Events in the USA suggest the Trump era may be ending, but not before hundreds of thousands of Americans have died unnecessarily, as Alan Austin reports.
ANTHONY KING was working in his garden last week in Butler County, Ohio, when his son saw their 26-year-old neighbour, Austin Combs, repeatedly enter the garden to confront him. All we know of those conversations is that Combs was accusing King of being a Democrat. On the fourth visit, Combs shot King dead.
“I look in the backyard and that man is walking away from my husband and my husband is on the ground,” King’s wife told dispatchers. “He has come over like four times confronting my husband because he thought he was a Democrat. Why, why? Please, I don’t understand.”
We will gain a better understanding via the trial, but we can observe already a pattern of escalating politically-motivated violence since Donald Trump began his run for president in 2015 by urging his followers to assault opponents physically.
Trump’s urgings to political attacks
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump told a crowded rally in February 2016. “Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell... I promise you I will pay the legal fees.”
Later that month he said:
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that [a protester] in a place like this [at a political rally]? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
More than 30 such direct calls for physical violence are now on record. Then came the 6 January 2021 insurrection speech with its indirect instructions.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong,” he told the crowd which stormed the Capitol building immediately after.
“And we fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Anthony King’s death in Ohio may be classified as a hate crime murder as well as a gun homicide. This latter category has been steadily declining for a couple of decades until 2015. Then a sudden surge followed Trump’s arrival in mid-2015. See grey and red graph, below.
From 2015 to 2020, firearm homicides jumped 49%. This dipped in 2021, but it’s too soon to tell if the trend has reversed.
Violent assault incidents overall crept up slightly in 2016 and 17, then accelerated in Trump’s last two years in office. See green and blue graph, below.
Virtually all indicators of violence have surged since 2015, after years of steady decline:
- police shot on duty increased 57%;
- mass shootings increased 106%;
- teenagers aged 12 to 17 shot rose 111%;
- school shootings incidents rose 116%;
- FBI hate crimes soared 175%; and
- FBI active shooters increased 205%.
The consequence of this fatal Trump period, which also included gross mismanagement of the COVID pandemic, is life expectancy in the USA has declined significantly since 2012, the only OECD member with this distinction.
The Turnbull thesis
Trump could not have commanded an army of violent followers without a megaphone for his conspiracy theories, malicious lies and calls to violence. The outlet which offered its services was News Corporation’s Fox News which, after a hesitant start in 2015, gave Trump free access to any of its news programs at any time of day. His unhinged rants, usually by phone, usually uninterrupted, frequently lasted 50 minutes.
Of all international observers to have identified this unwritten pact between Trump and Fox News as the cause of the surge in killings since 2015, the most prominent is former conservative Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Turnbull told NPR in the USA in August:
“Fox News has played, by far, the largest single part in the polarisation of American politics, in the amplification of political hatred... Fox News is not the only source of this madness, but it is by far the single most influential one.”
Testimonies in court
Hundreds of court cases now bolster the Turnbull thesis. More than 880 defendants have been charged with offences committed on 6 January 2021 when Trump’s followers obeyed his directive to storm the Capitol. Of those, 415 have pleaded guilty, 25 have been found guilty by the court and one has been acquitted. Most of the others are still pending.
Several defendants have affirmed they were following Trump’s orders. Defence attorney Samuel Shamansky told jurors in the Dustin Thompson trial in April that Trump engaged in a “sinister” plot to encourage his supporters to “do his dirty work”.
“It’s Donald Trump himself spewing the lies and using his position to authorise this assault,” Shamansky told the court.
Others have used the defence that Fox News has left them brainwashed and deluded and thus not responsible for their violent attacks on the Capitol.
Elections were held last week for governors, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most commentators had predicted a “red wave” sweeping through the nation, as Republicans were expected to take advantage of mid-term voter disaffection with Democrat President Joe Biden and the Dem-controlled Congress. This did not happen.
It was “more like a pink splash,” quipped comedian Stephen Colbert:
“It was a salmon drizzle, a rosy wash. It’s like what happens when you accidentally wash your Klan robes with your MAGA hat.”
The main takeaways from results so far, as the count continues, are that Republican candidates for the Senate, the House and state governorships endorsed by Donald Trump did particularly poorly — hence, his influence may be waning.
It is, of course, too early to know for sure. But the sooner Trump goes – and Fox News with him – the sooner Americans can go about their gardening without fear of being murdered.
Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.
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