The Trump playbook: Incite violence, blame others

During the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the same playbook from years past put into action by Trump and his supporters. It goes like this:

1. Trump incites violence

2. Trump radicals commit violence

3. Trump advisors say violence helps their campaign

4. Trump & his surrogates refuse to condemn violence

5. Blame the violence on opponents

1. Trump incites violence


Trump has a long history of inciting violence. Going back to his first presidential campaign, on Feb. 1, 2016, Trump told a crowd in Cedar Rapids that he would pay the legal fees of supporters who fought with protestors (clip).

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise,” he said.

On Feb. 23, 2016, during a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Trump lamented that a heckler could not be beaten up, saying he wanted to punch the man in the face (clip).

“I love the old days, ya know. You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches – we’re not allowed to punch back anymore… [In the old days] they’d be carried out on a stretcher… [Now] the guards are very gentle with him. He’s walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”

On Aug. 9, 2016, Trump said that gun-owners could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton were elected president (clip).

“Hillary wants to abolish – essentially abolish – the Second Amendment, by the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.” The crowd cheered.

There are many more instances, too many to include here. ABC News identified at least 54 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault.

Recent events

But specific to the most recent week of violence, Trump has been pushing rhetoric and images of an America under siege by so-called rioters, looters, and anarchists.

This goes back to the protests in Minnesota sparked by the police killing of George Floyd (May 25, 2020). Trump called the protestors “THUGS,” threatened to send in the national guard (despite the governor already calling the Guard up), and added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter ended up hiding the tweet behind a warning for “glorifying violence.”

As protests spread, Trump sent federal forces into cities around the nation – most notably, Portland. It should be no surprise that protestors already angry about aggressive police did not accept a highly armed “foreign” occupying force. In fact, it wasn’t a surprise; it was the plan. Any opposition to the federal forces was used as retroactive justification and political leverage for the president’s reelection campaign.

During this time (July 2020), Trump used emotionally-charged words to describe protestors, fanning the flames of unrest. “These are not protesters – people say protesters – these people are anarchists. These are people that hate our country,” (clip).

Then, fast forward to the first night of the Republican National Convention on August 24. This was the day before the Kenosha shooting. The program featured a video (clip) of threats against a white Missouri couple who were pointing guns at protestors walking past their house. The couple, the McCloskeys, appeared in a recorded segment to warn that “criminals” and “out of control mob[s]” are out to get other white homeowners in suburbia.

Patricia McCloskey: “What you saw happened to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country…”

Mark McCloskey: “That’s exactly right. Whether it’s the defunding of police, ending cash bails or criminals can be released back out on the streets the same day to riot again, or encouraging anarchy and chaos on our streets, it seems as if the Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens. Not a single person in the out of control mob you saw at our house was charged with a crime, but you know who was? We were.”

Patricia: “…make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

The same night, convention speaker Kimberly Guilfoyle said Democrats are responsible for “riots in streets, warning that “they want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. Guilfoyle urges viewers: “Don’t let the Democrats take you for granted. Don’t let them step on you. Don’t let them destroy your families, your lives, and your future. Don’t let them kill future generations because they told you and brainwashed you and fed you lies that you weren’t good enough.” (clip)

Donald Trump Jr. also took to the stage to fear-monger: “Anarchists have been flooding our streets and Democrat mayors are ordering the police to stand down. Small businesses across America—many of them minority owned—are being torched by mobs.” (clip)

The following morning, President Trump took to Twitter to villainize protestors and urge an end to the protests: “They must stop calling these anarchists and agitators ‘peaceful protestors’. Come back into the real world! The Federal Government is ready to end this problem immediately upon your request.”

Friday, Aug. 28, Trump held a rally in New Hampshire. The Portland shooting would happen the next evening. At the rally, Trump vilified protestors numerous times.

They’re not protestors. Those aren’t … Those are anarchists. They’re agitators. They’re rioters. They’re looters.

