Cesar Sayoc Wasn’t the First — and Won’t Be the Last.
Update: October 27, 2018, 4:30 p.m. EDT
Minutes after this story was published, news reports confirmed that multiple people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh had been killed by a gunman. The gunman taken into custody has been linked to anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant posts on social media. At least 11 people were killed and six injured at the Tree of Life synagogue.
President Donald Trump is a threat to national security.
He preaches hate. He incites violence. He inspires attacks.
We knew this before Friday’s arrest of Cesar Sayoc, who has been charged with a number of crimes in connection with more than a dozen pipe bombs sent to the nation’s most prominent Democrats, among others. As my colleague Trevor Aaronson has written, Sayoc is “a fervent Trump supporter.” Check out his van; his posts on social media; the testimony of his colleagues.
I have no doubt that Trump helped radicalize Sayoc. Yet Trump apologists are keen to distance their hero from this particular villain. So too, of course, is the president himself. “We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me,” Trump said at a campaign rally on Friday evening.
“One individual”? Who is he kidding? Sayoc may be the latest individual to have combined his love for Trump with a love for violence against Trump’s opponents, but he is far from the first to do so. In fact, there have been a number of violent threats, attacks and killings linked to Trump supporters in recent years — few of which have dominated the headlines in the same way as Sayoc’s alleged attempt to assassinate top Democrats, including two former U.S. presidents.
Since the summer of 2015, a bevy of Trump supporters, fans and sympathizers have beaten, shot, stabbed, run over and bombed their fellow Americans. They have taken innocent lives while aping the president’s violent rhetoric, echoing his racist conspiracy theories and, as in the case of Sayoc, targeting the exact same people and organizations that Trump loudly and repeatedly targets at his rallies and on Twitter: Muslims, refugees, immigrants, the Clintons, CNN, and left-wing protesters, among others.
We cannot allow Trump’s apologists on Fox News and in Congress to pretend that this was a one-off; that the charges against Sayoc aren’t part of a growing and disturbing trend of violent crimes against minorities and the media perpetrated by far-right, pro-Trump individuals and militias.
So here is a (partial) list of Trump supporters who are alleged to have carried out horrific attacks in recent years — some of them seemingly inspired by the president himself.
Scott Leader and Steve Leader, August 2015
On 19 August 2015, Scott Leader, 38, and his brother, Steve Leader, 30, attacked a homeless man in Boston who they wrongly believed to be an undocumented immigrant.
“Donald Trump was right,” they told police, after beating the man with a metal pipe and then urinating on him. “All these illegals need to be deported.”
Trump’s response? He eventually called it a “terrible” incident but only after an earlier statement to reporters in which the then-Republican candidate referred to his supporters as “very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.”
Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, and Patrick Eugene Stein, October 2016
On October 14, 2016, the FBI arrested three men — Patrick Eugene Stein, Curtis Allen, and Gavin Wright — for plotting a series of bomb attacks against the Somali-American community of Garden City, Kansas. Calling themselves “the Crusaders,” they had planned to launch what the Guardian said “could have been the deadliest domestic terror attack since the Oklahoma bombing in 1995,” the day after the November 2016 presidential election.
Two of these three men were open supporters of Trump, and obsessed with anti-Muslim, anti-refugee conspiracy theories. For Stein, according to a profile in New York magazine, Trump was “the Man.” Allen wrote on Facebook: “I personally back Donald Trump.” The trio even asked a federal judge to boost the number of pro-Trump jurors at their trial (at which they were found guilty of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and and of conspiring against rights).
Trump’s response? The president, who once suggested that Americans had “suffered enough” from an influx of Somali refugees, has never been asked about these three militiamen and has never condemned their plot.
Alexandre Bissonnette, January 2017
On the evening of January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire on worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City, Canada, killing six of them and wounding 19.
Bisonnette, 27, was obsessed with Trump — he searched for the president on Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube more than 800 times between January 1, 2017 and the day of the shooting. A former university classmate told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he “frequently argued” with Bissonette over the latter’s support for Trump.
In his police interrogation video, Bissonnette can be heard telling officers that he decided to attack the mosque after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a message of welcome to refugees in the wake of the U.S. president’s travel ban — which was issued two days before the mosque attack.
Trump’s response? The president may have expressed his condolences to the Canadian premier in private, but he has never publicly mentioned the shooting, the killer or the six dead Muslims.
Michael Hari, Michael McWhorter, and Joe Morris, August 2017
In March 2018, three alleged members of a far-right militia — Michael Hari, Michael McWhorter, and Joe Morris — were charged in connection with the bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on August 5, 2017. McWhorter is alleged to have told an FBI agent that the attack was an attempt “to scare” Muslims “out of the country.”
