There’s a simple reason why many people believed Trump supporters assaulted Jussie Smollett. Since Trump became a presidential candidate in 2015 hate crimes have surged. Many violent attacks have been linked to Trump. And he explicitly encouraged those attacks during his campaign.
Experts call this the “Trump effect.”
Two professors who studied the Trump effect explained: “Trump’s divisive rhetoric during the presidential campaign and his subsequent election would effect hate crime perpetrators, thereby contributing to more hate crimes.”
In 2015 anti-Muslim attacks soared 67 percent. This was as Trump was stoking hatred of Muslims and calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The professors discovered the biggest jump in reported hate crimes was in counties that voted for Trump by the widest margins. Hate crimes also jumped in the last quarter of 2016 especially after Trump’s election when historically attacks always drop at that time of year due to cold weather.
The hate crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. More than a dozen murder sprees have been linked to Trump since he entered the Oval Office. In 2017 alone killers included Adam Purinton who gunned down Indian immigrant Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas after yelling, “Get out of my country”; a pro-Trump white supremacist who stabbed to death African-American Army officer Richard Collins III in Maryland; a white man in the Denver area who murdered three Hispanics at a Walmart after telling Hispanic neighbors, “This is America. You shouldn’t be here”; a “white supremacist pro-Trump meme peddler” who killed two at a New Mexico high school; and a neo-Nazi and “enthusiastic supporter” of Trump who murdered his girlfriend’s parents in Virginia after they pressed her to break up with him.
In the most infamous incident, Trump claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” after white nationalists and neo-Nazis rioted in Charlottesville in 2017, killing antiracist protester Heather Heyer.
The Trump effect has even crossed borders. In January 2017, a man upset that Canada would take in more refugees as a result of Trump’s Muslim travel ban opened fire at a Quebec City mosque, killing six people.
In the most recent incident of extremists in Trump’s fold, a Coast Guard officer was arrested Feb. 15 for plotting a mass terror attack against politicians, socialists, and journalists.
Prosecutors labeled Lt. Christopher Paul Hanson a domestic terrorist. He is a self-described white nationalist and had amassed an arsenal of 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, according to court filings.
Hanson’s targets are a who’s who of Trump enemies. They included Sens. Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, referred to as “blumen jew”, and Elizabeth Warren, called “poca warren”; Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; and journalists Joe Scarborough, Don Lemon, Chris Hayes and Van Jones.
Hanson also wrote “civil war if trump impeached.” It was reminiscent of failed terror plots by other Trump supporters such as three militiamen who planned to massacre a Somali-American community in Kansas after the 2016 election and would-be mail bomber and “fervent Trump supporter” Cesar Sayoc.
When Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015 he demonized Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers, criminals, rapists.” Two months later a pair of brothers from South Boston attacked a homeless man believing he was an undocumented immigrant. They beat him with a metal pipe while saying, “Donald Trump was right … All these illegals need to be deported.” Trump responded by calling his supporters “very passionate.” The men were later convicted and imprisoned for more than two years each for the crime.
This kicked off Trump rallies marked by unprovoked violence against opponents and death threats by his supporters. Trump egged on the violence, calling for protesters to be roughed up, carried out on a stretcher, and promising to pay the legal fees of attackers.
The Trump effect appears to be a social contagion, spreading to the entire city where his rallies are held. One study found that assaults increased by 12 percent in a city the day of a Trump rally. No other candidate showed an increase. The lead author of the study said the violence appeared to be “a phenomenon that’s unique to Donald Trump’s rally.”
But as punches turned into bullets they culminated in massacres that bookended 2018.
Then in October, Robert Bowers attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers. While Bowers apparently believed Trump was not radical enough, his rants about immigrant invaders and Jews matched Trump’s rhetoric as he was portraying a migrant caravan as a grave threat to America.
In middle of the year a gunman killed five staffers in a Maryland newsroom after Trump relentlessly whipping up fury against the media as “the enemy of the people” and praised a congressman who assaulted a reporter.
Trump is using Smollett’s case to play the victim, which is straight from the fascist playbook. The far right plays the victim not just to deflect from the terrorism they generate, they want to discredit the rise in hate crimes overall. And they don the mantle of victimhood to push white nationalism. Their agenda advances through individual hate crimes complemented by state persecution such as concentration camps now holding more than 13,000 migrant children near the Southern U.S. border with Mexico.
FOX News is taking the lead, with Tucker Carlson making hay of Smollett’s case nightly. Carlson has built a following eager for regurgitated white nationalism and anti-immigrant racism. He claims the media believed Smollett because “victimhood is power.”
Carlson seems to be speaking from experience. Last October, during the surge of right-wing killings, he portrayed a small protest outside his D.C. home as a hate crime. It turned out Carlson’s portrayal of the incident was largely a fabrication that contradicted the police report and a reporter on scene.
The difference is while Smollett is now being charged with a felony, Carlson is paid $6 million a year to peddle falsehoods and racism. Which will likely fuel more right-wing hate crimes and murders.
Arun Gupta contributes to The Washington Post, YES! Magazine, In These Times, The Progressive, Telesur, and The Nation. He is author of the forthcoming, Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste, from The New Press. Follow him on Twitter @arunindy or email at arun_dot_indypendent_at_gmail_dot_com.