Since 2016, Trump and his administration have dealt out repeated attacks on media outlets and personnel, from dubbing Buzzfeed “a pile of garbage” to dismissing CNN, the New York Times and other organizations as “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people.”
But last week, the effects of the current adminstration’s anti-media sentiment reached an apex when a chilling spoof video was shown at a Florida conference hosted by pro-Trump group American Priority. The video — an edit of a scene from the Kingsmen: The Secret Service — shows Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a character opening fire in a church dubbed “The Church of Fake News.” All of the parishioners bear the logos and names of news outlets and progressive movements like Black Lives Matter and Vice, as well as Trump’s social and political opponents, such as John McCain, Rosie O’Donnell, Maxine Waters and Bernie Sanders. Iconography from Trump’s 2020 re-campaign abounds.
Spokespeople for the president and American Priority condemned the video and reiterated that they don’t condone violence of any sort. But even if that is true — though Trump did tweet out a similar, albeit less graphic video in 2017, which showed him beating up a wrestler who had the CNN logo superimposed onto him — that isn’t the point. Whether or not Trump directly supports this kind of behavior doesn’t actually matter as much as the fact that his rhetoric has enabled those who do. The president might dislike the video, but his supporters, in large part, thought it was hilarious. And that’s a problem.
On Sunday, CNN released a statement in response to the video.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that supporters of the president have promoted violence against media in a video they apparently find entertaining — but it is by far and away the worst. The images depicted are vile and horrific,” it said.
Trump’s anti-media language has deeply influenced his supporters and the propaganda they both produce and consume. The fact remains, however, that the press is not the enemy. It fills a vital role in the preservation and defense of democracy. There’s a reason it’s often the first thing attacked by authoritarian regimes and dictatorships; it keeps political demagogues in check.
We live in an era defined by its penchant for gun violence; videos like these not only promote brutality, but incite it. Coming after the June 2018 mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland, which left five people dead, the video demonstrates at best a startling lack of sensitivity, and at worst, a frightening call to arms against members of the American press.
The imagery of a gunman entering a place of worship strikes a particularly awful chord in the hearts of Pittsburghers in particular, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting, which killed 11 people and forever changed a community.
It isn’t funny. It isn’t edgy. It isn’t a bold political statement. It’s a dangerous promotion of evil ideals that, if not publicly condemned, will get innocent people killed.