There’s a legal distinction between “speech” and “hate speech”—with the latter recognizing that words can indeed have consequences, whether uttered in ordinary public gatherings or during heated political campaigns. Language that encourages violence targeted at specific groups of people crosses a line. Correlation may not be causation, but it’s interesting to look at some of the comments Donald Trump has made on the stump and the incidents that have followed those remarks.
In June 2015 when Trump kicked off his candidacy for president he said of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
In August 2015, two brothers on their way home from a baseball game beat and urinated on a homeless fifty-eight-year-old Mexican immigrant who was sleeping outside a Boston T station. After they were arrested, one said, “Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported.”
On November 22, 2015, Trump claimed that on 9/11 “thousands and thousands of people in Jersey City were cheering” when the towers of the World Trade Center came down. In Twin Falls, Idaho on December 7, 2015, the Islamic Center of Twin Falls was vandalized with the words “Hunt Camp,” the nickname of an internment camp in Idaho for Japanese-Americans during World War II. That same day: Twenty-five year old Matthew William Gust threw a Molotov cocktail into a Somali-owned coffee house in Grand Forks, North Dakota, causing $90,000 in damages; a caretaker at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in northern Philadelphia found a severed pig’s head on the center’s doorstep; and a shopkeeper in Queens, New York, said he was attacked and beaten by a customer who said, “I’ll kill Muslims.” On December 8, officials at a mosque in Jersey City reported receiving a letter, citing Trump’s comments about Jersey City celebrations, calling Muslims “evil” and telling them to “go back to the desert.” That same day in Seattle a sixteen-year-old Somali-born boy was severely beaten, thrown from a sixth-story window, and died; his family claims his attackers were from Seattle Central College. On December 11, in Coachella, California, a mosque was firebombed while people were inside. At one of Trump’s rallies on December 14, a supporter onstage told a story about his child’s death at the hands of an undocumented immigrant. A Black Lives Matter protester interrupted, shouting “That’s why we need gun control!” As he was being removed from the audience, another supported yelled for someone to “light the motherf***er on fire.”
On March 5, 2016, a mother received a call from her son’s third-grade teacher to say he was taunted by two of his classmates who pointed out the “immigrants” in the classroom and "who would be sent 'home' when Trump becomes president." On March 10 in North Carolina, after being charged with assault for punching a protester in the mouth as he exited the rally, Trump supporter John McGraw said “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him." Video shows that after McGraw punched the protester, the police then threw the protester on the ground and surrounded him while McGraw returned to his seat. Trump was charged with but not convicted of inciting a riot. And on March 14, a Muslim student from Wichita State University reported that he and his friend (who is Hispanic) were attacked by a motorcyclist at a gas station who yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump” and “Make America great again! You guys are the losers! You guys, we’ll throw you over the wall!” (There is a surveillance tape.)
The candidate is currently stumping in New York, and on Thursday April 14 he has controversial plans to speak at a Suffolk County GOP fundraising event in Patchogue, New York, blocks from where in 2008 a gang of teenagers who frequently hunted and assaulted Latino immigrants murdered an Ecuadoran man named Marcelo Lucero. From there he will head to Manhattan and attend the New York State Republican Gala as a special guest. Protesters plan to be on hand.
Americans should be mindful of the right of candidates to speak. But does what seems like a cause-and-effect pattern over many months make understandable the actions of those who find incitements to violence and prejudicial rule something not only worth standing up to, but necessary to stand up to—especially when lives are being put at stake?