…They’re just looking for trouble. Has nothing to do with George Floyd. Has nothing to do with anything. They don’t even know who George Floyd is. Okay? They don’t know who George Floyd. They have no idea. If you ask them, “Who’s George Floyd?” They couldn’t even tell you. These are just bad people, troublemakers and they shouldn’t be representing our country at important events and we’ve got to stop it. (clip)

By framing the protestors as dangerous and illegitimate, while also calling for action to stop the protests, Trump incites his most extreme followers to take action against them – violent action.

  • Note also that Wisconsin’s GovernorLt. Governor, and Kenosha’s Mayor have told Trump to stay away from the area because, as Gov. Evers said, “I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.” Yet, Trump intends to go Tuesday, anyway. It’s hard not to see it as another attempt to incite a reaction.

2. Trump radicals commit violence


On August 25, a 17-year-old Trump supporter and militia member killed 2 people, injuring another, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Based on video taken over the course of the night, it appears that the militia member – we’ll call him K.R. – shot and killed a man after a plastic bag was thrown. K.R. then runs away from the scene with a cellphone to his ear saying, “I just killed somebody.” The victim, Joseph Rosenbaum, was shot at least 4 times.

K.R. then runs down a road with bystanders in pursuit. K.R. trips and falls. A bystander, Anthony Huber, tried to disarm K.R. but K.R. shoots him. Huber died from a gunshot to the chest. K.R. then shot another man, Gaige Grosskreutz, in the arm and walks off pointing his rifle at people in the road.

The next time we see K.R., he approaches police vehicles with the rifle strapped to his chest and hands raised. The police allow K.R. to leave, despite bystanders yelling that he had just shot someone. Kenosha police Chief Daniel Miskinis defended the failure to apprehend K.R.:

“There were a lot of people in the area, a lot of people with weapons, and unfortunately, a lot of gunfire… they see someone walking toward them with their hands up. That, too, isn’t out of the ordinary given all the events going on. … We have armed individuals out protesting, or counterprotesting, or simply walking around exercising their right, (who) will put their hands up… There’s nothing to suggest this individual was involved in criminal behavior.”

K.R. was later arrested in his home state of Illinois, charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of recklessly endangering safety, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. The militia ended up in Kenosha by organizing an event on Facebook. Users reported the page 455 times for violating rules around the incitement of violence, yet it was not taken down until after the shooting.


Fast forward to Saturday night, August 29. Supporters of the president gathered on Saturday at a shopping center a few miles southeast of Portland. The caravan of hundreds of trucks then traveled into the city. Most were flying “Trump 2020” or thin blue line flags in a manner reminiscent of ISIS flags. The caravan, like the Kenosha event, was organized on Facebook.

The official route did not take the caravan into downtown Portland – it is unclear why they ended up there. Some unconfirmed reports from attendees said the police forced them off the freeway. But regardless, the caravan’s time in downtown Portland was marked by countless incidents of violence. Here is a sampling of videos:

  • Trump supporters shoot pedestrians and journalists with paintballs and pepper spray. At least twice.
  • A counter-protestor (others call him a journalist, not sure) was beaten for filming the license plates of the Trump caravan.
  • The Proud Boys arrived with their license plates obscured with tape.
  • A counter-protestor threw an egg at a Trump truck, the Trump supporter retaliated with pepper spray.
  • A car nearly ran people over.

Amidst all this, an officially unidentified man was shot and killed (he has been unofficially ID’d on social media). We have very few details about the incident. The victim wore a hat with insignia for Patriot Prayer, a far-right group. There is video of the shooting, but it is from afar and does not offer much context.

  • Note that gun conflict had been building in Portland, according to an NYT reporter on the ground. Mike Baker said the prior weekend a “far-right activist” brandished a gun. Two weekends ago, a “right-wing demonstrator” fired two gunshots from car.

3. Trump advisors say violence helps their campaign

Following the Kenosha shooting, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that violence helps Trump’s campaign: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order” (clip).

Then, just hours after the Portland shooting, Trump campaign surrogate (and wife of Eric Trump) Lara Trump endorsed Conway’s view (clip).

