The incidents are piling up. A Black Lives Matters protester was sucker-punched by a white bystander at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A young black woman was surrounded and shoved aggressively by a number of individuals at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. A black protester was tackled, then punched and kicked by a group of men as he curled up on the ground in Birmingham, Alabama. Immigration activists were shoved and stripped of their signs by a crowd in Richmond, Virginia. A Latino protester was knocked down and kicked by a Trump supporter in Miami.
At a press conference on Friday morning Trump even seemed to encourage violence at his rallies. “We’ve had some violent people as protesters,” he said. “These are people that punch. These are violent people.” (No such videos have been found.) This adds to evidence piling up that the Trump campaign’s culture of violence extends all the way to the top.
Another incident happened Thursday, when Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed the arm of Breitbart news reporter Michelle Fields at an event in Jupiter, Florida, jerking her so hard he bruised her body and made her cry, according to a first-person account by the Washington Post’s Ben Terris. That Breitbart is a Trump-friendly publication was likely lost on Lewandowski in his fervor to stave off questions from the scrum. That Terris in his story vividly describes the finger-shaped bruises he saw forming on Fields’ forearm, and that she tweeted out a photo of her injury, hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign from denying the incident ever occurred. The story is the most important one yet, because it distills Trump’s culture of violence and subsequent denial.
I should know, because it’s exactly what I felt at the rally I attended in Radford, Virginia, earlier this month. It was the now infamous event where a secret service agent grabbed a Time photographer by the neck and threw him viciously to the ground simply because he dared to step over the confines of a press pen to photograph a Black Lives Matters protester. These press pens (or as one reporter at the event referred to it, “the cage”) are familiar to anyone who has covered candidate Trump; tightly restricting the press and barring the media from events is a central feature of the campaign.
In Radford, I was one such reporter denied access to the event, not because I wasn’t on the list, but because I was afraid for my body. Despite arriving with plenty of time, I was unable to make my way to the door where members of the media were allowed to enter since it involved bypassing Trump supporters who asked me who I was and why I thought I could cut in front of them. “Sure you’re media,” a guy almost twice my size said as I tried to slide past him. “I’m media too,” he added, before moving to physically block my access. When I finally got close enough to talk to security – complete with guns and dogs – I was told I had to go a different way, an impossibility given the masses. A similarly banished AP reporter who regularly covers Trump events told me this was par for the course with his campaign.
Later that day, after I’d written up the incident of Time photographer Christopher Morris being thrown to the ground by a secret service agent inside the gymnasium where the event was taking place, Trump defenders tweeted that I couldn’t possibly link the actions of a single security guy to the Trump campaign. The argument seemed unlikely – an organizer from Radford University had told me the school had had very little involvement in putting together the event, that the Trump campaign handled almost everything – but hard to definitely refute.
Now it’s possible to call bullshit. Now we know the culture of violence is set at the top, at least as high as the actions of Trump’s right-hand man.
The Lewandowski incident and the one at Radford feature the assault of the press, not the assault of protesters, but both types of violence are of a piece: they are about silencing voices of dissent, silencing critics, silencing truth in a campaign built around racist fear-mongering and bombast.
And that – it shouldn’t need to be said, but it does – is undemocratic. Activism and the media play a vital role in any healthy democracy, and to allow this kind of brutality and silencing of free speech to go unaddressed is worse than undemocratic: it’s fascist.
The Trump campaign knows as much, and so it has repeatedly distanced itself from the most overt incidents of violence, even as it dog whistles its approval. The latest incident implicating Trump’s campaign manager is no different.
“The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a Thursday statement. “As one of the dozens of individuals present as Mr Trump exited the press conference I did not witness any encounter. In addition to our staff, which had no knowledge of said situation, not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident.”
This jaw-dropping statement came in response to the story published by Terris, who was, it should go without saying, in attendance and saw (and reported!) the assault. That makes him by definition a witness, of the most useful sort, and it makes Hicks’s statement patently absurd – or, to put it bluntly, a lie. And Thursday night, the campaign went even further, with Lewandowski calling Fields “delusional” and Trump himself suggesting “she made it up”. This despite a credible eyewitness confirming the victim’s account, as well as publicly available audio corroborating it.
Trump purports to be the great defender of free speech. He rages against what he deems to be “politically correct” culture because it silences the things (usually bigoted) that he and his supporters really feel and think, things he believes must be said – but now he’s the one doing the silencing. Never mind that politically correct culture never killed anyone. And never mind that at this rate, Trumpism surely will.
Author: Lucia Graves