“They won’t ever criticize anybody that’s truly — you know, that’s a violent person, frankly, that’s violent. They stick up for the violence,” Trump said. “They don’t — the people that are getting hurt, they don’t care about. They don’t care about these people. It’s a weird thing. It’s like warped minds.”
A bit later, Ingraham played a clip of Biden condemning violence and calling out Trump for being too “weak” to call on his supporters to not act like an armed militia. Trump replied that it was Biden who was weak — and then rationalized his supporters wanting to act like an armed militia.
That interview aired only hours after Trump had defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who was charged with homicide after allegedly shooting three people, two of whom died, at a protest after a police shooting in Kenosha, Wis. Trump suggested that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense.
“He was trying to get away from them, I guess; it looks like,” Trump said. “And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been … I … he probably would have been killed.”
This has been a pattern for Trump consistently: failing to repudiate acts of violence from people directly or broadly supportive of his presidency while accusing his critics of being dangerous and violent. But it bears noting how much of that rhetoric has been centered on issues of race and the Black Lives Matter movement specifically.
In 2014, when Barack Obama was president, Trump was frequently critical of how the administration was responding to protests such as those in Ferguson, Mo., which followed the police shooting of a Black teenager.
“Our country is totally fractured,” Trump wrote on Twitter in November 2014, “and, with our weak leadership in Washington, you can expect Ferguson type riots and looting in other places.”
The next April, two months before he announced his presidential campaign, protests erupted in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a Black man, while in police custody.
That August, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was at an event when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted and took control of the microphone. Trump repeatedly used the incident as a way to disparage Sanders as weak.
At one point, Trump used it to suggest how tough he himself would be. At an event in Michigan, Trump said it was “disgusting” that Sanders allowed himself to be interrupted.
“That will never happen with me,” Trump said. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will.”
At a Trump campaign rally in Alabama that November, a Black Lives Matter protester interrupted — and then endured verbal and physical attacks from the crowd. Trump defended the reaction.
“Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said, “because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Protesters being pushed around became a standard part of Trump rallies, to the extent that Trump’s campaign team began airing a recorded message encouraging people to simply drown out protesters with pro-Trump messages. But that didn’t keep Trump from talking about assaulting protesters, including suggesting that he would pay the legal fees for supporters who did so.
In March 2016, that promise was put to the test. A Black Lives Matter protester named Rakeem Jones interrupted a Trump rally and was being escorted out by police when an elderly Trump supporter elbowed him in the face. Trump at first suggested that he might pay the supporter’s legal fees but later backtracked.
During the general election, Trump frequently used protests centered on police brutality as a foil. A mass shooting near a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas in July in which a man sympathetic to the movement killed five police officers became part of Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention. In October, he lamented “race riots” occurring around the country, including in “Charlotte, a great city where I have property.” Those protests and some incidents of violence followed the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer.
During Trump’s presidency, there have been two moments in particular in which his views of Black Lives Matter were elevated.
The first came in August 2017, when pro-Confederacy and white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville were confronted by counterprotesters, including some from Black Lives Matter. After one of the counterprotesters was killed and others injured by a white nationalist driving into a crowd, Trump criticized both groups for engaging in violence and defended the original protesters for including among their ranks “fine people.”
The second moment is the one we’re in now, which began with the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. After initially expressing sympathy for Floyd’s death and reading prepared remarks about the incident and the protests and violence that followed, Trump took a position more in line with the one he revealed during the 2016 campaign.
Trump tried to defend his tweet declaring that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” by saying that looting would lead to shooting incidents, but he readily acknowledged that the more direct and more obvious suggestion — looters would be shot — was what he meant. (Looters were subsequently shot.)
Over the past few months, he’s repeatedly disparaged Black Lives Matter protesters, claiming, for example, that many “weren’t able to say” what they were protesting but were instead “following the crowd.” He made those specific comments in a Fox News interview in June in which he deployed another of his preferred rhetorical moves for Black Lives Matter: conflating protests with violence and riots.
When New York Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to paint a large “Black Lives Matter” slogan on the street outside Trump Tower in Manhattan in an obvious attempt to rile Trump, it worked. The president called the phrase a “symbol of hate” that was “denigrating this luxury avenue.” In a radio interview July 9, Trump complained that “you have tenants paying a lot of money. They’re very unhappy. All the — all of these tenants that are so unhappy with what’s going on in New York.”
Trump has elevated a number of false claims about Black Lives Matter, including that a supporter of BLM shot at a car in Austin and, more recently, sharing a video that falsely attributed an act of violence to a BLM supporter. At the same time, he has repeatedly looped BLM into a broad, murky conspiracy involving anti-fascist activists, Marxists and other anti-government groups. Over the weekend, he shared a tweet from the far-right cable network One America News suggesting that protests over police violence were a “coup attempt.”
“Protesters. You know what I say?” Trump said during a speech in New Hampshire last week. “Protesters, your ass. I don’t talk about my ass. They’re not protesters. Those aren’t pro — those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
In his interview with Ingraham, Trump again disparaged the group in sweeping terms.
“Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organization,” Trump said.
“You remember ‘pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon?’ ” he continued, referring to a chant used at one protest in 2014. “That was the first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter. I said, that’s a terrible name. It’s so discriminatory, it’s bad for Black people, it’s bad for everybody.”
A bit later in the interview, Trump made another claim about Black Americans.
“I’ve done more for the Black community than any president in the United States, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “And it’s true.”