On Thursday morning, authorities intercepted explosive devices addressed to actor Robert De Niro and former Vice President Joe Biden. Similar devices targeted to Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and former CIA director John Brennan, via CNN, were discovered during the previous 36 hours. CNNk was forced to evacuate its New York City headquarters Wednesday. Earlier this week, a bomb was found in the mailbox of philanthropist and Democratic donor George Soros. The plot to assassinate several of the most prominent figures in progressive politics comes two weeks before one of the most consequential elections in American history.
President Trump blames the media.
A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2018
Trump called out the free press on Wednesday night, as well.
“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories,” he said at a rally in Wisconsin. “Have to do it.”
Though the president read prepared remarks calling for unity hours after the explosive devices were discovered, many worried his tone might change while speaking extemporaneously in front of a crowd of his most rabid supporters. Trump routinely vilifies many of the figures targeted with explosive devices at his campaign rallies, while also encouraging violence. At a rally in Missoula, Montana, last week, Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for body-slamming a reporter last year, calling him “my kind of guy.” Less than a month after Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, Trump tweeted a video of himself body-slamming a man with the CNN logo superimposed over his head. The network has long been the focal point of the president’s sustained demonization of the media, which he has regularly described as the “enemy of the people.” The phrase was used by a California man who was arrested in August for threatening to shoot employees of the Boston Globe in the head.
Trump has failed to acknowledge his rhetoric’s role in the current political climate. He instead began his speech Wednesday night with more vague remarks about the need for unity. “No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion or control,” he said. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony.” (Again, the president glorified unprovoked assault against a reporter less than a week ago.)
President Trump said the media should set a "civil tone" following a series of bomb scares, taking no responsibility for the national political environment as he spoke at a rally in Wisconsin https://t.co/rJ6FbQa3Zp pic.twitter.com/w21NNB3EmI
— CNN (@CNN) October 25, 2018
“Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective,” the president continued. Trump has made a habit of referring to Democrats as everything from “unhinged” to “despicable” to “evil,” and will almost certainly continue to do so despite his remarks in Wisconsin. He later made it clear that he was only really referring to the behavior of Democrats. “No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often,” he said, an apparent reference to those comparing Trump to Hitler. “Gotta stop. We should not mob people in public spaces or destroy public property.”
The rest of the rally played out as expected, with the usual lies about his accomplishments and attacks against the opposition party. He refrained from singling out many of those targeted earlier in the day by name, for which he seemed to think he deserved plaudits, repeatedly noting how “nice” he was behaving. His administration agreed that he had been a good boy, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders adding Thursday morning on Fox News that “the president could not have been more presidential yesterday.”
Way back in September, the White House similarly praised Trump’s dignified handling of the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. A week later, he publicly mocked Christine Blasey Ford and called the allegations against Kavanaugh a made-up “hoax.” On Wednesday night, he reiterated that “we need to get rid of” the type of “brutal” Kavanaugh was forced to endure.
Trump has essentially said that CNN brought the attack upon itself, but there’s an even more sinister conspiracy theory festering in right-wing media: that the attempted bombings were, you guessed it, a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats.
Prior to a Wednesday night debate between Florida gubernatorial candidates Andre Gillum and Ron DeSantis, a sign was spotted that read “Fake News, Fake Bombs.”
— Kevin Donohoe (@kevinsidonohoe) October 24, 2018
The idea isn’t confined to the fringes. Several prominent conservative voices are pushing the theory: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Flynn Jr. and a host of other right-wing pundits entertained the idea, as did Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens, whom Trump will host at the White House Friday. “I’m going to go ahead and state that there is a 0% chance that these ‘suspicious packages’ were sent out by conservatives,” she tweeted. “The only thing ‘suspicious’ about these packages, is their timing. Caravans, fake bomb threats — these leftists are going ALL OUT for the midterms.” Owens has since deleted the tweet.
On Thursday morning, Fox’s Lou Dobbs, one of the right-wing pundits Trump praises most consistently, got in on the action, tweeting, “Fake News–Fake Bombs
Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery? #MAGA #AmericaFirst #Dobbs.” Dobbs, too, has since deleted his tweet. Perhaps taking a cue from Trump, he redirected his ire to the media, which, it bears repeating, was the victim of a terrorist bombing attempt less than 24 hours ago.
It’s almost inconceivable that Trump isn’t also itching to float the idea that this is all a liberal hoax. If he does so publicly, it will be because he knows there will be no real repercussions, just like there haven’t been for his wondering if the migrant caravan was somehow orchestrated by Democrats, or for the mental gymnastics his administration has been running through to absolve Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any culpability in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s ability to bob and weave his way around these unsavory stories is partly the fault of the media, and partly the fault of Republican politicians who refuse to hold him accountable, lest they risk upsetting the base. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was literally on the street outside CNN’s New York headquarters to say that “both sides” need to “tone down the rhetoric.” Even Joe Biden, who was targeted on Thursday, droned about how the “country needs to come together.”
Of course protesting Kavanaugh’s confirmation or yelling at Mitch McConnell in a restaurant is not in the same league as attempting to murder almost every prominent member of a political party. Trump indirectly — and often directly — encourages violence at his rallies, and his supporters know that the prepared remarks he trudged through Wednesday night do not represent how he really feels. After he finished reading them, the crowd responded to his flat call for “peace and harmony” with tepid applause that was nowhere close to the enthusiasm they display when chanting for Hillary Clinton to be locked up, or whenever Trump rails against, Obama, Waters and the rest of the “evil” Democratic “mob.”
These are the people Republican politicians fear will vote them out of office, which is why they have mostly refrained from acknowledging Trump’s role in dividing the nation and inciting violence. To them, both sides are to blame, and the bombing attempts are no different from a restaurant refusing to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders. As a result, a terrorist plot to murder two ex-presidents, other current and former Democratic politicians, a billionaire philanthropist and employees of a news network will be conveniently flushed out of the news cycle in a matter of days. After all, there’s a caravan of asylum-seeking migrant families to worry about.