The farming out of state violence

This is what happens when the government warns of invasions and encourages vigilantes

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Scott Olson/Getty Images, Vlad_Zukerman/iStock, zenink/iStock)

Authoritarian figures rarely rely on state power alone to accomplish their draconian ends. They often also mobilize the very thing that legitimate rulers are supposed to stop: private violence. That is precisely how the Jim Crow South maintained its regime of racial apartheid after the abolition of slavery limited the scope of formal state action. And now President Donald J. Trump is dipping into that ignominious tradition to activate the white nationalists in his base to advance his border control objectives.

Trump did not pull the trigger in the El Paso carnage that killed 22 people — and counting — but it's hard to deny that he has helped foment the atmosphere in which the trigger was pulled. Trump kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexican rapists and criminals of course. And in his rallies he teasingly encouraged his supporters to "rough up" dissenters who protested his incendiary rhetoric. Far from cooling such language after getting elected, he ramped it up. He has repeatedly referred to immigrants as an infestation and painted a lurid picture of an out-of-control southern border under attack by "invaders" that border patrol agents are powerless to stop because, as he laments, "we can't let them [the agents] use weapons." As New York's Eric Levitz points out, the unmistakable message to "trigger happy patriots" in all of this is that "we can't use weapons" but "perhaps you should."

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