Violence in Montana Shows Trickle-Down Lawlessness in Trump's America

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Candidate Trump used to promise to pay the legal bills of any supporters who roughed up dissidents. Above, the president arrives at the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, on May 26. Dylan Martinez/Reuters

"You're lucky someone doesn't pop one of you.” A Montana voter said that to a CNN crew Thursday night, the day after Montana’s new Republican congressman-elect, Greg Gianforte, body-slammed a reporter who was asking him about President Trump’s health care plan.

Fox News filmed the assault and reported the unprovoked attack. “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him," Fox reporter Alicia Acuna wrote. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

Related: Does fighting a journalist hurt your career? Not if you're a politician like Greg Gianforte, according to history

While attacks on journalists are becoming more common, the era of trickle-down political lawlessness is well underway for all Americans. Hate crimes in metropolitan areas rose 20 percent in the last year, fueled by an election that was engineered by men like Steve Bannon who have branded multiculturalism a disease and fact-based journalism a scourge. In New York City, anti-Semitic incidents rose a staggering 94 percent in the last year, according to the NYPD.

Across Trump’s America, quotidian incidents are up as thugs feel more emboldened every day by their leaders, like the head-bashing Republican businessman whom voters in Montana just rewarded with a House seat.

Remember Jamie Finnefrock, in his Trump hat, yelling at what he called "Hillary bitches" on a Delta flight last Thanksgiving?  

A couple weeks ago, at Yankee Stadium, a thug in a Trump hat cold-cocked and bloodied a friend of mine who had called him out for swearing in front of his children. Before attacking, the aggressor said, “I bet you voted for Hillary.”

Such incidents are a direct result of the tone set by the president, whose lawyers last month insisted that their man can’t be sued by three protesters who were injured after a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, during which Trump shouted from the stage: “Get ’em out of here!” A judge had previously ruled that his speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

No one can claim to be surprised at our nation’s downward spiral into political violence. It didn’t come out of nowhere. Thuggism starts at the top.

Candidate Trump used to promise to pay the legal bills of any supporters who roughed up dissidents. His ex-NYPD personal security man, Keith Schiller, frog-marched a (brown) television anchor out of a press conference. Trump failed to reprimand the same security guard for publicly, on camera, punching a peaceful protester on Fifth Avenue.

Another candidate would have reprimanded, or probably fired, Schiller. He now sleeps in the White House residence.

For flummoxed, frustrated bullies who can’t win with words alone, the fist is mightier than the pen.

There was a time when conservatives who publicly lost control, like Gianforte, spent the rest of their lives regretting it. William Buckley once swore and curled his fist on national television when Gore Vidal baited him over being a crypto-Nazi, and the conservative standard-bearer never got over it. He lived out his life trying to pretend it didn’t happen.

Those were different times. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, dogs were being set on civil rights protesters, and in the North, hippies stuck flowers in rifle barrels and held mass protests. The radical-left fringe carried out bombings and kidnappings.

Between then and now, though, political violence became the preferred tool of the extreme right. Militia fanboy Tim McVeigh committed the greatest act of domestic terrorism in history when he bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building in 1995.

With Trump, thuggism and lawlessness are not just campaign schtick but governing style. Hours after Gianforte broke Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs’s glasses in Missoula, Montana, Trump shoved and slapped at the president of Montenegro’s arm across the Atlantic.

It was a meaningless gesture, the White House said—maybe a joke slap or an accidentally rough moment jostling for position at a world leaders’ photo op. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Montenegro is a tiny eastern European country that has drawn the ire of the Russians for trying to join NATO.

The lawlessness goes deeper than that little shove. The administration just sent a letter saying it was refusing to comply with an ethics request that it identify the lobbyists it has hired to work in its agencies—the same lobbyists that #MAGA voters believe have been drained out of the swamp.

Meanwhile, a metastasizing investigation involving a special prosecutor, FBI and Congress is looking into an octopus of alleged criminality, from treasonous interactions with foreign powers to business deals with the Russian mob that included laundering money through purchases of Trump Tower apartments. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael “Lock Her Up” Flynn, who failed to disclose the half million dollars Islamist Turkey gave him, is now blowing off subpoenas.

Fox News and conservatives, predictably, blame the left—particularly the anarchist “Black Bloc” of antifascists who show up at pro-Trump events. “The signs are everywhere that a mass phenomenon is underway and is being tolerated—from the failure to suppress Antifa armed thugs shutting down political speech in Berkeley,” wrote Thomas Lifson in an article called “Progressives Openly Signaling the Arrival of Political Violence as a Tactic to Obtain Power.” He pointed out that “left-wing activists” in Oregon had caused a parade cancellation by threatening to drag "fascists" off the route—“and by fascists, they meant the Republican Party of Multanomah [sic] County.”

Fair enough. The resistance has been violent, too. And to point out that they started it is to play right into the bully’s hand.

Other conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, went further, arguing that the reporter got what he deserved. That reaction, almost more than the assault itself, should set off alarm bells.

"The violence that seems to be a daily occurrence now is not that different from the weekly violence that we saw on the campaign trail," said Ryan Lenz, a researcher and writer at Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes. “Trump's brand of dog-whistle political rhetoric has historically and now continues to inspire his followers."

Unlike trickle-down economics, trickle-down lawlessness actually works.