4. Trump & his surrogates refuse to condemn violence

Asked about the Kenosha shooter, Trump failed to condemn him: “That’s under investigation right now, they’ll be reporting back to me over the next 24 hours, 48 hours maybe max, and we’ll have a comment about it. But, that is, right now, we’re looking at it very very carefully.” (clip)

UPDATE: A reporter asked Kayleigh McEnany if President Trump condemns the actions of [K.R.], the teen charged for killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. McEnany replied that “the president is not going to weigh in on that.” (clip)

Donald Trump Jr retweeted a Twitter post in which a user endorses the Kenosha shooter: “[K.R.] is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump. Violent extremists were destroying people’s lives for months, 30 people were killed. Democrats rejected Federal assistance every time Trump offered it. Media lied about Trump deploying ‘secret police’”.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (of Wisconsin) also refused to condemn the Kenosha shooter, saying instead that he condemns all “violence” and “economic destruction” that has happened since protests began (clip). Furthermore, Johnson ducked a question about Trump agitating for violence: “There are people agitating all over the place,” he said, minimizing Trump’s role (clip). At the end of the clip, Johnson suggests “citizen soldiers” are part of the plan to stop the violence.

Just hours after the Portland shooting, Trump tweeted support for the Trump caravan, calling them “GREAT PATRIOTS!”

Asked about the president’s tweet supporting the caravan, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said it was not contributing to heightened tensions.

Just as Trump has a long history of inciting violence, he has a long history of failing to condemn it. Most famously, after a white supremacist deliberately ran over protestors, killing one and wounding many others, Trump blamed violence on “both sides.” He added, “you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

5. Blame the violence on opponents

Finally, Trump and his supporters blame the violence incited by the president on his opponents. This time, that is Democrats generally and Joe Biden specifically.

For instance, following the Portland shooting Trump suggested that the violence was inevitable under a Democratic mayor: “The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing. The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer.The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard!”

White House Chief of Staff appeared on Meet The Press to insist that “most of Donald Trump’s America is peaceful,” it’s just the “Democrat-led city” of Portland that’s the problem (clip).

As we saw all throughout the Republican convention, Trump tried to blame Biden for protests, riots, and violence. During his acceptance speech (two days after Kenosha) , Trump said, “If you give power to Joe Biden…They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon. No one will be safe in Biden’s America.” (clip)

  • Trump keeps calling on Biden to condemn the violence, as if he hasn’t done so already numerous times (he has). After Portland, Biden posted a statement saying in part: “I condemn violence of every kind by any one, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”

Mike Pence’s speech (one day after Kenosha) followed the same line: “Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities. The hard truth is you will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” (clip)

On the first night of the convention, the party played a video meant to portray “Biden’s America” as violent and scary. A voiceover says: “The rioting, the crime. Freedom is at stake now and this is going to be the most important election of our lifetime.” However, one of the scenes in the montage is actually from Spain.

During Kellyanne’s Fox News interview (referenced in section above), aside from admitting the violence helps Trump’s campaign, she also said that fixing it is not Trump’s problem:

Kellyanne: “…the Republican president, Donald Trump, doesn’t look at this as a partisan issue. He’s trying to send federal reinforcements in. And you’ve got these governors saying, oh, no. They’re putting their pride in their politics ahead of public safety.”

WaPo: That alone is revealing. Because eruptions of violence can be blamed on Democrats, the White House throws up its hands. That’s not only because it allows Trump to shunt away criticism but also because it allows him to make the point he wants to make: Democrats, like his general election opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, allow violence to happen. In an out-of-character move, Trump is happy to present himself as powerless here specifically because he thinks it reinforces weakness on the part of his opponents.

In 2016, Trump warned about the scary immigrants and terrorism at the southern border. In 2018, immigrants again, dispatching soldiers to the border to deal with families seeking asylum from dangerous countries in Central America. Now, in 2020, he has turned the manufactured fear towards other Americans.