This article has been updated.
Years ago, Donald Trump once reportedly told Billy Bush, then an entertainment reporter, that there’s merit in repeating lies. “Billy, look, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do," Bush claimed Trump told him long before the two men became the central figures in the "Access Hollywood" tape reveal.
That approach is trickling down. In a Friday chat with reporters, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders faced a question about a Coast Guard lieutenant arrested on gun charges who possessed a hit list — which included Democratic politicians and journalists from CNN and MSNBC. The query: Does Trump’s rhetoric contribute to such troubling behavior?
Sanders: “I certainly don’t think that the president at any point has done anything but condemn violence — against journalists or anyone else. In fact, every single time something like this happens, the president is typically one of the first people to condemn the violence and the media is the first people to blame the president."
It appears from court papers that the Coast Guard lieutenant, 49-year-old Christopher P. Hasson, drew inspiration from Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik. That circumstance, however, doesn’t mitigate the blinding dishonesty of Sanders’s attempt to frame the president as an advocate for civility. He is not, and Sanders knows it. But asked in June 2017 about the role of the president’s own words in encouraging violence, Sanders said the president “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.”
If Sanders had been unaware that her words amounted to a continuation of Spicerism from the briefing room lectern, PolitiFact, The Post and others highlighted the several occasions on which Trump, often at rallies, smiled on violent acts. Just one example, from a February 2016 rally in Iowa: “So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell . . . I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” There are several others along those lines.
The president has encouraged violence through body language as well. At a rally before last year’s midterms, Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who’d body-slammed a reporter for the Guardian during his 2017 campaign. “Never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy who can do a body-slam. He’s my kind of . . .,” said Trump last October. "He’s my guy. . . . So I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries . . . And I heard about it. And we endorsed Greg very early, but I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter.” Amid those words, Trump mimicked the act of body-slamming — a violence-encouraging gesture.
Yes, Trump has condemned violence as well. He did it after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; he did it after the mailing of suspicious packages last fall. There’s a difference, however, between condemning some high-profile incidents of violence and doing “anything but” condemning violence. In that zone, President Trump often resides — winking at violence, favorably mimicking violence, urging to “knock the crap out of them.”
We cited this history to Sanders in an email on Friday afternoon, stating that it all appears to be evidence of a lie. We will update this post with any response.
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