The arrest of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly faking a hate crime against himself arrived like an extra Christmas for Donald Trump and his devoted propagandists.
For years, Trump has been mainstreaming overtly racist rhetoric and encouraging political violence. As we should all remember, he even said that those who marched with violent neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “fine people,” and defending the Saudi crown prince who likely ordered a murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a legal resident of the U.S. Right-wing punditry have gone along enthusiastically, with Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham in particular gradually increasing the level of white nationalist talking points and themes on their top-rated prime-time Fox News shows.
That all this would lead to an escalation of hate crimes and domestic terrorism was entirely predictable, of course, but that wasn’t likely to slow down Trump or his media allies. Instead, the focus has been on minimizing and deflecting these issues, largely by insinuating that liberals are exaggerating or even making things up when they point to the violent consequences. There’s also the ever-popular “both sides do it” argument, carrying the implication that, if anything, right-wingers are the real victims here.
So when Smollett was accused of faking a hate crime — and apparently seeking to blame it on Trump supporters — the giddiness on the right was palpable. This single case, which has mesmerized the national media, looked like a perfect way to discredit the vast majority of all-too-real hate crimes and bolster the claim that liberals are just making things up. For years to come, right-wing trolls will have a weapon they can use to blast their way out of any serious discussion about the problem of hate crimes.
The troll-in-chief, of course, joined in on the fun:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
But before the right had a chance to make Smollett a household name to the Fox News viewership — who quite likely had never heard of him — we got a massive reminder that, oh yeah, right-wing terrorism is a real and urgent problem, A Coast Guard lieutenant named Christopher Hasson was arrested in Maryland after federal authorities discovered he was planning a massive right wing terrorist attack. Hasson had amassed a major weapons cache, had planned to murder a number of Democratic politicians and mainstream media figures who have been hate objects for Trump and the conservative media in recent years.
This arrest was a cold reminder of why it’s so difficult for conservative pundits to minimize or deny right-wing terrorism: There’s just too much of it to ignore.
Angry at having their Smollett-driven denialist narrative disrupted like this, some conservative pundits lashed out. Ingraham complained that “the media has jumped on the story of that whack-job Coast Guard lieutenant who wanted to murder Democrat politicians,” which she considered a distraction from the far more important news of a black TV actor story.