Since becoming president of the United States, Donald Trump has sent more than 160 tweets using the phrase “fake news.” He has specifically attacked CNN on social media more than 35 times, perhaps most notably with a July 2 tweet that labeled the company “#FraudNewsCNN” and featured a GIF of Trump attacking WWE owner Vince McMahon with a CNN logo superimposed over McMahon’s face.
Given such hostility, it’s no surprise that Brandon Griesemer, a 19-year-old from Michigan, made 22 calls to CNN’s headquarters in early January, threatening to “gun the fucking CNN cast down.”
You can imagine the teen’s confusion when federal authorities arrested him this past week. After all, it was the leader of the free world who declared last February that “the fake news is the enemy of the people.”
Griesemer, who is white, is also reported to have used multiple racial slurs in the calls to CNN, and to have made similarly harassing calls to a Michigan Islamic center in September.
Meanwhile, during last weekend’s government showdown, Trump sponsored and endorsed an ad that strongly implied Democrats’ support of Dreamers and DACA made them “complicit” in murders committed by undocumented immigrants.
This extreme message is of course little more than a cheap pander to the worst instincts of the Republican base. No Democrat has ever encouraged an undocumented immigrant to commit an act of violence against an American citizen.
Trump, however, has used his platform to promote violence against journalists, and specifically CNN. Using the standard established in his own ad, it reasons that Trump himself is complicit in all threats and acts of violence against the media.
You can’t have it both ways, Mr. President.
Just as you couldn’t build your campaign on Islamophobia and racism and pretend it had nothing to do with the emboldened Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, you can’t label media outlets like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and The New York Times as the “enemy of the American people” and then express shock and dismay when one of your “people” is inspired by your words to act.
Griesemer is not the only individual who will try and take matters into his own hands. Every time Trump uses the term “fake news,” he is sending the signal to his most devoted supporters that he wants them to follow his lead and attack the free press. For Trump to think these attacks would be limited to just words is at best naïve.
Unfortunately, Trump seems untroubled by the possibility of real violence against the journalistic community. If he were concerned, he would retire the term “fake news” immediately and proactively denounce those who would perpetrate acts of domestic terrorism against news networks.
Instead, undeterred by news of Griesemer’s arrest, Trump was at it again Tuesday morning with a tweet mentioning “Crazy Jim Acosta of Fake News CNN.”
Kurt Bardella is a HuffPost columnist and member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. He was formerly a spokesperson for Reps. Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa, Sen. Olympia Snowe, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @kurtbardella.