Two murdered in the name of free speech: can Donald Trump be blamed?

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Washington: Riot police were out in force in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday, as pro and anti-Trump supporters faced off in the wake of two murders that are the latest manifestation of a disturbing wave of real and threatened political violence in the United States.

When the pushing, shoving and name-calling was over, there were a reported 14 arrests after helmeted police resorted to noise grenades and tear gas to keep the protests apart. But the police said they were reacting to sentiments expressed on the weapon-of-choice championed by Donald Trump and a good many others grappling with, or defending, his elevation to the presidency: social media.



We are united: Mattis



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‘Free speech or die’ – Portland terrorist

Jeremy Christian, accused of murdering two men who tried to stop him from shouting religious slurs on a Portland train, appeared in court Tuesday for his arraignment.

Portland has been a tinderbox since May 26, when three commuters went to the assistance of two girls – one black, the other wearing a Muslim headdress – who were being taunted verbally as they travelled on a city train.

Their tormentor produced a knife, killing two of the men. The 35-year-old assailant, Jeremy Christian, was charged with double murder in what the FBI is treating as a hate crime.

Sunday’s event began as a Trump Free Speech rally, but according to eyewitness reports the hundreds of Trump supporters who assembled in a park near City Hall were greatly outnumbered by a counter-rally lining three sides of the park. Their chants of “Nazis go home” were met with choruses of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”.

Sunday’s tension in the city was heightened by claims that Stewart Rhodes, leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia,  told reporters that a local Republican Party official had asked for Oath Keepers, some of them armed, to provide security for the pro-Trump rally.

The Portland murders took place the day after a by-election in Montana, which Republican Greg Gianforte won despite “body-slamming” a reporter from The Guardian the previous day, sparking a wave of online support for the candidate and sparking renewed debate on the extent to which Americans have become inured to political violence.

Gianforte earned rebukes from senior political figures on both sides of the aisle, like Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democrat House leader Nancy Pelosi, but Trump was silent on the attack – and Texas Governor Greg Abbott joked later about shooting journalists.

Threats and insults are being hurled by both sides of politics, particularly at town hall meetings held by GOP members of Congress, and media that are sympathetic to Trump rail against Democrats, emphasising incidents in which Republicans have been the targets of abuse.

But others insist that this is a Trump phenomenon, highlighting the serial sexual harassment and abuse charges levelled against him and comments he made that were read as incitements, such as “I’d like to punch him in the face” and “Knock the crap out of him, would you?” – both uttered by Trump at rallies during his campaign.

During last year’s campaign, Trump boasted that he could kill a man in broad daylight and not lose a single vote. And comments he made in public were interpreted as suggestions that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton should be assassinated.

Trump’s election victory has also given new energy to white supremacist movements and the so-called alt-right movement, prominent figures in which are close to the Trump administration. During Barack Obama’s two terms as president, the number of documented right-wing militias in the country jumped dramatically, from 42 in 2008 to 276 in 2016.

In the view of Michael Dorf, a law professor at Cornell University, Trump’s behaviour encourages others to misbehave – particularly in cases such as that involving Gianforte.

“Our constitutional culture has not yet degraded so far that Gianforte’s conduct was broadly deemed acceptable,” Dorf said, “But the degradation has begun, and it starts at the top. Trump has contributed to the climate of hostility to the press that characterised the most disturbing comments by Gianforte’s supporters.”

And the issue prompted a heated exchange on CNN last week, with University of Virginia political professor Larry Sabato accusiong a pair of CNN hosts of perpetrating a false equivalence in arguing that Democrats were as likely as Republicans to promote violence and use violent rhetoric.

“I’m not going to deny that American history is dotted with examples of legislators and congressmen getting into fights of one sort or another,” Sabato told hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow.

“But here’s the difference: We’re in the age of Donald Trump. What happened over the past two years? Donald Trump really brutalised many people. Not just the press, loads of individuals and groups, including using the issue of immigration to stir up the Republican base.”

Stopping short of accusing Trump of physically attacking anyone, Sabato charged: “But in those rallies, you remember him doing nothing to stop some of the physical violence. And in fact, urging it on. Let’s not rewrite history. The man got elected President. He was rewarded for these sorts of activities. Politicians pick up on that. A man who will do and say anything got rewarded with the presidency.

“I think that affects other elected officials. And you combine that with social media, the anonymity of social media, there’s a mob mentality on social media and it spills over into real life. And we’re going to see a lot more of it.”



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