The Trump Mood and Political Violence

Note 8.8.2019. The president needs to be more thoughtful with his speech. I certainly don’t nor do I expect I ever will describe illegal immigration as an invasion. When the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting happened I angrily blogged in this entry: Whatever one’s position on immigration, it is paranoid to characterize several thousand Hondurans traveling by foot without military weaponry as ‘invaders’.” At the same time, I am not convinced that describing foreigners storming borders as an invasion is necessarily a shoutout to the white nationalist use of the term. Watching the videos of what was happening along the border, I can charitably see how somebody might come up with that characterization. The videos are dramatic. Storming barricades, rock throwing, tear gas. 

On reflection, I don’t know if Trump is familiar with the movement that uses this term theoretically or whether, if he were familiar with it, he would have avoided using the term. Perhaps he will be more circumspect going forward. I noted at the time of the Pittsburgh shooting that there is a debate among white nationalists as to whether Trump is with them. Many of them agree with the shooter, Robert Bowers, who accused Trump of being a globalist controlled by Jews. Trump’s popularity with Zionists, as well as his Jewish relatives, makes him suspect in white nationalist circles. I was more inclined to assume the worst about Trump last year when I wrote this , but I don’t think that Trump is the source or inspiration for the El Paso attack. Patrick Crusius is clear about his inspiration in his manifesto. And, so, I no longer think it is fair to suggest that Trump is the source or inspiration for Robert Bowers’ actions.

The Democratic candidates for president have thrown off the gloves and are openly blaming the president for El Paso. There is a risk for Democratic candidates going beyond the evidence to accuse Trump of racism and white nationalism. This is not to say that the president is not a racist. I note his racism in this entry. Based on his own statements, Trump believes in the genetic superiority of Germanic peoples. That is racist thinking and very troubling in itself. However, I am less sure that his racism underpins his nationalism or his desire to secure the southern border and crack down on illegal aliens. And I certainly don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters, most of whom are nationalists and who want to see immigration reduced, think of themselves as racist or at in fact racists. I wrote this entry in anger and I overreached.

The authors of Crusius’ action exist independent of Trump. So do the actions of Cesar Sayoc, who targeted Democrats named by Trump with pipe bombs. Here, too, Trump could lower the tone of his rhetoric, but a speaker cannot be held responsible for the actions a disturbed man. The lists compiled by Sayoc went well beyond those named by Trump at his rally. Sayoc had a history of making bomb threats long predating Trump’s presidential campaign of Trump. Judge Jed Rakoff said in his sentencing memo that Sayoc became obsessive and paranoiac, which was made worse by steroid abuse. Rakoff also said he believed Sayoc intentionally designed the bombs so they would not detonate.

James T. Hodgkinson, the man who shot a Republican congressman and four others at a baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, was a loudly proclaimed Bernie Sanders supporter and a devotee to progressive politics. He was also very vocal in his hatred of conservatives and President Donald Trump. Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy,” he posted on Face book. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co. He wrote in another post: Republicans are the Taliban of the USA.I hear progressives say these sorts of things all the time. It would be a stretch to blame them for Hodgkinson’s actions.

Trump is an expression of a very large and diverse moment in our history. Rightwing populism comes with a dark underbelly. All the more important for leftwing populism to bring the better interpretation to the problems that plague the working class, namely the problems of capitalist exploitation and corporate government control.

There is some doubt expressed in rightwing and social media land as to whether the Trump phenomenon is connected to yesterday’s killing of Jews. The shooter, Robert Bowers, disavows Trump because Trump is “not really a nationalist” but a “globalist.” Trump cannot be responsible for the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue killings, the logic of claim goes, because Bowers disavows the president. Of course, Trump supporters also believe the president bears no responsibility for the pipe bombs sent to more than a dozen prominent liberals even though those targeted were the same people named by Trump in the context of rallies in which he also advocated violence.

Bowers represents one fork in the white nationalist road: those who think Trump is a stooge groomed by the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG) to trick their racist comrades into doing its bidding: white genocide. The other fork is those who think Trump elevates the legitimacy of the racist cause. They believe Trump is useful for mainstreaming the white nationalist agenda. What both forks share is a belief that Jews are scheming to replace white people with nonwhites. This is what those tiki torch bearing Charlottesville marchers meant when they chanted “You will not replace us.” This is what Bowers was talking about when he wrote just before perpetrating mass murder, “Screw the optics, I’m going in.”

A major strain in popular Trump support is antisemitism. We see it in the rightwing obsession with George Soros, a prominent Jewish philanthropist, in which white nationalists link Soros with organizing the migrant caravan. Both groups describe the caravan as an “invasion.” Whatever ones position on immigration, it is paranoid to characterize several thousand Hondurans traveling by foot without military weaponry as “invaders.” Whether the president is a white nationalist or a useful idiot, Trumps presence triggers white nationalists to violently assert themselves. He links skin color to rape and gang violence. He riles up his followers with frank advocacy for violent action. His public performances are white nationalist propaganda rallies in which he spins a paranoid narrative of a world in which the (Jew-controlled) media spreads lies.

Lets not deny the obvious here. Trump is not a sophisticated code talker. When Trump professes “nationalism,” the white supremacists know what he means. Trump doesnt have to say “I am a white nationalist” for them to know that he is. Yet Trump does discuss race in a white nationalist way. He is on record advocating eugenics: “The family subscribes to a racehorse theory of human development,” he has admitted. “They believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring.” He has also said: “You know I’m proud to have that German blood, there’s no question about it. Great stuff.” 

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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