Trump is using a style of rhetoric known to incite violence, while trying to distance himself enough to maintain plausible deniability.
In what appears to be a desperate attempt to scare people into voting for Republicans this fall, Trump issued a chilling warning of looming violence recently during a private meeting with conservative Christian ministers, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times.
Trump reportedly warned the group of evangelical Christians that there will be "violence" if the GOP doesn't maintain its majority in Congress in the upcoming midterm elections, telling the religious leaders: "You're one election away from losing everything you've got."
Trump also urged the conservative Christian ministers to make use of their pulpits to ensure that "all of your people vote" in November, The Times reported.
If Republicans lose the majority in Congress, “they will end everything immediately," Trump said, apparently referring to Democrats.
"They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently. And violently. There’s violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people."
Antifa — a movement of loosely organized anti-fascist protesters and activists — has become one of the right-wing's favorite boogeymen in the era of Trump, serving as a distraction from the endless scandals, legal troubles, racial and political violence.
Trump's warning to the Christian leaders is reminiscent of a video released last by year by the NRA, in which the extremist gun group used footage from street protests to fear monger about isolated incidents of violence by those who identify with the antifa movement while failing to mention the infinitely greater threats of right-wing violence and gun violence.
Like Trump, the NRA also tried to falsely malign all Democratic and left-leaning voters as violent criminals seeking to "bully and terrorize the law-abiding."
Trump has attempted to falsely link antifa to widespread violence previously, most notably in the aftermath of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville last year, when a white supremacist killed an anti-fascist protester and injured 19 others in an intentional car attack. Trump went on to say there was "blame on both sides."
Of course, the use of incendiary rhetoric is nothing new for Trump and members of his inner circle.
His recent comments echo those he made on the campaign trail, when he suggested that "Second Amendment people" may need to rise up and stop his opponent Hillary Clinton.
While Trump and his White House claim he doesn’t support violence, he has repeatedly called for and encouraged the use of violence as a political tool. He even thanked his supporters for being “vicious” and “violent” in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and his campaign rallies are associated with a significant increase in violence in the towns and cities where they are held.
As law professor David Cohen pointed out last year, Trump is using the same rhetorical strategy that extremists use to incite violence among their followers. Known as stochastic terrorism, the tactic involves using pointed and suggestive language that inspires random people to carry out violent acts, but without explicitly telling them to do so.
Stochastic terrorism has inspired countless acts of real-life violence, including the murder of three people and the wounding of nine others at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in 2015, and the assassination of British politician Jo Cox by a white supremacist in the closing days of the Brexit vote. That assassination was linked to the killer's opposition to immigration and his desperate, deranged efforts to take things into his own hands.
By telling Christian voters that they are "one election away from losing everything," Trump is conveying how much is on the line in 2018, and then pairing that reminder with a veiled threat of future violence. He is effectively legitimizing violence before it occurs.
As Cohen wrote, "Trump puts out the dog whistle knowing that somedog will hear it, even though he doesn’t know which dog."
Make no mistake: Trump is inciting violence — and he's doing so because he knows he's a failed president, and evoking fear is the last hope for the struggling Republican party.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.