An Intercepted audio documentary series offers a comprehensive analytical history of the Trump presidency. Featuring in-depth examination of Trump’s extreme agenda, the roots of U.S. history, and the policies of Trump’s predecessors, the series seeks to analyze the question: Is Trump the worst president in U.S. history?
On the campaign and as president, Donald Trump has worked hard to resurrect the George Wallace strand of U.S. politics: He has consistently used racist and bigoted language to accompany his policy onslaughts. In part three of our limited audio documentary series “American Mythology,” we examine the ways Trump has used racialized fearmongering and incitement in both word and deed, from his Muslim ban to his denigration of immigrants to his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has openly encouraged police to act extrajudicially, brutally, and with impunity, while simultaneously emboldening violent white nationalists and militias. He has even defended a young man accused of shooting and killing BLM protesters. As he campaigns for reelection, Trump is hedging on many of his 2016 tactics but now is backed by the extraordinary power of the executive branch. The Justice Department, virtually privatized by Trump, appears to be coordinating its official functions with his reelection effort. Trump is intensifying his voter disenfranchisement operation, and he has threatened to remain in office regardless of the election results. We dig deep into Trump, race, and the wars at home.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from New York City, and this is part three of an Intercepted special, “American Mythology: The Presidency of Donald Trump.”
It is a widely known fact, but it bears repeating: The last “job” that Donald Trump held before becoming president of the United States was television reality show host.
Donald Trump in “The Apprentice”: — Master the art of the deal and it turned the name “Trump” into the highest quality brand. And as the master, I want to pass along my knowledge to somebody else. I’m looking for: the apprentice.
JS: In 2005, “The Apprentice” was entering its fourth season. Viewership had been on the decline, and Trump, seeking to boost ratings, engineered a plan. It was simple. For the fourth season he’d set one team, made up entirely of white people, against another team, made up entirely of Black people.
Trump explained it to Howard Stern.
DJT: It would be nine Blacks against nine whites, all highly-educated, very smart, strong, beautiful people, right?
Howard Stern: Yes.
DJT: Do you like it?
DJT: Do you like it, Robin?
Robin Quivers: Well, I think you’re going to have a riot after the show.
JS: Now, to their credit, the executives at NBC never greenlit Trump’s white versus Black reality show fantasy. This little-known episode is just one in decades of Trump’s overtly racist, anti-Black, attention-seeking career. From calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, to sparking a crazy right-wing troll operation dedicated to claiming that Barack Obama was not really an American, Trump’s racism and clear targeting of Black people has been publicly documented, his views on race clear as day.
DJT: They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
DJT: I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK? If that’s OK. I want surveillance.
JS: Donald Trump is, and has been, a racist his entire professional life.
DJT: I think today that a well-educated Black person, male or female, has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white person.
DJT: Of course I hate these people. And let’s all hate these people. Because maybe hate is what we need if we’re going to get something done.
DJT: They don’t look like Indians to me. And they don’t look like the Indians — now maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct — they don’t look like Indians to me.
JS: On a practical level, Donald Trump’s real political career began with his promotion of Birtherism, the racist conspiracy theory to delegitimize the first Black president, Barack Obama. Trump engaged in numerous publicity stunts in his Pink Panther-esque campaign to prove Obama was actually a Kenyan Muslim who was not really born in Hawaii.
DJT: Look, he was born Barry Soteros. Somewhere along the line he changed his name. I heard he had terrible marks and he ends up in Harvard. He wrote a book that was better than Ernest Hemingway.
DJT: Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? I think he’s probably —
Meredith Vieira: Why should he have to?
DJT: Because I have to and everybody else has to.
DJT: Three weeks ago, when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. And now I really have a much bigger doubt than I did before.
MV: But based on what?
DJT: And you know what? His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya and she was there and witnessed the birth, OK?
DJT: Today I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate. I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role.
DJT: Hillary Clinton [laughter] and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.
JS: When Trump officially launched his presidential campaign, he told the world exactly who he believed America’s internal enemies were and what he would do as president. And the most public and open white supremacists celebrated accordingly.
Richard Spencer: Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!
JS: After Trump’s election as president of the United States, white nationalist groups, militias, and everyday racist Americans felt emboldened to act out in the open, and with more impunity.
Trump supporter: Fuck political correctness. Fuck political correctness.
Trump supporter: Build the wall! Build the wall!
