President Trump warned a Democratic lawmaker to “be careful” in a tweet accusing her of calling for harm to his supporters. Of course, that tweet ignores Trump's own history of encouraging violent behavior, including some widely noted incidents during the 2016 campaign and since entering the White House.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told attendees at a Los Angeles rally Saturday that they should confront Trump Cabinet members whenever they are spotted in public. That day, headlines were blaring about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia because she works for the administration.
“The American people have put up with this president long enough. What more do we need to see? What more lies do we need to hear?” Waters said. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them!”
Waters's statement had some supporters, but also many vocal critics, even within her party. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rebuked Waters in a tweet Monday. Moderates and conservatives mostly criticized the congresswoman's words as a step toward unprecedented incivility.
Trump interpreted the words of Waters — a frequent critic of his — as a violent threat, before tweeting what may have been a threat itself.
The ominous end to that tweet served as a reminder of Trump's frequent rhetoric on the campaign trail when facing disruptive opposition. The Washington Post documented some incidents from Trump rallies during the 2016 campaign, including three that happened in just over a week:
- At a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., police were escorting a young black protester out of a Trump rally when an older white man suddenly punched him in the face — and the officers threw the victim to the ground rather than the assailant. (March 9, 2016)
- In Louisville, a young black woman holding an anti-Trump sign was violently shoved by several white men while people around her called her the n-word and used a vulgarity. Security seemed unable to stop them. (March 1, 2016)
- In Orlando, two protesters — one black and the other Latino — tussled with a crowd after shouting at the candidate a few feet away from his lectern. The audience, thousands strong, broke into chants as a man attempted to tackle them: “USA! USA! USA!” (March 5, 2016)
These scenes were not uncommon, and neither were Trump's words. He'd alternate between: “Get out,” “Get them out” and “Get him the hell out.”
Protesters at the Louisville rally ultimately sued Trump, claiming he urged his supporters to assault them.
Trump's attorneys argued that his words may have been directed toward law enforcement officials, but video showing Trump supporters pushing, grabbing and even punching anti-Trump protesters shows that his supporters took his words as instructions to act.
Trump, far from discouraging an overzealous response from his supporters, has communicated that if they veered into punishable violence, he'd defend them.
“Get him out! Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court,” he said as a protester was escorted out of a rally in Warren, Mich., in March 2016.
Many of the protesters at the rallies said racist and sexist slurs were hurled their way as they tried to navigate their exit. The overwhelming majority of anti-Trump protesters were black and Latino. Trump reminded his predominantly white crowds of just how differently activists protesting politicians were treated in decades past.
“You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks,” he said after a protester interrupted a Las Vegas rally in February 2016. “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
Every person following the Trump presidency knows that the commander in chief is very mindful of his base. But he promised to be the president of all Americans and defend and protect their rights to the best of his ability. But his lack of concern about the well-being of those who disagree with him and his telling his supporters just how much he'd like to hurt them suggests that his concern is only for people within his tribe. It's perhaps unsurprising that Trump would tell Waters to “be careful.” What's missing is Trump cautioning his supporters to do the same.