White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed a question from a reporter on Friday about whether President Trump has any plans to “tone done his rhetoric” after Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson was arrested over an alleged plot to kill journalists and prominent liberals.
“I certainly don’t think that the president at any point has done anything but condemn violence, against journalists or anyone else,” Sanders said.
After arrest of Coast Guard lieutenant, who allegedly amassed weapons and compiled list of Democratic lawmakers and journalists, Sarah Sanders says Pres. Trump hasn't "at any point" done anything "but condemn violence, against journalists or anyone else." https://t.co/vD1SnbtLMf pic.twitter.com/JO6LCpexIm— ABC News (@ABC) February 22, 2019
But Sanders’s characterization is directly at odds with her boss’s history of routinely making incendiary comments about the media and his political opponents. In fact, you don’t have to go far back in history to find footage of the president explicitly encouraging violence against reporters.
In one of the most dramatic examples, Trump literally celebrated a lawmaker for assaulting a reporter. The moment is memorable for its egregiousness, even by Trump-era standards.
At a political rally last October, Trump boosted Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs while Jacobs attempted to interview him in 2017.
Jacobs was attempting to ask Gianforte about his response to a government report on health care when Gianforte grabbed Jacobs’s recorder and pushed Jacobs to the ground. Gianforte later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.
But instead of condemning Gianforte’s behavior, Trump praised him.
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy,” Trump said, before going on to mimic a body slam while the crowd cheered.
Here’s footage of Trump’s praise:
This one video refutes Sanders’s claim that Trump has never encouraged violence “against journalists or anyone else.” In fact, it’s emblematic of Trump’s habit of explicitly encouraging violence.
A brief history of Trump directly and indirectly encouraging violence against the media and political opponents
Trump is no stranger to casually talking about violence against his opponents.
During a rally in December 2015, he joked about killing journalists while defending Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has reportedly been involved in murdering dissident journalists.
“I would never kill them,” Trump said, alluding to reporters, before seemingly reconsidering his statement. “Ahh ... let’s see... well ... no, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them. But I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people.”
In the months that followed, Trump repeatedly encouraged his fans to beat up protesters at his rallies, even going as far as to promise on two different occasions to pay their legal bills if they were charged with crimes.
With the exception of applauding police for roughing up gang members and his comments about Gianforte, Trump hasn’t been as explicit about encouraging violence since taking office. But he has of course repeatedly referred to the “Fake News Media” as “crazed lunatics” and “the enemy of the people,” including as recently as Wednesday — the same day Hasson was arrested.
The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019
Statements like that one aren’t direct threats, but there’s evidence some Trump supporters interpret them as a call for action. For instance, days after Trump praised Gianforte for assaulting Jacobs, someone began sending bombs to prominent Trump critics in politics and the news media.
As explosives showed up in the mail at CNN, the Clintons’ residence, and elsewhere, Trump downplayed the situation, continued attacking the media, and even seemed to suggest the package bombs were false flags meant to make Republicans look bad. But the suspect ultimately arrested in connection with the incidents turned out to literally have pro-Trump propaganda covering his van.
While the charges against Hasson indicate that his violent tendencies and extremism predate Trump’s political rise, there are indications that he was influenced by Trump’s rhetoric. The hit list he had of prominent Dems and media figures referred to Elizabeth Warren as “poca warren,” a description that appears to be shorthand for the slur Trump regularly uses for her. According to authorities, Hasson also Googled phrases like “what if trump illegally impeached” and “civil war if trump impeached.”
On February 12, a BBC camera operator was assaulted by a man wearing a MAGA hat at Trump’s first political rally of 2019. After attacking the camera operator, the assailant yelled, “Fuck the media!”
Just attended my first @realDonaldTrump rally where my colleague BBC cameraman Rob Skeans was attacked by a Trump supporter. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night #TrumpElPaso pic.twitter.com/Oiw8osPms3— Eleanor Montague (@EleanorMontague) February 12, 2019
Trump briefly paused his speech, but resumed his attacks on the media minutes later. His fans responded with “CNN sucks!” chants.
The president still hadn’t commented on Hasson’s arrest as of Friday afternoon. He was finally asked about it during a question-and-answer session during an event at the White House, and denied any responsibility.
“I think my language is very nice,” Trump said when asked if he thinks he should moderate his language.
Trump: "I think my language is very nice" pic.twitter.com/XImAathuU3— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) February 22, 2019
Trump didn’t even condemn Hasson’s actions, instead characterizing the situation as “a shame.”
“I think it’s a very sad thing when a thing like that happens,” he added.