President Trump has given people with racist views the “green light” to voice them without fear, filmmaker Spike Lee said Thursday, as Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric stirs a new round of public debate.
Lee, whose new film, “BlacKkKlansman,” is set for release Friday, made the comments in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“They got the green light from the White House,” Lee said when asked about comments by LeBron James in which the National Basketball Association star said Trump has created an environment in the United States where racists feel emboldened. “The top runs down.”
Whereas other politicians may have used more subtle language in appealing to people with racist views, Trump has gone further, the 61-year-old filmmaker said.
“Since this guy’s gotten in the White House, it’s not even a dog whistle. It’s a bullhorn,” Lee said. “And we’ve seen a rise of the right — it’s not just America. It’s worldwide.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has been on a “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf club since late last week. But his comments on Twitter — many of them related to black athletes and celebrities — as well as explosive remarks on immigration this week by conservative commentator Laura Ingraham have drawn renewed attention to the issue of race, with conversation on the topic dominating cable news shows on Friday.
Last week, Trump mocked CNN host Don Lemon in a tweet, calling him “the dumbest man on television” and saying that he “made Lebron look smart.” Lemon responded on Monday by noting that “referring to an African American as dumb — remember this is America — is one of the oldest canards of America’s racist past and present: that black people are of inferior intelligence.”
Friday, Trump lashed out anew at players in the National Football League who have protested during the national anthem, urging them to “find another way to protest” and “stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”
Excerpts of a new book by former White House aide Omarosa Manigault have also drawn attention to Trump’s views on race. According to one excerpt reported by the Guardian, Manigault cites three unnamed sources who claim that Trump repeatedly used the n-word on the set of his reality show, “The Apprentice.” Manigault is expected to discuss the book Sunday in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Adding fuel to the fire are the comments made Wednesday by Fox News host Laura Ingraham lashing out at both legal and illegal immigration and lamenting that “the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”
“Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like,” Ingraham said on her Fox News Channel show. She later clarified that her commentary “had nothing to do with race or ethnicity.”
And in an appearance Thursday on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” musician Kanye West, who has been among Trump’s most vocal defenders, appeared stunned and responded with silence when asked why he thinks Trump cares about black people, “or any people at all.”
“Why don’t we take a break,” Kimmel responded a few moments later, with West leaving the question unanswered.
In the CNN interview, Lee also discussed his new film, which examines the history of American racism and ends with the scene of last year’s rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville. He described the incident in which self-professed neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car into a crowd of activists, killing counterprotester Heather Heyer, a “terrible act of American terrorism.”
The film, Lee said, is an effort to “connect the past with the present.”
Sunday is the anniversary of the Charlottesville rally. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the city of Charlottesville have declared a state of emergency ahead of the anniversary, and in Washington, up to 400 white nationalists and as many as 1,500 counterprotesters are expected to descend on Lafayette Square, just across from the White House, and other nearby parks for a gathering that has put much of the city on edge.