The violence at Trump’s rallies has boiled over in recent days. Trump himself canceled his rally on Friday in Chicago, citing safety concerns.
The spectical has generated Trump some negative press, chastising him for inciting violence at his events.
But the full scope of Trump’s conduct is more extreme and much darker.
Put simply, Trump is supporting a man who threatened to murder a non-violent protester.
On Wednesday, 78-year-old John McGraw sucker punched a peaceful protester, 26-year-old Rakeem Jones, at a Trump rally in North Carolina.
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As he exited the arena, a gleeful McGraw expressed no regret in punching Jones. “You bet I liked it. Knocking the hell out of that big mouth,” he said.
He then threatened to murder him: “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
McGraw did not allege the protester was violent and the video revealed he did nothing physical to provoke the attack.
Appearing on Meet The Press on Sunday, Trump described McGraw as someone who “obviously loves his country” and “frankly wants to see America made great again.”
He then told Chuck Todd that he was considering paying McGraw’s legal fees. Trump said he didn’t “condone” violence but did seem to justify it, describing the protester as “very loud, very disruptive.”
The most charitable interpretation is that Trump is not aware the McGraw threatened to murder Jones. But in another appearance on Sunday on Fox News, Trump was played the video of McGraw’s murder threat.
Although Trump made sure not to endorse the specific threat, he immediately attacked Jones and defended McGraw.
Whether or not Trump ultimately provides McGraw with financial support he is already providing him with substantial rhetorical support. This is someone who has threatened to murder someone for effectively no reason.
The impact is to communicate clearly to Trump’s supporters that extreme behavior like McGraw’s is appreciated by Trump. Thankfully, this time, it was just a threat.
The campaign, however, is just getting started.