Trump supporter: Send them bastards back. I’m sure that paperwork comes in Spanish.
Trump supporter: Ignorance and immigrants, they mix together! Woo-hoo!
Trump supporter: If you don’t speak English and don’t contribute, get out!
JS: Hate crimes spiked and anti-immigrant rhetoric led to scattered attacks in the United States against minority groups — one gunman massacred 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Police dispatch: Three, one, five. Hold the perimeter. We’re under fire. We’re under fire. He’s got an automatic weapon. He’s firing at us in front of the synagogue.
JS: While Trump and right-wing media attacked migrants as “invaders.”
DJT: It’s an invasion!
DJT: Onslaught. This invasion.
DJT: It is an invasion, you know that. I say invasion, they say, ‘Isn’t that terrible?’ I don’t know what these people are thinking.
DJT: We’re talking about an invasion of our country.
DJT: No nation can allow its borders to be overrun. And that’s an invasion. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what the fake media says. That’s an invasion of our country.
JS: Back in 2018, novelist and comic book writer Mat Johnson explained on Intercepted how Trump’s election impacted his own family.
Mat Johnson: Like, this election has resulted in, in the last six months both my daughters have been called niggers at school. Right? One by a kid wearing a Trump hat. So, like, my life is directly affected by that.
My wife who was wearing a head wrap, she’s African-American and like a lot of African-American women, takes a lot of pride in her hair and getting the right products and everything else, and she was wearing a head wrap to go buy some products and was followed out to her car by somebody asking her about, you know, “Why are you wearing that?” And other white people stood around and watched — like nobody stepped in or anything. Like, my life has been affected by this. A lot of people’s lives have been affected by this.
JS: Trump’s narrative about the Obama era was often fired off as a buckshot with an array of fallacy-laced pellets. Obama was corrupt. He was not a real American. He depleted the U.S. military. Obama wanted to take away the guns of white people while offering support for so-called Black Identity Extremists. Trump also frequently used Obama’s home city of Chicago in his speeches as a catch-all placeholder for attacking Black Americans as violent criminals who needed to be put in their place.
DJT: And you look at what’s going on in Chicago. What the hell is going on in Chicago? What the hell is happening there?
DJT: It’s embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.
DJT: It’s not even conceivable. That’s worse than Afghanistan. I hate to say it. That’s worse than any warzone that we’re in.
JS: Chicago-born educator and author Eve Ewing saw this rhetoric from Trump about her city as him preparing the battlefield for justifying state-sanctioned violence wrapped in the cloak of restoring law and order.
Eve Ewing: It’s very convenient to use Chicago as a symbol that is really for many people kind of like an effective dog whistle. It frightens people. It’s used in the service of the same kind of rhetoric that we heard in past presidential administrations with things like, you know, “welfare queens” and “crack babies.” Right? These are racialized images that are meant to inspire fear and loathing in the hearts of Americans and to make them feel as though there’s justification for any kind of extreme crackdown, right, that might happen afterwards. It has nothing to do with an actual desire to help or care for, uplift or support or nurture or even listen to people who actually live here.
JS: This year, the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis ignited a new and revolutionary chapter in the Black Lives Matter movement. Sustained protests over the summer may have culminated in the largest protest movement in the history of the United States, with millions of Americans taking to the streets across the country, from major cities, to rural towns.
Protesters: Don’t shoot!
Protester: Hands up!
Protesters: Don’t shoot!
Protester: Hands up!
Protesters: Don’t shoot!
JS: Trump has used his massive online platform and the office of the presidency to make the situation as incendiary and violent as possible.
DJT: Every night we’re going to get tougher and tougher. And at some point there’s going to be retribution because there has to be. These people are vandals but they’re agitators, but they’re really — they’re terrorists, in a sense.
DJT: Because these are professional agitators. These are professional anarchists. These are people that hate our country.
DJT: These are not acts of peaceful protest but really domestic terror.
DJT: These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.
JS: Instead of recognizing the validity of what so many activists and ordinary citizens have been saying about the state of racial injustice in this country — Trump’s done what he’s always done. He appealed to so-called real Americans with the language of hate, violence, threats, and historical revisionism.
DJT: The radical left wants to tear down everything in its way and in its place they want power for themselves. They want power. They want to uproot and demolish every American value. They want to wipe away every trace of religion from national life. They want to indoctrinate our children, defund our police, abolish the suburbs, incite riots and leave every city at the mercy of the radical left. That’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen. It’s been hell for suburbia.
