The arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant on Wednesday revealed a sketchily drawn alleged plot that could have been deadly if put into motion.
Christopher Paul Hasson, a self-described white nationalist, allegedly stockpiled weapons, ammunition and drugs in the D.C. area in order to carry out a “focused” mass killing aimed at establishing a “white homeland.” Authorities revealed a document they said Hasson had written listing apparent targets in the media and Democratic elected officials — officials who have largely been targets of President Trump’s ire.
You don’t need too much imagination to predict how Trump would have reacted had this individual been apprehended within miles of the White House planning to carry out a violent attack aimed at Republican elected officials in hopes of creating an Islamic State caliphate in America. Trump has regularly referred to actual and prospective terrorist attacks on Twitter in order to emphasize the threat of terrorism in the United States.
After the arrest of Hasson, Trump similarly tweeted about threats to the United States — but not threats from individuals who had allegedly planned to murder members of the media or Democratic politicians.
When a fervent Trump supporter allegedly began sending explosive devices to media members and Democrats last year, Trump downplayed the incidents. At one point he put “bomb” in quotes, emphasizing that none had exploded. At another point, he railed against CNN, accusing them of blaming him for the bombings. Later that day the suspect was arrested, his van covered with pro-Trump propaganda and Trump quotes.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked by Politico on Thursday if Trump had any comment on the Hasson arrest and if Trump might tone down his rhetoric against the media.
“The president and the entire administration have condemned violence in all forms as we have stated many times,” Sanders replied.
On Friday morning, in response to a question from a reporter, Sanders continued that theme.
“I certainly don’t think that the president has at any point done anything but condemn violence, against journalists or anyone else,” she said. “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. We should all join together and start condemning the violence — whether it’s against members of the media, whether it’s against Democrats, Republicans, any person in this country. That is unacceptable, and that’s why every time it comes up, we have been consistent, and we have said that we condemn violence in all forms.”
Notice what didn’t happen: While insisting that Trump is among the first to condemn violence, Sanders didn’t condemn the violence. Perhaps we are meant to be left with the impression that Trump’s past condemnations of violence serve as blanket condemnations moving forward, that Hasson’s alleged actions fall, for example, under the condemnation Trump offered for the bombing suspect.
That condemnation consisted of a statement offered before an event at the White House last fall.
“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” Trump said in October, reading from a Teleprompter. “We must never allow political violence to take root in America, cannot let it happen. And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it, and to stop it now.”
It’s not clear what if any actions Trump has taken to that end. Since then, he has criticized other things as dangerous — the lack of a wall on the border with Mexico, for example, and, on Thursday, hours after Hasson was arrested, the rhetoric of Jussie Smollet. The “Empire” actor who alleged last month that he was attacked by Trump supporters in Chicago was charged with disorderly conduct Thursday by police who accused him of staging the incident and filing a false police report.
“Jussie Smollett,” Trump tweeted, using Smollett’s Twitter handle, “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
He offered no similar concern about Hasson’s arrest.
Update: On Friday afternoon, Trump was asked about Hasson.
“I think it’s a shame,” he said. “I think it’s a very sad thing when a thing like that happens. I’ve expressed that.”
All of that aside, Sanders’s assertion that Trump has repeatedly “condemned violence in all forms,” often before being asked to, is both selective and skips over the fact that Trump has also, at times, tacitly encouraged violence. This is ground we’ve been over before, but it’s worth a quick summary.
For example: In December 2015, Trump told a rally audience that while he “hated” some members of the media, “I would never kill them.” He paused for a second. “Let’s see,” he said, acting as though he was reconsidering. “No, I would never do that.”
The following February he pledged to pay the legal fees of anyone who knocked out protesters in the audience who might throw a tomato. The next month, he said he would pay the legal fees of a rally attendee who sucker-punched a protester, later changing his mind. As recently as last October — shortly before the bombing suspect was arrested — Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for having assaulted a reporter.
“Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said to laughter during a rally in Montana.
Earlier this month, a Trump supporter at a rally in Texas assaulted a cameraman for the BBC. In response, Sanders issued a statement condemning violence in broad terms: “condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people — including members of the press.” Trump didn’t tweet about it, but he did repeatedly disparage the media, including calling The Washington Post “fake news” and declaring the media broadly, and the New York Times specifically, the “enemy of the people.”
In June, after a gunman murdered five people at a newspaper in Annapolis, Md., Trump at first ignored questions from the media upon arriving back at the White House from an event in Wisconsin. The next day, after facing strong criticism about his lack of response, Trump offered another prepared statement.
“This attack shocked the conscience of our nation, and filled our hearts with grief,” the statement said. “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”
He then made a promise, again in abstract terms.
“My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life,” he said.
A few hours later, he left for a weekend at his private golf club in New Jersey.