After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump commented at a rally that, if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is elected, “Second Amendment people” can “do” something about her judicial nominations, several media figures condemned Trump’s “dog whistle” for “mirror[ing]” violent rhetoric from anti-abortion extremists.
Trump Warns That “Second Amendment People” Can “Do” Something About Clinton
Trump: If Clinton Picks Judges, “Nothing You Can Do, Folks. Although The Second Amendment People, Maybe There Is.” CNN reported that at a campaign rally in Wilmington, NC, Trump made a remark seemingly “threatening [Clinton’s] life” by implying that supporters of the Second Amendment could “do” something about Clinton and her judicial nominations.
Donald Trump set off a fierce new controversy Tuesday with remarks about the right to bear arms that were interpreted by many as a threat of violence against Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know,” Trump said.
He added: “But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if Hillary gets to put her judges in, right now we're tied.”
Trump's ambiguous comments alarmed some political observers as to whether he was threatening her life or calling for increased political activity. [CNN, 8/10/16]
Media Express Concern Over Trump’s Language, Drawing From History Of Violence Against Abortion Providers Preceded By Public Rhetoric
Rolling Stone Contributor David S. Cohen: Trump’s Comments Constitute “Stochastic Terrorism.” Rolling Stone contributor and anti-abortion violence expert David S. Cohen characterized Trump’s remarks as an example of “stochastic terrorism,” defined as using language “‘to incite random actors’” to violent acts “‘that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.’” Cohen emphasized that in “the world of anti-abortion violence, we see this again and again from leaders of the anti-abortion movement,” citing the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 as just one example. From the August 9 article (emphasis original):
But it's really irrelevant what Trump actually meant, because enough people will hear Trump's comments and think he's calling for people to take up arms against Clinton, her judges or both. Though most of the people hearing that call may claim he was joking, given what we know about people taking up arms in this country, there will undoubtedly be some people who think he was serious and consider the possibility.
In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism. This is an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half, and it applies with precision here. Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
Those of us who work against anti-abortion violence unfortunately know all about this. Valerie Tarico wrote about this form of terrorism following the Planned Parenthood murders in Colorado Springs last November. The pattern she noted there is 100 percent applicable to Donald Trump and his supporters right now – except that we haven't yet had the major act of violence at the end of the string.
This [pattern] explains Donald Trump's campaign against Hillary Clinton to a letter. He has 1) demonized her whenever he can by calling her “Crooked Hillary” and constantly degrading her; 2) organized a convention around which the central theme, repeated over and over, was that Clinton is a criminal who needs to be locked up, clearly using fear and moral disgust as motivators; and 3) is now using violent metaphors (or “jokes,” if that's what you think his statements were) against her, just short of an explicit call to arms.
Now we just have to hope that #4 doesn't come about – that violence does not erupt. Though, if it does, we know exactly what Trump and his supporters will say: that they never could have foreseen this tragedy. [Rolling Stone, 8/9/16]
Vox: “It’s A Pattern That Abortion Providers … Have Seen Play Out Time And Again.” Vox’s Emily Crockett wrote that it’s “a pretty short step from the idea” -- which Trump has pushed -- that “ordinary democratic and legal processes aren’t equipped to handle” complaints about Clinton to “violent fantasies of going outside the law for real justice,” citing the history of violence against abortion providers as a reason for concern. Crockett pointed to the case of Robert Lewis Dear, who ranted “about ‘baby parts’ after killing three people and wounding nine at a Planned Parenthood” after Republican lawmakers “repeated incessantly” the claims that Planned Parenthood sells “‘baby parts.’” From the August 10 article:
It’s a pattern that abortion providers in particular have seen play out time and again. Public figures or advocates demonize a person or group as a loathsome, inhuman monster, often using violent imagery and righteous rhetoric — like comparing abortion to slavery, or saying it’s worse than the Holocaust. Then when someone commits the act of violence that many people would consider an appropriate response to such extreme atrocities (who wouldn’t kill Hitler if they had the chance?), those same public figures react with shock and say that no one could have predicted this.
