This is a declaration of intent. And marching orders to his Brown Shirts.If there was ever a tweet tailor-made for promotion by President Trump, it might be this one: A video by an account called “Cowboys for Trump” in which the speaker begins by saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” The speaker quickly qualifies that he’s not speaking literally.
At precisely midnight, the president felt this was the kind of message that people needed to see. “Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico!” he said in a retweet.
Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico! https://t.co/aCRJeskUA8
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
What lay ahead was entirely predictable. People are rightly pointing out that a president just promoted the idea of dead Democrats. Trump will have the kind of plausible deniability he craves — the guy even said he wasn’t being literal! — and the world will keep turning.
But the speaker has also made clear he wasn’t being entirely figurative. And Trump’s history with this kind of thing makes clear he knows exactly what he’s injecting into the national dialogue.
The video is actually more than a week old, having caused a stir back then. The speaker, an Otero County, N.M., commissioner named Couy Griffin, has already been disavowed by the New Mexico Republican Party, even if he was just speaking figuratively.
The Republican Party of New Mexico wants to state for the record that any statements, whether in jest or serious about harming another individual are just plain wrong.
— New Mexico GOP (@NewMexicoGOP) May 20, 2020
“The Republican Party of New Mexico wants to state for the record that any statements, whether in jest or serious about harming another individual are just plain wrong,” the party said in a tweet on May 20. The Young Republicans of New Mexico have also called for him to apologize.
Griffin initially declined to back down and claimed persecution, though he eventually said he “could’ve chosen a different verbiage, you know. I guess I need to be more careful when I choose the words that I speak.”
But his other comments indicated he’s not entirely discounting the idea of violence or dead Democrats.
In the same remarks, Griffin said that a “Plan B” after “Plan A” of winning elections would be some kind of uprising. “If we have to get shoulder-to-shoulder and create posses and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our great sheriffs, we’ll fight you at the county lines, but we’re not letting you have our guns,” he said.
He was later asked by the Daily Beast whether protesters against coronavirus-related restrictions might resort to violence, and responded, “I’ll tell you what, partner, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not an option that’s not on the table.”
In the same interview, Griffin also suggested certain top Democrats might be executed for treason, citing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
“You get to pick your poison: You either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope,” Griffin said.
It’s exactly the kind of thing Trump does: He’s saying this thing, but he’s also saying that he’s not really saying this thing, and it’s your fault for misinterpreting.
But if there were any doubt that Trump was deliberately injecting this into the national dialogue, you only need to look at how many times he’s done this before.
Early in the 2016 election, Trump downplayed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s killing of journalists by saying the United States kills people, too. He would later repeatedly and conspicuously allude to the idea that he himself would kill journalists — while making sure to dismiss it.
“And then they said, you know, [Putin has] killed reporters, and I don’t like that. I’m totally against that,” Trump said. “By the way, I hate some of these people, but I’d never kill him. I hate them. No, I think — no, these people, honestly — I’ll be honest, I’ll be honest. I would never kill them. I would never do that.”
Trump then jokingly suggested he might reconsider. “Uh, let’s see. Meh?” he said. “No, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them.”
(Trump during a meeting with Putin in 2019 would seemingly return to this idea, saying “Get rid of them” about journalists he didn’t like and saying, “You don’t have this problem in Russia.”)
Trump also bonded with Putin over a scorn for journalists.
“Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn't it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”
“We also have,” Putin answered, in English. “It’s the same.”
They shared a chuckle. pic.twitter.com/atGGYxnwfc
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) June 28, 2019
Later in the 2016 campaign, Trump obliquely referred to an armed uprising against Hillary Clinton’s judicial picks, saying there would be nothing you could do about them — “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
In 2019 at a rally, Trump asked what could be done about immigrants crossing the border illegally, to which one rallygoer responded, “Shoot them.” Trump replied, “That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”
After the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017, Trump retweeted and then deleted a video depicting a train running over a CNN reporter.
In 2019, Trump also toyed with the idea of the military, police and Bikers for Trump getting violent with Antifa. “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” He offered similar comments at a rally in Missouri, saying: “But they’re peaceful people, and Antifa and all — they’d better hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way.”
He hopes they stay that way, but he’s happy to repeatedly raise the specter of violence against people he dislikes — while clarifying that he’s not advocating it. Plenty of people will believe these musing are being exaggerated and taken out of context, but the thrust of all of them is unmistakable and consistent. It’s like that old, stereotypical mafia expression, “It’d be a shame if something happened to XYZ.”
It’s the same trick Griffin played in the video, and it’s the kind of rhetoric that, however hedged, is clearly purposeful and part of a long-running calculation.
For the time being, I will continue to argue that the legal and electoral processes must be allowed to play out, if only because there is not the national support to remove Trump by force, and there is unlikely to be unless he tries to overturn the election first. As much as I loath tolerating even one more day of this tyrant's regime, I have even less desire to start a war we will not win.
But make no mistake: Trump means to kill us. If you're black, or brown, or foreign, or non-Christian, or just dare to hold a different opinion than him, he and his mob Want. You. Dead. And if they get the chance, they will do it, just as they have killed tens of thousands of Americans by needlessly exposing them to coronavirus.
I am a Democrat. I have friends and family who are Democrat. This thing who dares to call himself our President just publicly said that we should die, knowing that many in his base will take that as the instruction that it is.
As far as I am concerned, Trump has just declared a war of aggression against me, my family, my party and my countrymen. I wish to stress here that while I continue, for the time being, to oppose the Left initiating violence, my objections are purely practical, not moral, and I would urge everyone in opposition to Trump to take all possible actions within the limits of the law to prepare themselves, their families, and their communities for armed conflict.