This has gone on long enough:
Throughout the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump would frequently turn the attention of rallygoers to the areas containing journalists, who would then be greeted with obscenities and taunts. Journalists are well-accustomed to being disliked at his rallies.
But Tuesday’s remarks struck a tone that alarmed journalists more than usual. Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, called it “the most sustained attack any president has ever made on the press.”
The common denominator of all Trump’s rallies during the 2016 campaign was the creation of an “enemy” for his supporters to channel their ire and hate for their imagined grievances. Whether the enemy du jour was “Mexicans,” “Democrats,” or most commonly, the “media,” there was always someone else to blame, always a target to focus the anger and prejudice he so carefully cultivated among his base.
Since taking office Trump has consistently adapted this same strategy to deflect any criticism of his actions, by pointing his finger at responsible journalists who dare to question his motives or other aspects of his behavior, and by implicitly encouraging his supporters to act out on his verbal cues that disparage them. Squealing “fake news” like an irate child at every perceived slight, he has successfully fostered an environment where reporters from the major media are now fearing for their personal safety. This week’s rally in Phoenix was simply the latest example, with Trump calling journalists “sick people” and smearing them as traitors, all to howls of delight among his followers:
After Tuesday’s event, journalists expressed their alarm. On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Cecilia Vega said on Wednesday that “this was incitement, plain and simple.”
“This one felt different,” she said. “It really feels like a matter of time, frankly, before someone gets hurt.”
There is another word beyond “incitement” to fairly describe what Trump is trying to do. That word is terrorism:
Stochastic terrorism has been defined as the use of language “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
The intimidation of our national media by encouraging violent attitudes towards reputable journalists through dehumanizing rhetoric is a textbook example of stochastic terrorism:
In this scenario, a lone wolf terrorist wouldn’t be explicitly instructed to commit their crimes, but they would be encouraged by rhetoric that appears to normalize that type of activity.
Because the impact of such incitement on a single individual’s decision to commit an act of violence cannot be predicted, it provides the instigator with a cloak of deniability, as he can claim he is not directly responsible for the actions of one person. But all it takes is one unhinged individual acting out to accomplish the terrorist’s ultimate goal –in Trump’s case, to silence those who oppose him by the use of fear.
Jim VandeHei is one of the founders of Politico. The Times article linked above cites his reaction to Trump’s accusation in Tuesday’s rally that journalists are “unpatriotic” or otherwise not “true Americans:”
“To say reporters erase America’s heritage, don’t love America, turn off cameras to hide truth, are to blame for racial tension is just plain wrong,” he said.
“There are great Americans deeply concerned about a changing nation,” he continued in another tweet. “God forbid one buys Trump’s mad rant and takes action.”
Attempting to stifle criticism by demonizing the press is the tried and true method for all would-be dictators and autocrats eager to consolidate their control of the population, because journalists who dare to report the truth to the public are the last line of defense against the exercise of unbridled, raw power. In this country, once the journalists are gone—or cowed–there is nothing beyond a fragile Judiciary remaining to stop an autocrat from using force against the American people to get his way.
We have already witnessed the murderous effects of Trump-inspired hatred with emboldened neo-Nazis gathering in Charlottesville to express their solidarity with Trump’s racist views. We have seen its effects since the election in the bombings of mosques, the stepped up harassment of Latino immigrants, and a huge uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. We do not need any further examples. Trump’s winking encouragement of violence against our free press is nothing short of terrorism, and it’s long past time for this nation’s journalists to take a stand and call this behavior out for what it is.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.