In May 2017, one day before a special election to represent Montana in the House of Representatives, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte physically attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Provoked only by a question about health care, Gianforte body-slammed Jacobs, breaking his glasses. The candidate and his campaign then lied to police about what transpired, and, the next day, Gianforte won the election. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to perform community service, attend anger management classes and pay a fine. He was also slapped with a 180-day deferred sentence. Gianforte is still serving in Congress, to the delight of President Trump, who last night praised him for assaulting a journalist. “Greg is smart,” Trump began at a rally in Missoula. “By the way, never wrestle him. Any guy that can do a body-slam, he’s my kind of guy.”
Trump then pantomimed a body-slam. “He’s mind kind of guy,” the president said again. “I shouldn’t say this. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Here's the video of Trump on Greg Gianforte body slamming Ben Jacobs: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy." pic.twitter.com/8tWxLXE6Jx
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 19, 2018
Trump then shared an anecdote about how he was in Rome when he heard about the assault. “We endorsed Greg very early, but I heard that he had body-slammed a reporter.” Trump then gestured to the press at the event. The crowd erupted in applause and laughter. “He was way up. This was like the day of the election or just before. I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him.’ And it did.” More applause. More laughter.
CNN’s Jim Acosta was one of the reporters Trump gestured to in the press pen.
The disturbing part of Trump’s jokes about Gianforte was the effect on the crowd. I saw one young man in the crowd making body slam gestures. He looked at me and ran his thumb across his throat. I talked to him after the rally was over. He couldn’t stop laughing.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 19, 2018
Later, Trump fantasized about brawling with former vice president Joe Biden, who once said he’d “beat the hell” out of Trump over his “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks if the two were still in high school. Again, the president invoked Gianforte. “He’d be down faster than Greg would take him down,” Trump said. “He’d be down so fast. Remember? Faster than Greg. I’d have to go very fast. I’d have to immediately connect.”
The Guardian responded to Trump’s comments shortly after they were made. “The President of the United States tonight applauded the assault of an American journalist who works for the Guardian,” U.S. Editor John Mulholland wrote in a statement. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who had taken an oath to defend it. In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them.”
Though the evidence is now overwhelming that the alleged murder of Khashoggi was orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump has yet to condemn Saudi Arabia, and is reportedly working with the kingdom to bury the story. On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that a “whisper campaign” to smear Khashoggi had materialized among Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators. Though Trump said Thursday that he is waiting on the results of multiple investigations before making a decision about how to respond, he has repeatedly cited the Saudi royal court’s denials that they were involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies are “increasingly convinced” that Prince Mohammed was responsible. (Disclosure: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has reportedly invested $200 million in Penske Media Corp., Rolling Stone’s parent company.)
“If there was any doubt as to why the Saudis might think the leadership of this country would look the other way on the atrocity they are alleged to have committed against our colleague Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump erased it Thursday night,” Karen Tumulty, a columnist for the Post, wrote Friday morning in a piece about the president celebrating violence against the press in the wake Khashoggi’s apparent murder. Trump has a history of using his campaign-style rallies to endorse physical violence, and concern has mounted that this combined with his repeated denigrations of the free press could inspire attacks against journalists, both internationally and in the United States. In August, a California man was arrested for threatening to shoot employees of the Boston Globe, referring to them as the “enemy of the people.”
Trump’s praise of Gianforte’s assault on Jacobs also comes as Republicans have taken up preaching civility while casting the left as a lawless mob hell-bent on destroying America. Responding to protests over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and comments made by Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton and former attorney general Eric Holder, the GOP is now fashioning itself as a paragon of decency, decorum, democracy and any number of other values Trump very publicly spits in the face of on a daily basis. “In America, we win battles at the ballot box, not through mob rule or intimidation,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) wrote in an op-ed for Fox News last week. On Thursday, he wrote another one calling for Democrats to condemn violence.
As a survivor of a politically motivated attack, it is tragic to think this is an acceptable state of political discourse in our country. I refuse to stand for it. Democratic leaders need to condemn, rather than promote these dangerous calls to action. https://t.co/r8GZgf9vnM
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) October 12, 2018
Meanwhile, right around the same time Trump was praising Gianforte for assaulting a reporter, a member of the far-right Proud Boys, an actual violent mob, was arrested for his role in a brawl outside a Republican club in New York last week. The NYPD said on Monday that they were seeking nine members of the Proud Boys — as well as three anti-fascist protesters — on riot and attempted assault charges. Gavin McInnes, the founder of men’s organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group, defended their role in the brawl on his podcast. “When you set up this climate of fear, you have people that are going to be aggressive,” he said.