JS: Indigenous historian Nick Estes explained how Trump’s approach to these protests fit squarely in the long racist history of colonialism and the United States:
Nick Estes: Trump, he’s invoking this kind of idea of lawlessness that has been unleashed by Black-led resistance all over the country, and now internationally, to make this argument that the very core, the very idea of America “as we know it,” right, is under attack.
DJT: First of all, we have arrested, I think almost — but it could be over the number — hundreds of people. We have arrested a lot of people for what they’ve done. They’ve created bedlam. They’ve destroyed very important things. I mean you’re also talking about statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln…
NE: And if there’s any lesson that we can learn from colonialism, it involves three things: God, gold, and glory. Right? The soft underbelly of this entire project has always been glory. The idea that this nation is built on an exceptional, kind of unique history, right? The city on the hill kind of thesis that came out of the pilgrim mythology. And so in this moment, Trump is trying to essentially rewrite history and to say that there are winners and there are losers, right? And it’s a very kind of facile reading of history and I don’t think that the advocates that are calling for the tearing down of these monuments or the, you know, even the replacement in some instances, are saying that we should reduce the history of racism, of imperialism to just the Civil War, but that it’s a very complicated history, especially when you factor in something like settler colonialism. And so, in this instance, he’s saying, you know, “our history,” deep ignorance of “our history,” and whose history is that?
DJT: We have to cherish our past. We have to cherish good or bad. We have to understand our past. We have to understand our history because if we don’t know our history, it could all happen again. Have to know our history.
JS: Trump’s reelection campaign has now placed the notion of a civil war, a race war, law and order versus socialism at the forefront. He is hedging on many of his 2016 tactics again, but now with the extraordinary power of the executive branch, the ability to send executive orders out like tweets, and a virtually privatized justice department that appears to be coordinating its official functions with his reelection campaign.
DJT: And I say this openly. Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country or he can go down as just another guy. It depends. They have all the stuff. You don’t need anything else. You know they want everything. You don’t need anything else. They all lied to Congress. They were liars. They were cheaters. They were treasonous. There was treason.
Laura Ingraham: But Bill Barr, you’re saying, has to prosecute all of these individuals to be a great attorney general? I mean, he’s one of the most talented attorney generals —
JS: Trump has regularly encouraged brutality and extrajudicial action among police and law enforcement agencies and he appears to have the tacit, if not open, support of many hyper-militarized police forces. This dangerous reality has come into sharp focus over the past several months of rebellion and protest.
DJT: There has to be retribution when you have crime like this. There can’t be guys standing up that want to fight — they want to fight. You can’t throw bricks at people with shields on.
JS: While the Trump administration has sought to consolidate authority over government bureaucracies for the president’s political — and at times personal agenda — it has simultaneously encouraged actions from private actors and fringe paramilitary groups.
DJT: You’re going to have a backlash like you’ve never seen if these people don’t stop. Because you have very smart, very tough people that aren’t going to take it anymore. And once they say, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore,’ it’s going to end in a very vicious backlash. And that’s a terrible —
JS: Over these four years, these unofficial White House forces have been at the center of racial violence acting as vigilantes responding to the dog whistles of their commander. Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. saw Trump’s rise as a victorious revival of the George Wallace strand of U.S. politics.
Eddie Glaude, Jr.: That particular strand of politics has become mainstream. The fringe, you know, those white identity nationalists who are living in the mountains in Washington and in western Pennsylvania, right? They’re now at the heart, at the center of the political party that has control over the country.
And to my mind that is surprising, in the sense that I grew up in a moment in which, you know, racial code words, dog whistles with, kind of, political lexicon. Now it’s just foghorns. People don’t dog whistle. They just say it and activate all sorts of fears. And you combine that with the fact that the contradictions of neoliberalism are in full view.
JS: Even as the Department of Homeland security identifies white supremacist violence as the greatest domestic terrorism threat in the United States, Donald Trump extols the right-wing extremism that has blossomed under his tenure, and that uses the spectre of violence to undermine and at times violently attack, in some cases to kill, his perceived enemies.
DJT: We have people that are very angry. You start seeing them — the trucks come in and the this comes in and that. All of a sudden you’re going to see a backlash the likes of which you haven’t seen in many, many years. Because people aren’t going to take it. You know, a lot of people, this is all a left movement, not a right movement. A lot of people on the right are sitting home watching a television set looking at Kenosha and looking at Chicago where they shoot people and kill people by the dozens every week. It’s not even believable. But they say, they look at it and they say, I’m not going to allow that to happen in my country.
