Political violence: How a domestic terrorist became radicalized
For two long years, the man now sitting in the Oval Office has demonized his opponents and divided the nation, said John Avlon in CNN.com, and “now we are starting to reap the seeds he has sown.” FBI agents investigating the recent mail-bomb campaign to two former Democratic presidents, two former CIA directors, and other critics of President Trump last week arrested Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Florida. A MAGA-hat wearing Trump superfan, Sayoc plastered his van with images of Trump and his favorite rhetorical targets—including Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and CNN—superimposed with red crosshairs. Right-wing conspiracy nuts, including popular radio host Rush Limbaugh, had been suggesting that the bombs would turn out to be “a false flag attack,” sent by liberals to smear Trump supporters, said Rick Wilson in TheDailyBeast.com. But no, “the MAGA bomber” was a true Trumpist—one of the millions he’s radicalized and inspired “to wage war against those he describes as Enemies of the People.”
Why blame Trump and not “the actual criminal?” said Kimberly Ross in WashingtonExaminer.com. Sayoc is an “obvious madman,” whose first bomb-related brush with the law came back in 2002 when, unable to pay his electric bill, he threatened a bomb attack on Florida Power & Light. Yet Democrats tried to score political points by blaming the president—“and by extension, the GOP”—for a deranged individual’s actions. How soon the Democrats forget, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. It was only last year that James Hodgkinson, a rabid supporter of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, shot up the GOP’s congressional baseball team practice, critically wounding Rep. Steve Scalise. At that time, “no serious person suggested that Bernie Sanders had created James Hodgkinson.” So why blame Trump for Sayoc?
Unlike Sanders, Trump has actually endorsed “political violence,” said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. During the 2016 campaign, Trump “encouraged his febrile supporters to beat up protesters” and warned that “Second Amendment people” might have to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing liberal judges. In office, he’s called Democrats “evil,” lamented the “infestation” of immigrant criminals, and just last week praised GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte as “my kind of guy” for body-slamming a journalist. Trump’s supporters are listening, said Mehdi Hasan in TheIntercept.com. The incidence of hate crimes has risen every year since 2015, with one in five perpetrators, according to one study, explicitly citing their support for Trump while beating, shooting, knifing, bombing, or driving a car into Muslims, Hispanics, blacks, and liberals. “The sooner we all recognize that the president of the United States is helping to radicalize a new generation of angry far-right men, the better.”
Trump bears much of the blame, said Max Boot in The Washington Post, but he’s been aided and abetted by Fox News and the rest of the “right-wing media machine.” Up until 2016, Sayoc’s social media postings were mundane and apolitical, and then his tone turned dark and paranoid, with stories from right-wing sites about illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, and Clinton conspiracies. “The overwhelming majority of Republicans are not violent,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but as the party followed Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox, and then Trump further and further into the far-right fever swamps, the GOP has become a “petri dish for diseased minds.” Millions now revel in racism, hatred, and kooky conspiracy theories. It was statistically inevitable that “some of those kooks would resort to violence.”