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas earlier this month explicitly targeted Mexicans. Shortly before the attack, the shooter — who Grit Post will not name per editorial policy to deny him notoriety — posted a racist rant online that parroted Trump’s rhetoric about migrants. Trump in the past lamented that he couldn’t just order the military to shoot migrants, and the El Paso shooter was willing to take that cue.
It should be noted that ABC found no instances where George W. Bush or Barack Obama were invoked by perpetrators of violence during their combined 16 years in office.
But Trump has always been an aggressor. He recounts being violent as early as elementary school in his bestseller, The Art of the Deal.
“Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid,” he wrote. “In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I’m not proud of that but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way. The difference now is that I like to use my brain instead of my fists.”
He may not use his fists as much anymore, but the underlying aggression hasn’t ebbed with time. In 2017, a white nationalist said that he was incited to riot by the words Trump spoke at a rally. That became something of a trend in 2016, actually, as violence tended to spike around Trump rallies. Earlier this month, scholars at the University of North Texas found that counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw an average increase of 226% in the number of hate crimes committed, compared to counties that didn’t.
Trump isn’t the only voice of violent rhetoric on the right. Notably, Gavin McInnes of the Proud Boys is a regular voice calling the far right to action. More broadly, YouTube as a platform has been criticized for radicalizing young men in extremist right-wing ideologies. And taken together with the president’s rhetoric, this all forms the backdrop for a year where nearly all acts of domestic terrorism were perpetrated by right-wing extremists.
Trump continues to contend that his rhetoric doesn’t inspire violence, but in fact is a tool to unite the country.
(Featured image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.