A black man is surrounded by an angry crowd of whites. One man in the crowd urges his fellows to “pour gasoline” on him. Then, “Light that mother***** on fire!”
A lynch mob? Or a Donald Trump rally?
In Las Vegas on Monday, it was difficult to tell the difference.
Whether he is merely tapping into an existing vein of noxious bigotry in the U.S. or actively nurturing it may be unclear, but there is no question that some in the crowds attending Donald Trump’s campaign rallies are becoming more and more comfortable spewing the sort violent, racist language that one typically associates with white-hooded Klansmen at cross burnings.
Trump has also inspired a different kind of anger – from groups offended by his rhetoric about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., his disparaging of immigrants and Arab Americans, and his history of racist comments about blacks.
When those two pools of angry people merge, as they did briefly in Las Vegas last night, the mixture turns toxic in a hurry.
Monday night’s rally in Las Vegas was interrupted multiple times by people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. They were loud, rude and disruptive, but they didn’t appear to be calling for violence against anyone.
Some in the Trump crowd, however, did. According to reporters on the scene, and documented in multiple video clips that were immediately uploaded to the Internet, the reaction to the protestors was swift and vicious.
And about ten minutes into the Trump rally, this happens. pic.twitter.com/65pXHjsJ3x— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) December 15, 2015
NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin wrote that he heard various calls for violence, including “Shoot him!” and “Kick his ass!” as well as a call to light a protester on fire. Another person in the crowd, he said, repeatedly screamed, “He’s a Muslim!” while pointing at one of the protesters.
In one recording, an unidentified man can be heard yelling the Nazi salute, “Sieg heil!”
Most of these scuffles appeared to be happening some distance from Trump, meaning that it is unlikely Trump was able to hear much or even any of what his supporters were saying. However, the tone of the comments from his supporters has been reported multiple times, and the GOP candidate has done little or nothing to discourage them.
There is precedent for presidential candidates shutting down bigots in the ranks of their supporters, the most memorable example in recent years being Arizona Sen. John McCain interrupting and contradicting a woman who insisted that President Obama is a secret Muslim who was not born in the United States. But there has been no such leadership from Trump.
After the rally last night, he used Twitter and Facebook to praise his supporters and thank them for coming out:
“What an evening in Las Vegas, Nevada! THANK YOU for your continued support. Together, we will all MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! There is something special happening out there, and the silent majority - is silent no more!”