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Man accused of groping woman on airplane argues that Trump says it’s okay

The man “stated that the President of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts,” according to the FBI.

President Donald Trump at a rally on October 22, 2018
President Donald Trump at a rally on October 22, 2018.
Loren Elliott/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Call it the Trump defense.

When Bruce Michael Alexander was arrested on suspicion of groping a woman on an airplane, he reportedly told FBI agents that President Donald Trump “says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts.”

As Mary Ann Georgantopoulos notes at BuzzFeed, Alexander was presumably referring to President Trump’s boast on the Access Hollywood tape that he could grab women “by the pussy.”

This may be the first public report of someone apparently using Trump’s words as an excuse to grab a woman. But Trump has long set an example for the entire country of condoning sexual misconduct and belittling those who come forward as survivors — maybe it was only a matter of time before someone interpreted his boast as a free pass to assault women.

“You can do anything”

An unidentified woman was flying on a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Albuquerque on Sunday, Georgantopoulos reports, when she felt someone grabbing her breast from behind. She thought it was an accident until it happened again a few minutes later.

The woman confronted Alexander, who was sitting behind her, and asked to be relocated. When the flight landed, law enforcement was “requested ... due to reports of a Customer’s alleged inappropriate behavior onboard,” a Southwest spokesperson told BuzzFeed.

Authorities found that Alexander’s hand matched the woman’s description of the one that had touched her.

An FBI agent who interviewed Alexander wrote in an affidavit that he had said, “the President of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts.” As Georgantopoulos reports, it’s not clear whether those were Alexander’s exact words or a paraphrase. Alexander was charged with abusive sexual contact.

On the Access Hollywood tape, filmed in 2005 and released in October 2016, Trump can be heard saying, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he went on. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Trump apologized for his comments after the tape was released, but added, “Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course.” And in the two years since, he has repeatedly made comments smearing or mocking women who report sexual assault.

When multiple women accused him of sexual harassment or assault, some inspired to come forward by the tape’s release, he called them liars and suggested they were working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. And earlier this month, he made fun of Christine Blasey Ford for not being able to remember all the details of the night she says Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court justice, sexually assaulted her.

Since before his election, Trump has encouraged his supporters to doubt those who report sexual misconduct and to make light of their claims. As president of the United States, he has set an example for all citizens that it’s normal and acceptable to belittle those who make the difficult decision to speak up about sexual assault. Perhaps it’s no surprise if one man took his taped comments as permission.

After the Access Hollywood tape was released, Trump maintained that his words were “locker room banter,” nothing more. But just days later, two women told the New York Times that Trump had kissed or touched them without their consent. One was Rachel Crooks, who is now running for the state House of Representatives in Ohio.

The other was Jessica Leeds, who said that Trump had grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt more than three decades ago. The setting: an airplane.