During a campaign-style rally in Missoula, Montana Thursday night, President Trump openly celebrated a congressman for physically assaulting a reporter who asked him a question about health care in May of 2017.
Recounting how then-candidate Greg Gianforte (R-MT) bodyslammed Ben Jacobs of the Guardian, Trump ominously pointed at the journalists in attendance and even reenacted what he thought the attack looked like.
“And by the way, never wrestle him,” Trump jokingly warned the crowd. “You understand? Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy.”
Trump later brought up the bodyslam again, saying the incident worried him because he had endorsed Gianforte. “And I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him.” And it did,” Trump said, as supporters cheered wildly.
Gianforte apologized the day after the assault — after winning his election. But he had to admit that he had originally lied about what took place and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. Nonetheless, many Republican politicians made light of the charges.
According to journalists in attendance at Thursday’s rally, Trump’s supporters enthusiastically celebrated the concept of violence against journalists. CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted that one individual seemed to directly threaten him, finding everything about the situation hilarious.
The disturbing part of Trump’s jokes about Gianforte was the effect on the crowd. I saw one young man in the crowd making body slam gestures. He looked at me and ran his thumb across his throat. I talked to him after the rally was over. He couldn’t stop laughing.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 19, 2018
The Guardian described Trump’s remarks as “the first time the president has openly and directly praised a violent act against a journalist on American soil.”
In a statement, Guardian U.S. editor John Mulholland responded, “The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.”
Trump’s comments come the same week that he has downplayed damning evidence that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the apparent gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — whose final piece warned of the media crackdown in the Arab world.
Mulholland also noted this juxtaposition. “In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats,” he said. “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”
The question Jacobs was attempting to ask Gianforte when he was attacked related to a Republican attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that would have made health insurance prohibitively expensive for people with pre-existing conditions. Incidentally, just hours before defending Gianforte’s violence, Trump was also tweeting lies claiming that “all Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions,” even though his own administration is supporting efforts to dismantle protections for those very people.
This glorification of violence also comes a week after Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, celebrated the 1960 assassination a Japanese socialist by a right-wing extremist with a literal reenactment at an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City. Following the event, several members of the white nationalist hate group took to the street and violently beat several anti-fascist protesters.
“People wonder whether or not there’s a cause and effect —whether or not the president’s rhetoric plants seeds of violence in his own supporters,” Acosta said after the rally. “I think it’s pretty evident.”