Over the weekend, a mildly viral tweet documented one man’s inability to remove another from an airplane.
The reason that the first man wanted the second thrown off the flight is because of the latter’s T-shirt, one that has popped up at Trump rallies in the past. (Remember when presidents used to not throw cultish rallies?) The back of the offending shirt reads: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” While not quite an explicit death threat, the shirt expresses the unambiguous desire for people to be murdered. Wearing such a shirt in public is an act of aggression.
Despite the fact that people have been removed from airplanes for wearing suggestive rompers recently, this shirt was ultimately deemed acceptable by United Airlines. It was only offensive, after all, not necessarily threatening.
However, this shirt is symptomatic of a larger virus that Donald Trump has cultivated throughout his presidency. His constant stoking of animosity toward the press who would dare hold him accountable keeps escalating, and his supporters keep lapping it up. Last week, some of those supporters showed off just how much the anti-media message resonates with them, in a way that makes that airplane passenger’s T-shirt look tame.
As the New York Times reports, a pro-Trump group called American Priority held a three-day conference at Trump National Doral Miami last week, during which, at some point, a disturbing video was exhibited. The video contained a series of pro-Trump memes, the most notable of which edited the incredibly violent church scene from the film Kingsman to make it look as though Donald Trump was personally executing several members of the media, as well as political opponents like the already deceased John McCain. On the one hand, it is at least a little funny that these supporters see a 73-year-old, plus-sized, incoherent, Twitter-addicted bridezilla as an avatar of ass-kicking. Mostly, though, it’s not funny at all. It’s terrifying.
This wasn’t a radical fringe group. American Priority held its festival on a Trump property and booked Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump Jr., and Sarah Sanders as speakers. (All three claim not to have seen the video.) This was a mainstream event. And although the mainstream GOP has absorbed a lot of fringe ideas over the years, such as the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, “mass shootings” is a new one.
Now that word about the video has gotten out, the less fringe-y attendees will want to distance themselves from it, but there is no denying that this video is what people organizing the event thought their viewers wanted to see.
And why wouldn’t they think so? Trump calls the collective mass of media outlets he doesn’t like (read: any that employ fact-checkers) the “Enemy of the People” every chance he gets, and he occasionally encourages violence toward them. This message is a winner with his crowds, who don’t want to see the Trump parade rained on by the pesky press. It’s a message that Trump refuses to tamp down, even just days after one of his supporters sent a (thankfully faulty) pipe bomb to CNN’s offices in New York last year. He never goes quite so far as to say his domestic enemies should be straight-up killed, but he’s constantly testing the boundaries of what he can get away with saying.
Obviously, Trump will want to distance himself from this video. In fact, the distancing has already begun.
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) October 14, 2019
Many pro-Trump pundits will follow suit, hopefully in language as strong as they used to condemn comedian Michelle Wolf when she made a joke about Sarah Sanders’s eye makeup.
When they all condemn this video, though, what is to be said about the rhetoric that inspired it?
The team at American Priority didn’t just magically divine the idea that a bunch of rabid Trump fans would like to see their special guy execute his chosen enemies. It’s the logical conclusion of Trump’s rhetoric. The existence of this violent video isn’t the problem; the president amplifying the ideas behind it is.
Unfortunately, there is roughly zero chance that the condemnation of this video will precede any change in that regard.
Back in August, a Trump supporter echoed Trump’s language of “invasion” to describe why he drove several hours to an El Paso Walmart to gun down “Hispanics.” Any kind of responsible leader might have taken a moment after this massacre to wonder whether he’d perhaps gone too far in his anti-immigrant demagoguery. Instead, he spent days on the defensive, shirking any possible blame for influencing the shooter’s actions and taking thumbs-up photos with a newly orphaned baby.
Thankfully, there has only been one newsroom shooting over the course of Trump’s term, and it appears not to have been politically motivated. Why should anyone wait for more to happen, however, before dealing with the problem at hand? As Trump faces impeachment, his language about media coverage of the Ukraine scandal will likely heat up even further. Any pro-Trump media outlets who condemn the fake mass-shooting video would do well to consider condemning Trump’s own language that brought it about.
Stirring up hatred toward a specific group of people is an act of aggression. Even if Trump is not making an explicit threat by doing so, it still makes other people uncomfortable riding on a plane with him.