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A Long History of Language That Incites and Demonizes

2020-09-01 00:31:29

WASHINGTON — President Trump has seized on the response in the streets to police brutality against Black men and women to bolster his re-election campaign, employing provocative and sometimes incendiary language and images to incite his followers, demonize his opponents or both.

He has sought to conflate all protesters with the small minority of people who have looted stores, started fires and engaged in violence against police officers. He has blamed street unrest on Democratic mayors and governors and even former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his fall challenger.

He has also repeatedly threatened to deploy federal forces. And especially since a man affiliated with a right-wing group was shot and killed in Portland, Ore., on Saturday night, he has seemed to encourage freelance action by his own supporters who have showed up as well in places like Kenosha, Wis., eager to counter the protesters and sometimes engaging in violence themselves.

Mr. Trump’s approach, intended to divert attention from the human and economic costs of the pandemic, is consistent with a career of combative politics that play to racial animosities, going back to his time in business.

While aides maintain that Mr. Trump respects peaceful protesters, he regularly lumps them with those who have engaged in violence, calling them anarchists and thugs who hate America and likening the demonstrations to mob rule. “Protesters, your ass,” he said at a rally in New Hampshire on Friday.

He has at times exaggerated the extent of the violence and falsely attributed it across the board to the Antifa anti-fascist movement, one of his favorite targets. Over the weekend, he even retweeted a message from the conservative One America News Network asserting that the protests were actually a well-organized effort to mount a coup against him.

While Mr. Trump condemned the killing of Mr. Floyd shortly after it happened and signed a largely symbolic executive order meant to encourage police training, the president has done little since then to address the concerns of many Americans horrified by that encounter and others. Instead, he has focused on defending the police, who he says have been unfairly smeared and should not have their funding cut. He has also pushed back against critics, calling Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate.” Some of the protesters, he has said, “don’t even know who George Floyd is.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly blamed “weak” governors and mayors for unrest in “Democrat-led cities.” He has claimed that the turmoil represents what would happen in “Joe Biden’s America” if he is elected, even though it is happening in Donald Trump’s America.

“Without law enforcement, there is chaos,” he said at a White House news conference on Monday. “If the Democrats have that power, every city in this country could be another Portland.”

The president and his allies highlighted the issue as a signature theme of last week’s Republican National Convention and have sought to put Mr. Biden and other Democrats on the defensive by accusing them of not condemning violence, although in fact they have.

A running theme of Mr. Trump’s statements and Twitter messages is his eagerness to send in federal agents or the National Guard even though governors and mayors have resisted it. The local police, he says about various cities, “aren’t allowed to do their thing” but if troops were brought in, they could end the violence almost instantaneously. “We could fix Portland in, I would say, 45 minutes,” he said the other day.

Taylor Turner and Maya Blackstone contributed video research and production.


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