Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has spent a lot of time talking about undocumented immigrants. Why, then, hasn’t he talked more about the fact that an undocumented immigrant recently attempted to assassinate him?
Michael Sandford, a 20-year-old British man who has overstayed his visa here in the United States, attempted to shoot and kill Trump in Las Vegas last week. According to a criminal complaint filed Monday, Sandford has been planning for a year to kill Trump.
But there’s no mention of Sandford or the assassination attempt on Trump’s Twitter or Facebook pages, the two social media platforms that never fail to amplify the candidate’s viewpoints.
In previous cases when undocumented immigrants have been suspected of committing violent crimes, many media outlets have used those stories to paint a grim portrayal of the people immigrating to this country. But when it comes to Sandford, who is white, the narrative appears to be playing out differently.
Save for a satirical piece by Mother Jones, the vast majority of news outlets haven’t focused on Sandford’s immigration status much at all. Even conservative outlets that typically don’t have nice things to say about “illegal aliens” haven’t seen Sandford’s status as a relevant detail.
After Sandford’s attempt on Trump’s life, a headline on the right-wing Fox News website proclaimed: “Man tried to grab cop’s gun to kill Trump at Las Vegas rally, authorities say.” The Washington Times, another right-leaning publication, used a similar headline: “Man who tried to grab officer’s gun at rally told police he wanted to kill Trump.” Breitbart, a right-wing publication, came closer to identifying Sandford’s country of origin with the headline, “Police: British man tried to kill Donald Trump at Vegas rally.” On Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” anchors didn’t even ask Trump about the assassination attempt.
Instead, the coverage about the attempted murder of a presidential candidate portrayed Sandford as a “quiet lad,” “lovesick and autistic,” and a “nice guy.” “He needs help rather than going to prison, basically,” one woman whose son went to school with Sandford told the Washington Post.
The media approach is puzzling particularly given that Trump has built his political narrative on building a border wall to keep out undocumented immigrants. Just last year, Trump pointed to a freak accident in which an undocumented immigrant shot and killed an American citizen to drive home his policy plan to deport undocumented immigrants en masse.
San Francisco resident Kate Steinle was killed after a bullet ricocheted from a firearm fired by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who illegally reentered the country five times. Soon after, Trump led a social media crusade on Twitter and Facebook to criticize so-called sanctuary cities, where local law enforcement officials can choose not to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration authorities for potential deportation proceedings.
Where are the other candidates now that this tragic murder has taken place b/c of our unsafe border http://t.co/amaV7tqgAR We need a wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2015
.@marcorubio what do you say to the family of Kathryn Steinle in CA who was viciously killed b/c we can't secure our border? Stand up for US
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2015
Trump’s crusade riled up Republican lawmakers, who tried to use the tragedy to pass a bill called “Kate’s Law” aimed at denying federal law enforcement funds to sanctuary cities. After that bill failed, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly warned that he would go after Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for voting against the bill, Media Matters reported.
It’s well-documented that white men who commit crimes are treated more sympathetically than people of color by the media and by law enforcement. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s armed takeover of a wildlife refuge earlier this year, for instance, was characterized as “peaceful” — while unarmed Black Lives Matter activists were called “terrorists” and a “grave threat” to law enforcement on Fox News and CNN. The Twitter hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite appeared after a New York jury decided not to prosecute a white officer for the choking death of unarmed black man, Eric Garner, two years ago.
Ironically, passing comprehensive immigration reform could have helped prevent the attempt on Trump’s life. Republicans have long cast aside the Senate’s 2013 version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which had a provision that would have required the completion of an entry-exit system that “tracks whether all persons entering the United States on temporary visas via airports and seaports have left the country as required by law.” That may have allowed officials to track Sandford and deport him before the assassination attempt.
Sandford was indicted on federal criminal charges that could result in 30 years in prison. A grand jury charged him for disrupting an official function and possessing a firearm.