Is Trump Following the Same Pattern as Past Terrorist Leaders?

by | Aug 11, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Midtown Manhattan, September 11, 2001. Photo by Julien Maculan

Is Trump Following the Same Pattern as Past Terrorist Leaders?

by | Aug 11, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Midtown Manhattan, September 11, 2001. Photo by Julien Maculan

No former president in American history has encouraged violence or tried to inspire stochastic terrorism. Outside of the Confederacy, no politician has worked so hard to tear America apart.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Wednesday morning at 6:15 am Provo time, Craig Robertson was shot and killed by the FBI after posting to Facebook that he was going to assassinate President Biden during his trip this week to Utah.

Had the FBI not stopped him, he may well have pulled it off: he had a high-tech sniper rifle and apparently knew how to use it. The shoot-out he started with FBI agents trying to arrest him, if nothing else, was a tell.

This, I believe, is exactly what Donald Trump wants.

In response to Trump’s rants, according to Vice News, Robertson had posted to Facebook multiple screeds about the “stolen” 2020 election. Believing Trump’s lie that President Biden was an illegitimate pretender to the White House, he posted:


Image believed to be from Craig Robertson’s Facebook account per Vice News

When news came that President Biden was coming to Utah this week, Robertson posted:


Just a few days earlier, Trump had publicly condemned “the Marxists” who he said were persecuting him.

In openly encouraging rage and violence, Trump is following a well-worn path blazed by many terrorist leaders before him.

Osama bin Laden, for example, never killed anybody. Several narratives suggest he didn’t even know the details of 9/11 until the twin towers had fallen.

Bin Laden also apparently didn’t fund the attack on 9/11 (according to the 9/11 Commission), just as Trump didn’t fund Robertson or the thousands of terrorists who attempted to murder Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi on January 6th.

As ABC News reporter John Miller, who interviewed bin Laden and covered 9/11 extensively, wrote:

“He didn’t pay for the World Trade Center bombing or the plot to kill Clinton, but [he thought] they were good ideas.”

Bin Laden inspired the attack with his rhetoric, just as Trump has inspired numerous terrorist assaults here in America with his rhetoric.

ABC News did a deep dive into presidential-inspired terrorism in America. While George W. Bush and Barack Obama said a lot of things in their combined 16 years in office, some fairly controversial, the network reports:

“ABC News could not find a single criminal case filed in federal or state court where an act of violence or threat was made in the name of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush.”

That was very much not the case with Trump, however:

“But a nationwide review conducted by ABC News has identified at least 54 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence, or allegations of assault.”

From August 15, 2015 to April 30, 2020 (the article was published in May, 2020, long before the January 6th terror attack on the Capitol), ABC News identified over fifty separate cases where acts or attempted acts of terror were carried out against people Trump had targeted.

They ranged from beatings to murders to attempted mass killings:

“The 54 cases identified by ABC News are remarkable in that a link to the president is captured in court documents and police statements, under the penalty of perjury or contempt.

“These links are not speculative – they are documented in official records. And in the majority of cases identified by ABC News, it was perpetrators themselves who invoked the president in connection with their case, not anyone else.”

In the three-plus years since, there have, no doubt, been hundreds more. And now Trump is turning up the volume, stoking the often-violent fury of the people unfortunate enough to believe his lies.

Consider the top headline at Raw Story yesterday:

‘Just the beginning’: Ex-FBI official warns more assassins could be inspired by Trump”

No former president in American history has encouraged such violence or tried to inspire stochastic terrorism.

It has simply never happened here before.

Outside of the Confederacy, no American politician has worked so hard to tear America apart, to pit citizens against each other, to destroy our republic from within. Neither has any former president made alliance with and taken hundreds of millions of dollars from hostile foreign agents like Putin’s oligarchs and Saudi Arabia’s MBS.

No president has ever invited a mob to attack the US Capitol and terrorize lawmakers to change the outcome of an election. This terrorist act led to the death of nine people, including four police officers, and Donald Trump has not only not apologized, but he has praised the terrorists he summoned and promised to pardon them.

He plays a song he sings with them at every one of his rallies. He speaks along with the prisoners, people accused of violence that could extend as far as murder. In solidarity with “their cause.”

He has never once condemned any of the murders, attempted murders and bombings, or other acts of violence that have been committed in his name over the past seven years. Instead, we hear that there are “very fine people on both sides.”

Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI, whose work involved terrorism and understands it well, told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner last night:

“If you think you’ve seen this before, it’s because you have. It is a common theme, this concept that somebody is controlling the globe, controlling elections, and politics. And it’s all bad. They’re vile, they’re subhuman. And it’s also something called stochastic terrorism, which is the concept that some leader figures are putting out people as less than human, dehumanizing them, they’re evil, and therefore it becomes easier for people to respond to that ideology and act out violently.

He talked about how this would actually be the second wave of Trump terrorism in America, were it to happen again.

“We certainly saw it in large numbers of people, a thousand arrested already, on January 6th, we saw people willing to die, including Ashli Babbitt, who consumed these Trump conspiracy theories, wrapped up in a Trump campaign flag as she’s breaching security at the Capitol. We saw it in Cincinnati where a man breached security, or tried to, at the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. Ended up dying in a cornfield after hours of standoff.”

Figliuzzi seemed struck by the solemnity of a former president encouraging acts of terrorism, and where it may go:

“I’m afraid this is not in any way the end of this, but rather just the beginning, as we continue to see Trump and his cohorts making vile accusations against people that are now prosecuting Trump, whether they are prosecutors or judges. So there is more of this coming. And law enforcement’s challenge, of course, is to get out in front of this before the really bad thing happens.”

