The Portland Attack Was an Act of Terrorism & Trump Needs to Acknowledge That
Last week, an act of domestic terrorism took the lives of two Americans and badly injured a third, when three men–Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, Ricky John Best, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher–defended two female passengers on a Portland MAX train from a known white supremacist shouting hate speech at them.
As much of the country was mourning the sacrifice made by those men, and worried over the implications of a horrific act of racist violence in a city as famously liberal as Portland, Oregon, Donald Trump tweeted over 20 times. And yet, despite how vocal he so often is when it comes to acts of terrorism, none of those tweets were about this incident. He ranted about fake news, and tweeted about the G7 summit and Memorial Day, but it wasn’t until Monday morning that he tweeted a brief reaction from the official, lesser-used POTUS account.
The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.
— President Trump (@POTUS) May 29, 2017
In a powerful letter posted to his Facebook page prior to that tweet, Real News legend Dan Rather called on Trump to acknowledge these men and say their names, “or even just tweet them.” He writes, “They were brave Americans who died at the hands of someone who, when all the facts are collected, we may have every right to call a terrorist.”
The word “terrorist” is rarely applied to situations like these, when a white man targets people of color. Rather, their actions are deemed hate crimes, indicating they stand alone, rather than exist as part of a larger, widespread network of racist and xenophobic violence. The targeting of people of color by American white men is nothing new and certainly nothing isolated. Two months ago, a young white man used a sword to kill Timothy Caughman, a randomly chosen black man in New York, as “practice” for a larger attack against black men. Just last week, a member of a Nazi Facebook group stabbed and killed Richard Collins III, a black college student in Maryland.
All of these perpetrators were active in larger online communities, bolstered now by a president who places actual Nazis in his cabinet and encourages race-based violence at public events. White supremacists clearly feel a growing legitimacy, which the current administration is doing exactly nothing to combat. Trump (or, let’s be real, one of his aides) tweets a quick praise of people standing up to “hate and intolerance,” when his presidency is based on stoking the flames of racial hatred and intolerance. A refusal to call attacks on POC what they are–terrorism–is only sending a message that the perpetrators of violence are more deserving of respect than their victims.
Rather addresses the way in which radicalized Islamic terrorism is a talking point Trump knows how to sell, but radicalized white supremacy doesn’t even seem to exist in his mind. “This story may not neatly fit into a narrative you pushed on the campaign trail and that has followed you into the White House,” he writes. “They were not killed by an undocumented immigrant or a ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ They were killed in an act of civic love, facing down a man allegedly spewing hate speech directed at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. That man seems to have a public record of ‘extremist ideology’ – a term issued by the Portland Police Bureau.”
“This ‘extremism’ may be of a different type than gets most of your attention, or even the attention in the press. But that doesn’t make it any less serious, or deadly. And this kind of ‘extremism’ is on the rise, especially in the wake of your political ascendency. Most people who study these sorts of things do not think that is a coincidence. I do not blame you directly for this incident. Nor do I think other people should. But what a President says, who he has around him, and the tone he sets can set the tone for the nation at large.”
He goes on to write that maybe Portland isn’t of much concern to Trump because it epitomizes so much of what he rails against. It’s a liberal, coastal sanctuary city. “But it is still an American city. And you are its President. Two Americans have died leaving family and friends behind. They are mourned by millions more who are also deeply worried about what might come next.”
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