Make no mistake: Donald Trump bears responsibility for the fact that hundreds of people are in Washington D.C. today, in the streets and even inside the U.S. Capitol, many of whom have been threatening violence in gruesome, explicit terms.
“How do you peacefully remove corrupt and undeserving people from power?,” read one post this morning on thedonald.win, an online forum that was banned from Reddit last June for violating that site’s rules against violent hatred. “Error 404. Peaceful solution not found.”1
Another person replied, “Discard of (sic) them and dump their bodies in a trash bin.” Others went on to describe exactly how they would kill Democratic political leaders and Republicans who are bowing out of Trump’s effort to overturn the November 3 election. This was just a few hours before protestors entered the U.S. capitol building and reportedly began roaming through its halls shouting, “where are they?”
Trump doesn’t usually call for violence explicitly, though he has done so.2 He doesn’t need to: he has a knack for using dangerous speech: language that he knows his supporters will understand as a call to violence. When that happens, Trump could easily correct them, but he fails to do so. By his silence he reinforces their sense that “we have marching orders,” which was the top reply yesterday morning on thedonald.win, to Trump’s invitation to come to Washington D.C. to protest and perhaps disrupt the U.S. Congress’ certification of Joe Biden as the next president: “be there, will be wild.“ Trump did not have to explain what “wild” meant – his most violence-hungry supporters were glad to fill that in.
On Monday, the day before protesters began massing in D.C., more than half of the top 50 posts on thedonald.win’s homepage related to the D.C. gathering on Wednesday featured calls of violence within the top five comments, the Washington Post reported (based on research by Advance Democracy).3 Many of the posts also encouraged marchers to bring guns and ammunition, in direct defiance of D.C. law (which requires all guns to be registered with D.C. police, and places strict restrictions on the types of guns and magazines allowed).
In the case of the Proud Boys, one of the best-known white supremacist groups that vow to keep Trump in the White House although he lost the election, Trump has been signaling his support and his encouragement of violence for months. When he was explicitly invited by the moderator of a televised debate with Biden on Sept. 29 to condemn violent white supremacists like the Proud Boys since he had so far failed to do so, Trump briskly told them instead to “stand back and stand by” and said, falsely, that most violence had come from left-wing protestors.4
When the Proud Boys came to D.C. in December and attacked historic Black churches, Trump said nothing. Instead he has been eagerly encouraging them and other supporters to “Fight for Trump,” fueling their righteous rage with the lie that the election was stolen from him – and therefore from them.
This afternoon, after protestors breached the Capitol, surging past the police trying to hold them back, and a woman was reportedly shot, Trump tweeted that he was asking for people at the Capitol to remain peaceful. That’s like opening a fire hydrant and then holding up a cocktail umbrella to stop the water. Instead Trump must make a strong public statement recognizing that the protest went terribly wrong, and ordering his supporters to go home, leaving the Capitol and the country’s democratic process intact.
Cover photo from Getty Images.