But it’s very predictable, statistically if not individually. Right after a series of anti-abortion videos made the baseless claims that Planned Parenthood is staffed by “butchers” who “sell baby parts” — claims that were then repeated incessantly by Republican officials and lawmakers — violent threats against abortion providers skyrocketed, and the FBI took notice. And pretty soon, Robert Lewis Dear was ranting about “baby parts” after killing three people and wounding nine at a Planned Parenthood.
Trump has suggested before that Hillary Clinton might be a murderer. But his obsessions with how “crooked” Hillary is and how the system is “rigged” to favor her may actually be more relevant here, and more dangerous. [Vox, 8/10/16]
CNN’s David Gergen: “This Is The Kind Of Dehumanization” Seen Before People “Go Shoot People At Abortion Clinics.” CNN commentator David Gergen lambasted the Trump campaign’s rhetoric against Clinton, comparing it to “the kind of dehumanization that we've seen before people pick up guns and go shoot people at abortion clinics.” From the August 10 edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper:
DAVID GERGEN: I was, I was -- I must have really taken aback. I -- what you reported at the top of the show, Jake, I think is so important, and that is that the Secret Service has now warned the Trump campaign on more than one occasion since this, these comments about the dangers represented by the rhetoric. That settles the question, it seems to me, that the Secret Service has stepped in, settles the question of whether we should take this seriously or not. That it was open to the interpretation like a dog whistle to crazies out there that maybe you ought to pick up a gun and settle this once and for all. And it comes into context so important to this.
I think that people in the press would be much more willing to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt had there not been this long string of comments in this campaign pervaded with aspects of violence. He wants to punch people in the nose, he talks about going out and being shot on Fifth Avenue, and that won't matter if he shoots somebody on Fifth Avenue, that he'd like to take somebody out. Calling her a criminal, the “Crooked Hillary,” and having all these chants, as late as the rally yesterday about “lock her up, lock her up.” Tom Friedman, I thought, made an excellent point today in The New York Times, that's what we saw, the kind of context we saw before the assassination of [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin. Others have made the point, this is the kind of dehumanization that we've seen before people pick up guns and go shoot people at abortion clinics. That can happen in politics, too. We've all lived through this before, and we know how there are crazies out there with guns, and if you just give them the excuse or the incitement, terrible things can happen. So I think it's appropriate that Donald Trump has been condemned on this, and I also think his campaign is now in crisis. [CNN, The Lead with Jake Tapper, 8/10/16]
ThinkProgress: Trump’s Rhetorical Strategy “Mirrors The Way Extremists Incite Violence.” ThinkProgress senior editor Tara Culp-Ressler noted that Trump’s remarks “exemplified a rhetorical strategy that mirrors the way extremists incite violence among their followers,” tracing a similar pattern used by anti-abortion extremists. Culp-Ressler wrote that “right-wing activists who want to stop abortion at all costs don’t exactly instruct people to go out and murder abortion doctors or bomb abortion clinics," but their language “suggesting that abortion doctors are criminals … ultimately [makes] them easier targets for the death threats, arson, bombings, and shootings” that abortion clinics have been targets of “many times before.” From the August 9 article:
Throughout his campaign, Trump has exemplified a rhetorical strategy that mirrors the way extremists incite violence among their followers.
Right-wing activists who want to stop abortion at all costs don’t exactly instruct people to go out and murder abortion doctors or bomb abortion clinics. In fact, the major leaders of the anti-choice movement frequently insist they don’t support violence in any form and typically attempt to distance themselves from the most radical actors in the movement.
Still, the inflammatory language used by militant anti-choice groups has a chilling effect. Suggesting that abortion doctors are criminals, monsters, baby killers, and deserving of harsh punishment helps dehumanize providers — ultimately making them easier targets for the death threats, arson, bombings, and shootings that have plagued abortion clinics for decades.
Because of the legacy of anti-abortion violence in this country, providers are acutely aware that being referred to as a murderer in an online anti-choice forum or having their personal information published on a mock “wanted” flyer could have serious ripple effects. It could be what it takes to push a far-right gunman into taking action. It’s happened many times before. [ThinkProgress, 8/9/15]