Back in 2017, Hari, who owns a security company, submitted a $10 billion proposal to build Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “We would look at the wall as not just a physical barrier to immigration but also as a symbol of the American determination to defend our culture, our language, our heritage, from any outsiders,” Hari said. Sound familiar?
Hari is also alleged to be the ringleader of the “White Rabbit Militia — Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters, Three Percent,” which has posted online messages about “Deep State activities” and “the attempt of the FBI to wiretap the Trump campaign and interfere in the election.”
Trump’s response? To date, the president has never publicly referenced, let alone condemned, the bomb attack on the Minnesota mosque. His then-adviser Sebastian Gorka suggested the incident might “have been propagated by the left.”
James Alex Fields, Jr., August 2017
On August 12, 2017, a car crashed into a crowd of people protesting a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The alleged driver of the car, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with, among other crimes, hit and run and first-degree murder.
Fields, according to a former middle school classmate, enjoyed drawing swastikas and talked about “loving Hitler.” The registered Republican, according to a former high school teacher, also adored Trump. In an interview with the Associated Press, the former teacher “said Fields was a big Trump supporter because of what he believed to be Trump’s views on race. Trump’s proposal to build a border wall with Mexico was particularly appealing to Fields.”
Trump’s response? The president called the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people” just three days after Fields allegedly killed Heyer.
Brandon Griesemer, January 2018
On January 9-10, 2018, 19-year-old Brandon Griesemer allegedly made 22 calls to CNN. In four of those calls, the part-time grocery clerk from Novi, Michigan, threatened to kill employees at the network’s Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters, according to a federal affidavit.
“Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down,” he told a CNN operator. Again, sound familiar? Trump has spent his entire presidency slamming CNN as “fake news,” singling out the network for criticism and abuse. According to the Washington Post, a high school classmate of Griesemer described him as a Trump supporter who “came in after the election and was very happy.” The classmate, reported the Post, “compared Griesemer’s reaction to that of a fan whose team had won a big game.”
Trump’s reaction? On the morning of January 23, the day after the news broke of Griesemer’s threats against CNN, the president took to Twitter to mock…yep, you guessed it… “Fake News CNN.”
Nikolas Cruz, February 2018
On the afternoon of February 14, 2018, 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
According to an investigation by CNN, Cruz was part of a private Instagram group in which he “repeatedly espoused racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views” and “bragged about writing a letter to President Donald Trump — and receiving a response.”
Cruz also posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing one of Trump’s signature red MAGA hats, with an American-flag-colored bandana covering the bottom half of his face. Former classmates have confirmed that he also wore the red Trump hat to school.
Trump’s response? The White House has never confirmed or denied whether they received, or responded to, a letter from Cruz.
I could go on and on. I could tell you about Jeremy Christian, who allegedly stabbed two people to death on a train in Portland, Oregon, and said “if Donald Trump is the Next Hitler then I am joining his SS”; or James Jackson, who confessed to fatally stabbing a homeless black man in New York, and subscribed to far-right YouTube channels that support Trump; or Sean Urbanski, who allegedly stabbed a black U.S. army lieutenant to death, and “liked memes about Donald Trump”; or Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who allegedly killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas, and who followed only 13 Instagram accounts, including the official accounts for the White House, Trump, Ivanka and Melania.
The truth is that the sooner we all recognize that the president of the United States is helping to radicalize a new generation of angry far-right men, the better.
It would be wrong, of course, to blame Trump and Trump alone for these attacks. Many of these alleged attackers have mental health issues; quite a few of them were also men of violence, intolerance and bigotry long before Trump launched his political career.
To pretend, however, that the president has nothing to do with these violent criminals or their violent crimes is absurd. To compare the sheer number of Trump supporters who have been charged or convicted for attacks and attempted attacks on Muslims or Latinos or journalists with the single supporter of Bernie Sanders who shot Republican congressman Steve Scalise in June 2017 is disingenuous. To ignore the way in which Trump has set the vicious tone and created the toxic climate is shameful.
“It’s time we recognize that Trump’s unique social media presence is a weapon of radicalization,” wrote Republican strategist and Trump critic Rick Wilson on Friday. “No one else in the American political landscape stokes the resentments, fears, and prejudices of his base with equal power.”
The president may not be pulling the trigger or planting the bomb but he is enabling much of the hatred behind those acts. He is giving aid and comfort to angry white men by offering them clear targets — and then failing to fully denounce their violence. Is it any wonder then that hate crimes are on the rise? Or that, as one study found, “one in five perpetrators of hate violence incidents referenced President Trump, a Trump policy, or a Trump campaign slogan” between November 2016 and November 2017?
Cesar Sayoc was not the first Trump supporter to allegedly try and kill and maim those on the receiving end of Trump’s demonizing rhetoric. And, sadly, he won’t be the last.