BRET STEPHENS: Yes, the president bears blame for the terror from the right
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 --There is no reason to think that Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers and alleged Florida mail bomber Cesar Sayoc are "deranged." There is every reason to believe their acts are politically motivated. They are not "crazies" in the category of Gabrielle Giffords shooter Jared Lee Loughner. They are terrorists in the class of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, or Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter.Posted — Updated
Maybe we should refer to Saturday’s massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, along with the campaign of mail bombs that preceded it, as “man-caused disasters.”
So conservatives should be just as clear about what we saw last week. There is no reason to think that Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers and alleged Florida mail bomber Cesar Sayoc are “deranged.” There is every reason to believe their acts are politically motivated. They are not “crazies” in the category of Gabrielle Giffords shooter Jared Lee Loughner. They are terrorists in the class of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, or Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter.
To call them anything else is to engage in the same evasive wordplay for which conservatives once scolded liberals. And it’s no less evasive to avoid drawing conclusions about the political basis of these acts.
The villagers are rarely terrorists themselves. They often condemn terrorism. Sometimes they are its victims. Yet they also provide the soil in which the seeds of terror germinate.
What are the villages from which Sayoc and Bowers hailed? For Sayoc it was the real-world villages of the Trump rally, with its mob-like intensity and unquestioning fidelity to one supreme leader. For Bowers, it was the virtual villages of Twitter and alt-right social networks, digitally connecting angry loners who follow nobody. They are different villages, with somewhat different values, and different views of the admissibility of violence. The approximate Islamist analogues would be the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda — the former generally committed to working within the political system, the latter to destroying it, yet both profoundly hostile to the values animating open societies.
Just so with the Trumpist and alt-right villages. Different methods and values — but not altogether different. Both draw on similarly cramped ideas about nationhood and sovereignty. Both see political opponents as enemies and immigrants as invaders. Both are susceptible to conspiracy theories. And both feed off the same incessant background noise of Trump-speak. “Lock her up.” “Enemy of the American people.” “Illegal alien mob.”
In other words: the criminalization of political opposition, the vilification of the media, and the demonization of foreigners. At some point, the distance between word and deed becomes short. And then they are joined, as they were last week.
“Pittsburgh is not Trump,” Foxman says. “It’s also Trump.” Trump, he adds, is not an anti-Semite. But fanning one set of hatreds against immigrants has a way of fanning others, as it did for Bowers when he attacked the synagogue because he was enraged by its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Turning to last year’s neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Foxman says of Trump, “He didn’t create them. He didn’t write their script. He didn’t give them the brown shirts. But he emboldened them. He gave them the chutzpah, that it’s O.K.
“And when he had an opportunity to put it down,” Foxman adds, “he didn’t.” The blood that flowed in Pittsburgh is on his hands, also.
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