One of them is an authoritarian obsessed with Twitter who threatens the press and incites violence against protesters, and the other is Donald Trump. Can you identify the demagogue whose supporters were behind these recent attacks on protesters?
If you answered, “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and New York real-estate heir Donald Trump,” congratulations, you know your demagogues.
As The Intercept reported on Wednesday, President Erdogan, who is visiting Washington this week, has all but silenced critics at home — prosecuting students who poke fun at his government on Twitter, putting journalists on trial, and seizing opposition newspapers. His aides have even tried, without much success, to extend this crackdown on dissent beyond Turkey’s borders. (Their failed attempt to get a German music video mocking the president removed from the internet only helped make the clip go viral.)
On Thursday, journalists who gathered at the Brookings Institute in Washington to hear Erdogan speak were amazed to see Turkish security guards scuffling with protesters and dissidents, even as the local police and building’s staff tried to explain that voicing dissent is legal in the United States.
Never seen anything like this:a female protester just tackled. DC cops are in the street trying to keep Turkish guards from hurting folks— Yochi Dreazen (@yochidreazen) March 31, 2016
Turkish security guys threatening people with cameras, just chased one cameraman across Mass ave.— paul mcleary (@paulmcleary) March 31, 2016
Turkish security coming pretty damn close to getting into fistfights with DC PD— paul mcleary (@paulmcleary) March 31, 2016
Erdogan's security team completely unable to leave protesters alone. Keep coming back, threatening, taunting.— paul mcleary (@paulmcleary) March 31, 2016
That led to a series of images that looked quite a bit like those taken recently at rallies for Donald Trump (like the video above of a young protester in Janesville, Wisconsin, who said that she was sexually assaulted by the candidate’s fans before being pepper-sprayed in the face when she fought back).
Here, for example, is video, from two angles, of a female protester being manhandled and knocked to the ground by Erdogan’s aides.
Gilles Paris, the Washington correspondent for Le Monde, also captured the Turkish security guards grappling with protesters.
Cenk Sidar, a Washington-based adviser to Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party, then recorded a brief video clip of the president’s aides being rebuked by a Secret Service agent who could be overheard telling them: “Calm down — this is America.”
The agent then instructed the Turks to stay on the opposite side of the street from the protesters. “By going over there and flipping the bird, you’re causing more problems,” he said.
Amberin Zaman, a Turkish columnist who is also a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington, reported that Erdogan’s security detail tried to intimidate her by shouting obscenities and accusing her of being sympathetic to the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym as the PKK.
After things slightly calmed down, Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish columnist, shot video of a member of the Turkish delegation ripping apart what looked like an effigy of the president in prison stripes that had been taken from the protesters.
Tanir was also filming inside the venue, where Erdogan’s aides tried to eject a credentialed Turkish journalist, Adem Yavuz Arslan, from the hall, only to be stopped by the Brookings staff.
When the event finally got underway, Martin Indyk, the Brookings foreign policy director, asked Erdogan to explain why dozens of journalists have been jailed in Turkey. The president produced a folder with what he said were the details of 52 cases, and insisted that “there are no journalists in Turkish prisons who have been incarcerated or sentenced to imprisonment due to their professions.” All of those put on trial, he said, had been charged with or convicted of “terrorism.”
Later on Thursday, Washington residents reported seeing not-at-all-creepy “Erdogan propaganda trucks,” driving the streets of the capital and lighting up with Orwellian slogans of praise for the Turkish president — like “Truth + Peace = Erdogan,” “We Love Erdogan,” and “Great Turkey/ Great Leader/ Erdogan” — a swell as anti-Kurdish messages and accusations the United States has been supporting the Turkish leader’s enemy, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.