On Tuesday, a student was killed and eight were injured during a school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. It was the second fatal school shooting in as many weeks, following the April 30th attack that left two dead at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. “Our Nation grieves at the unspeakable violence that took a precious young life and badly injured others in Colorado,” President Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “God be with the families and thank you to the First Responders for bravely intervening. We are in close contact with Law Enforcement.”
The president didn’t seem to have much of an issue with gun violence later on Wednesday, however, when he laughed off the idea of shooting migrants at the southern border while speaking in front of nearly 7,000 supporters in Panama City Beach, Florida.
In the middle of a rant about migrants approaching the border, Trump seemed to lament that border security agents aren’t allowed to use violence against those seeking asylum. “We don’t let them, and we can’t let them use weapons,” he said. “We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that.”
“But how do you stop these people?” he continued.
“Shoot them!” yelled someone in the crowd.
Trump laughed. The crowd laughed. “That’s only in the panhandle could you get away with that statement,” Trump said. The crowd began applauding and cheering. “Only in the panhandle,” Trump said again.
It's hard to tell what someone in the crowd yells at Trump, but immediately after talking about not using violence/weapons on immigrants, Trump laughs and says "only in the panhandle can you get away with that statement."
The crowd erupts. pic.twitter.com/SgQd2OH9ti
— jordan (@JordanUhl) May 9, 2019
Though it’s difficult to discern what the attendee yells in the video, several reporters and others present confirmed he yelled, “Shoot them!”
The White House has repeatedly insisted the president does not condone violence, but his rhetoric tells a different story — especially at rallies. In October, he lauded Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) as “my kind of guy” for body slamming a journalist, and fantasized about knocking out Joe Biden. A month later, he wondered in Georgia why Bikers for Trump, law enforcement and the military weren’t using violence to combat Antifa groups. During the 2016 campaign, he said of a Democratic protester that he’d “like to punch him in the face” and that in the “old days” he’d be “carried out on a stretcher.” Months later, he suggested the “Second Amendment people” could retaliate against Hillary Clinton should she win the election. The list goes on. Trump loves violence.
He also doesn’t regard migrants seeking asylum as deserving of the same human rights as Americans. His family-separation policy and the conditions of the detention camps at the border are evidence enough of that, not to mention the language he uses to describe them. In Panama City Beach on Wednesday, he once again referred to migrants seeking asylum in the United States as an “invasion,” language that, as Vox’s Aaron Rupar points out, was parroted by the shooter who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. Trump also suggested the effort of the migrants was being funded by “somebody that’s not exactly friendly to this crowd,” another point adopted by the Tree of Life shooter, who claimed Jewish-backed groups are responsible for the influx of asylum seekers.
Trump pushes the same "invasion" conspiracy theory about migrants that motivated the Tree of Life shooter pic.twitter.com/Ics1MajQ1X
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 9, 2019
In other words, Trump’s at-all-costs determination to instill fear over migrants has real-world consequences, and just because he isn’t instructing his supporters to kill brown people doesn’t mean he isn’t inciting violence. Laughing off the idea of shooting migrants before parlaying it into an applause line is another wink-wink indication that the only reason he’s not calling for violence more explicitly is because he’d get in trouble for it. So is saying that the panhandle is the only place “you can get away with” publicly expressing a desire to shoot migrants.
Trump’s comments come at a particularly sensitive time for potential violence against migrants. Late last month, the FBI arrested the leader of a private militia group called the United Constitutional Patriots, which had been detaining migrants at the border and posting videos to its Facebook page. Two days later, Trump tweeted a clip in which Fox News host Lou Dobbs seemed to wonder why Customs and Border Protection would condemn the militia’s actions.
On Monday, Ken Klippenstein of The Young Turks reported that one of the members of the militia questioned why they weren’t executing the migrants. “Why are we … not lining them up and shooting them?” the militia member said, according to a police report. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”
Member of border militia that detained 200 migrants at gunpoint told police another member had said, “Why are we…not lining them up and shooting them? We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber” per report I obtained under FOIA: https://t.co/XLUCBIAGTo pic.twitter.com/Bdtv3H28sp
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) May 6, 2019
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump tweeted after the rally concluded on Wednesday.