Maybe the subject of mass murderers and the caches of weapons they are allowed to amass makes the National Rifle Association’s pet president a wee bit nervous. Call attention to the ease with which unbalanced and extremist figures get vast numbers of weapons and before you know it, Democrats will be calling for reasonable gun laws.
Too cynical an explanation? Well, perhaps Hasson is not the “right” kind of terrorist. Trump has been obsessed and willing to misread the public over and over again with the risk from foreign terrorists. Coming over the border from Mexico! (Not really.) The result of chain migration! (Actually, not.) My colleague Philip Bump reported in October 2018 after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre:
With the attack in Pittsburgh, there have been more people killed in the United States during Trump’s presidency in violent acts perpetrated by people embracing anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic or far-right political ideologies than by terrorists acting on behalf of groups like the Islamic State. To hear Trump talk about it, though, the latter poses the bigger threat and demands the more significant action.
Hence, even when the immigration angle is nonexistent, Trump will use a terror incident to stoke fear of immigrants. Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler explained that Trump’s attempt to tie a New York terror incident to chain migration was riddled with errors:
In November, after Uzbekistan-born Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov allegedly killed eight people and injured a dozen others by driving a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center in New York, President Trump attacked the diversity visa program that gave Saipov legal permanent residency in the United States. He also made a startling claim: Saipov was the “point of contact” for “23 people that came in or potentially came in with him.”
Saipov could not have brought in that number of people, and, on any case, was radicalized here in the United States. Self-radicalization is an increasing problem for law enforcement, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to Trump.
For Trump, terrorism is the justification for irrational immigration policies that feed his base’s xenophobia. He stokes fear of throngs of MS-13 gang members and cites “thousands” of arrests — exaggerations, if not outright lies, he uses to try to paint “dreamers” and desperate asylum seekers as part of an undifferentiated horde of invaders.
Finally, Trump might not be keen on highlighting the Hasson case since this might be one more case — along with those of suspected Florida mail-bomber Cesar Sayoc, the accused Pittsburgh killer out to kill people he believed were assisting migrants from the caravans, and more mundane figures such as the MAGA fan who reportedly assaulted a BBC cameraman — where someone seemed to take vilification of the media to heart. The constant drumbeat of “enemy of the people” demagoguery does not make average men into killers, but it might incite and encourage unstable and/or extreme figures to act on their beliefs.
Trump believes he is responsible for none of this (nor of the upturn in hate crimes during his presidency), but it defies logic and experience to claim that the man with the loudest bullhorn on the planet does not affect anyone’s conduct. Was it just a coincidence that a MAGA fan at a rally in which Trump vilified the media reportedly decided to take his aggression out on, well, the media? No more a coincidence, I suppose, than the alleged plot by Sayoc, whose van was covered with pro-Trump and anti-CNN stickers and messages.
For Trump, it could all be part of his con game to rile up a low-information base of voters and give them easily identified enemies (the media, immigrants). This, however, is real life, where words matter, and Trump’s relative lack of interest in domestic terrorism that serves no partisan purpose might have deadly consequences.