Trump posting a picture of himself threatening New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg with a baseball bat isn’t cute or funny: it’s a call for brutality or an assassination. It’s an incitement to terrorism.

Now, facing the possibility of time in prison for his crimes, Trump is encouraging the wannabe and weekend terrorists among his base to murder witnesses, prosecutors, and the judges overseeing his case. And to influence jurors so at least one person may lie when questioned by the judge and claim that he is not a fervent Trump follower but then vote to hang the jury.

That would teach them to challenge him. They should have known better, like all those women, he would tell you. The criminal justice system shouldn’t have tried to come after him, he proclaims. Soon there will be carnage.

Outside of the occasional mob boss prosecution, only cases of terrorism have provoked state or federal officials to engage in the extensive security precautions now needed because of Trump’s incitements.

How can our newspapers and other media not see this? Anybody who has been in or near a country in a civil war understands the role Trump is playing.

Trump has openly said he wants to release information which the government says could be used to target people who have investigated him, testified against him, and might serve on the jury that could condemn him.

He is demanding the right to release it all, in defiance of every legal norm known, to devastate the case against him by polluting the jury pool through winning the case in the media before it even gets to court. If he can do that, the court action will seem petty.

Perception is everything, and he knows it. Every dictator in history knows it: that’s how they became dictators.

This is a man with no scruples and no limits. Anything you can imagine, he can probably exceed. Consider the headline at Mediaite yesterday:

“‘My Blood Ran Cold’: Ex-Trump Official Horrified By ‘Criminal Plot’ to Have Military ‘Turn Their Guns on Civilians to Facilitate a Losing Candidate’”

He has repeatedly lied to his followers that his First Amendment free speech rights are being abused, as a setup to cause Americans to lose confidence in our form of government.

In fact, the protective order that will be the focus of this Friday’s meeting in Judge Chutkan’s courtroom is designed to make sure the jury sees the evidence against Trump before he can publicize it to pollute the jury pool and intimidate witnesses who may testify against him.

Such protective orders are routine, but Trump wants to be tried in the court of public opinion, which he knows how to manipulate, rather than in a court of law, where he knows he will probably lose. He believes if he can get in the White House he can pardon himself, a classic dictator’s move. Terrorists like this kind of thing, too.

The mainstream American media has always been a few steps behind Trump in his march toward an attempted fascist takeover of America.

It took them years to use the simple word “lies” to describe his lies. They were reluctant to use the word “terrorism” in connection with January 6th (although The New York Times published an op-ed concluding that it was, in fact, a terrorist attack).

Now, even in the face of naked attacks on the rule of law, our court system, the FBI, and President Biden and VP Harris—they are reluctant to bluntly identify what are clearly incitements of a terrorist reaction to Trump’s prosecutions like we saw yesterday in Idaho.

Had similar characterizations of our police, courts, and intelligence agencies come from the president of Iran, for example, every media outlet in America would be identifying it as an explicit call to either tear the country apart or justify and activate terrorist violence.

Rachel Maddow recently noted that history won’t be asking how it was possible that a former president of the United States could be prosecuted for his crimes; instead, history will ask how such a criminal could have ever become president in the first place.

The answer, as we all know, was laid out by Robert Mueller’s investigation (the unredacted version of which Merrick Garland is still keeping confidential, even though it was written specifically to be released publicly).

Vladimir Putin made sure Paul Manafort was installed as Trump’s campaign manager after Viktor Yanukovych, the Putin puppet Manafort had installed in Ukraine, was thrown out.

Manafort, who didn’t even ask for a paycheck for running Trump’s campaign but did all the work for free, then fed confidential internal polling data to Russian intelligence showing where “persuasion” could help Trump or hurt Clinton.

That persuasion came to America by way of 29 million social media posts, viewed or liked 126 million times, from Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agencythe Kremlin—specifically targeting American voters Manafort had identified in a half-dozen or so states.

In Pennsylvania, Trump won by 44,292 votes. In Wisconsin it was 22,748 votes, and in Michigan a mere 10,704 votes. Had Prigozhin not been successful in targeting those 77,744 voters for Putin and Trump, Hillary Clinton would—by any reasonable estimate—have become president in 2016.

Putin’s terror campaign is now targeting Ukraine, the country Trump withheld weapons from and tried to blackmail into helping him steal the 2020 election.

Putin’s man Trump’s terror campaign is now targeting us, at least those of us who are not straight white Trump supporters, as he has done virtually every day since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower and began his hateful rant about “Mexican rapists and murderers.”

How long will our court and criminal justice system tolerate this ongoing assault, this open campaign to promote stochastic terror?

How long will our media recoil from calling him a terrorist as more and more Americans are terrorized, beaten, and murdered by people invoking his name the way Mohamed Atta invoked bin Laden’s?

How long will the GOP continue to tolerate a man who encourages terrorism—even against members of his own party—among their ranks?

It’s possible that we “ain’t seen nothing yet” and Trump will activate far more widespread terror activity and violence before he goes down.

It could be a disaster like none of us have ever lived through, but that I have personally seen in several countries that descended into war.

I helped develop a refugee center in Uganda in the middle of the war with Idi Amin. And I was in South Sudan, on the border with Darfur, as the villages were being burned by the Janjaweed just 15 miles from me. And a few other uncomfortable places in the years I did international relief work.

When people turn against each other in the same country, from what I’ve seen, it is the most brutal kind of warfare.

It’s also possible that this fever will soon break, and America will begin to return to some semblance of normalcy as a whole new set of crises provoked by climate change beset our land and redirect our attention.

Or that Trump may simply self-destruct.

As they say in the news business, stay tuned.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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