If there is any lesson to be drawn from the two most recent terrorist attacks in the United States — the pipe bombs mailed to 12 prominent critics of President Trump, and the mass murder of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh — this is it.
No, President Trump isn’t responsible for the heinous acts of Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers, but there can be no doubt he helped create the climate in which hate-filled, deranged individuals feel emboldened to terrorize and kill.
Never before have we had a president so lacking in moral leadership. He routinely incites his supporters to violence, spews racist rhetoric, and sends messages to hate groups that he is on their side.
It’s no coincidence that every person Sayoc mailed pipe bombs has been attacked by President Trump. For example:
It’s also no coincidence that of the people targeted by the pipe bomber, four are African American, three are Jewish and four are women.
In addition, Trump repeatedly incites his supporters to violence. Just look at this list of Trump quotes, courtesy of Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts:
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” — Donald Trump, Feb. 1, 2016
“I’d like to punch him in the face.” — Donald Trump, Feb. 22, 2016
“You know, part of the problem…is, nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right?” — Donald Trump, March 11, 2016
“Any guy that can do a body slam…he’s my guy” — Donald Trump, Oct. 18, 2018, praising Rep. Greg Gianforte, who was convicted of assaulting a reporter
And just think of the message anti-Semitic terrorist Bowers received after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Va., last year chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump’s response was that there are “very fine people on both sides.”
Bowers wasn’t the only one receiving this message. In Trump’s first year in office, anti-Semitic incidents surged 57 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League — the largest increase since the organization began tracking these crimes in 1979.
As Adam Serwer wrote in the Atlantic
Ordinarily, a politician cannot be held responsible for the actions of a deranged follower. But ordinarily, politicians don’t praise supporters who have mercilessly beaten a Latino man as “very passionate.” Ordinarily, they don’t offer to pay supporters’ legal bills if they assault protesters on the other side. They don’t praise acts of violence against the media. They don’t defend neo-Nazi rioters as “fine people.” They don’t justify sending bombs to their critics by blaming the media for airing criticism. Ordinarily, there is no historic surge in anti-Semitism, much of it targeted at Jewish critics, coinciding with a politician’s rise. And ordinarily, presidents do not blatantly exploit their authority in an effort to terrify white Americans into voting for their party. …
The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact.
As proud Americans, we have a right to expect moral leadership from our president — not hate-filled lies that provoke prejudice, bigotry and violence. The atrocities committed by homegrown terrorists Sayoc and Bowers are theirs alone. But Trump himself must be held accountable for his own culpability in creating the toxic environment in which would-be terrorists feel emboldened to commit hate crimes and mass murder.
Daniel E. Stepano