Forty-five minutes after news broke of a shooting at a morning baseball practice for Republican congressmen, a well-known Trump-supporting journalist tweeted about the people he held responsible for it: “After Kathy Griffin and Julius Caesar, the Russia conspiracy theory, the Left and MSM inspired today’s terrorist attack
#Alexandria,” wrote Jack Posobiec.
At the time, there were few details confirmed — including the identity or motivation of the shooter. But Posobiec’s tweet, along with those from several other Trump Internet personalities in the first hours after the shooting, treated the incident as the fulfillment of a prophecy, one that the pro-Trump media had been promoting for months.
Within an hour, Infowars.com had published a story headlined, “LEFTIST GUNMAN SHOOTS REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN IN MEDIA-INSPIRED TERROR ATTACK.” The gunman had not yet been publicly identified when the story was published, nor had his motivation or political views.
Infowars, particularly its most famous personality, Alex Jones, has reacted to some previous mass shootings skeptically, searching for signs of a possible “false flag” operation. Jones most famously did this in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which he has said was “completely fake with actors.” (he’s since said that he believes children were killed during the mass shooting that left 20 kids and six adult victims dead, but claims there are still “anomalies” in the story).
This shooting was different for Infowars. The site covered it early and aggressively.
“We have been warning for months that the mainstream media’s hysterical anti-Trump narrative and the left’s insistence that Trump is illegitimate will radicalize demented social justice warriors and prompt them to lash out with violence,” Infowars’s Paul Joseph Watson wrote in the article. “It looks like that’s exactly what happened today. The blood is on their hands.”
It wasn’t until after this response was well on its way around the Trump Internet that we learned some facts about the shooter. He was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, who appears to have authored a Facebook post that reads, “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” The Trump Internet, which had prepared viewers to expect exactly this sort of thing, felt vindicated. Hodgkinson, based on his alleged Facebook profiles, was a passionate supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal. His social-media presence was filled with anti-Trump rhetoric.
“Violent leftists” became a growing meme on the right after Trump’s inauguration, propelled by two incidents: the destruction of property in downtown Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, by a group of organized protesters; and the gleeful reaction of Liberal Twitter when white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched in the face.
Since then, pro-Trump media have devoted considerable effort to holding the people they see as anti-Trump propagandists accountable for any violent acts committed by people on the left. Violent clashes between Antifa protesters and Trump supporters get the sort of 24-hour news coverage on sites like Infowars that CNN once reserved for the missing plane. That coverage repeatedly attempts to link the fringe protest group to mainstream liberals, and to journalists.
In early May, pro-Trump personality Mike Cernovich showed up at a White House news briefing to berate White House reporters for not “demand[ing] that leaders of the Democrats disavow the violence of Antifa.”
Some of this coverage is driven by the sort of inversion that’s typical on the pro-Trump Internet: Cernovich’s call to “disavow” left-wing violence mimics the language liberals used to press Trump on his support from white nationalists during the campaign. But while the language might be a bit playful for those who are in on the meme, the central assertion — that Democrats and the media should be treated as complicit in any anti-Trump violence — is meant to be literal and serious.
The intensity around this idea has only strengthened in recent weeks, particularly after a photograph leaked showing Kathy Griffin holding a fake severed head that was meant to look like Trump. It surged again this past weekend, as outrage ballooned over a New York theater’s staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” in which Caesar is restyled to look a lot like the current president. Both stories were interpreted as explicit calls for the assassination of Trump.
Infowars ran a subtly titled contest, “CNN is ISIS,” in response to the Griffin story, encouraging its viewers to “expose CNN’s Kathy Griffin and mainstream media’s call for violence.”
“The fake news media got what they wanted. They’re getting their mass murders,” Cernovich said in a live stream on Wednesday afternoon. “They’re getting their mass shooters, this is what they’ve been attempting to incite for the past 18 months.”
The narrative, albeit in a slightly subtler way, spread beyond the core of the pro-Trump Internet as the day went on. Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president, approvingly quoted from a tweet that connected the shooting to the Julius Caesar adaptation.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich went on Fox News on Wednesday to discuss the shooting, which he attributed to “an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.”
“The intensity is very real, whether it’s a so-called comedian holding up the president’s head covered in blood, or right here in New York City, a play that shows the president being assassinated, or it’s Democratic leading national politicians using vulgarity because they can’t find any common language to talk,” he said.
As the day went on, Jones called for Trump himself to pick up on the message so many of his supporters believe to be true. “We need Trump to tweet,” he said in a video released on Wednesday afternoon. “This is Democrat-inspired terrorism, directly caused by their organized concerted effort to start a bloody civil war, which they’re going to kick off.”