JS: In his first debate with Joe Biden, Trump staked out an openly fascistic position, refusing to bluntly condemn neo-nazis and white supremacists. Instead, Trump called on them to effectively sit tight and wait for his orders.
Chris Wallace: Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups
CW: And to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.
DJT: Sure. I’m willing to do that.
Joe Biden: Do it!
DJT: I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.
CW: So what are you saying?
DJT: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
CW: Well then do it, sir.
JB: Say it. Do it. Say it.
DJT: You want to call them — what do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.
CW: White supremacists.
JB: Proud Boys.
CW: White supremacists and right-wing militias.
DJT: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing —
JS: Trump has railed against self-identified anti-fascists. He has presided over kidnappings and even killings of activists, including a Portland man who was gunned down by U.S. Marshals deployed by Trump. The president appears to be celebrating that operation as a political assassination of a U.S. citizen on American soil.
DJT: Now we sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street. Just shot him. I mean, it was on television. Just cold-blooded killed him. He didn’t like his hat, or he didn’t like something, and it wasn’t a Trump hat.
Sean Hannity: Right. This peaceful prayer —
DJT: It was a religious hat. And he shot him cold blood. Two and a half days went by, and I put out, ‘When are you going to go get him?’ And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him. And in a short period of time, they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal. And the U.S. Marshals killed him.
JS: Racial opportunism in presidential politics is certainly not unique to Donald Trump. It has been deployed by Democrats and Republicans alike throughout U.S. history. And it was used effectively by people now denouncing Trump, among them Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the so-called New Democrats, all of whom have used racialized propaganda and attacks to appear tough on crime.
Joe Biden: And madame president, we have predators on our streets, that society has, in fact, in part because of its neglect, created.
JS: George H.W. Bush pushing his infamous Willie Horton ad.
Narrator: Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.
JS: It was also a favorite tactic of Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan: She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, social security, veterans benefits for four non-existent, deceased veterans husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.
JS: In many ways, Donald Trump is a more open, craven expression of what the GOP has long thought and stood for. He is using some of the same tactics deployed by politicians from both parties — but he’s doing it with the opposite of subtlety and on a daily basis. Here’s The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer:
Adam Serwer: When you look back to Reconstruction after the Civil War, the white majority governments that took power from the Reconstruction governments often violently, in some cases more blatantly, violently than others — in some cases, it was simply repressing the vote, in other cases it was actually overthrowing the government — these guys were all saying that they were crusading against corruption. They were saying that the Reconstruction governments were taking taxpayer money and stealing it and spending it on things they shouldn’t have been spending it on. And this was just a necessary corrective to fatally corrupt governments. But that in itself was also not a justification for authoritarian rule.
Often those things go hand in hand. That is, a false anti-corruption crusade that justifies the kind of ethnic hegemony is something that in the past in American history has functioned very well to extinguish democracy as we understand how it should work. Here it has specifically worked with the ideology of white supremacy and so it’s not a coincidence that Trump is both extremely corrupt and rails against corruption and pairs that with his kind of white populism because that’s how he makes himself look incorruptible to his followers. It is precisely that commitment to his group, regardless of all other principles, that makes people feel as though he is incorruptible even though he is fundamentally corrupt in the most basic sense.
DJT: The Democrats’ brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which they have never ever seen before in the history of this country.
JS: The Trump administration has been packed with certain political figures that should have never been allowed back into public office. One of them is Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While his tenure as the AG was a short one, his appointment sent a clear message. Sessions is a man who, in 1986, was considered too racist for even a federal judge appointment. Decades later, thanks to Trump, Sessions found himself — almost gleefully — in a position to rescind voting rights protections, establish capital punishment for drug crimes, and curb Obama-era reforms of the unprecedented paramilitarization of state and local law enforcement agencies across this country.
Jeff Sessions: The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office. I know this, you know this.
Jeremy Scahill: And then, of course, there’s Stephen Miller, architect of some of the most heinous and racist immigration rhetoric and policies coming out of this administration. Miller emerged as one of the most vicious proponents against asylum seekers. Well-known for his extremist anti-immigrant ideology, once Miller was in the White House as a senior adviser, his policies ranged from attempting to flat out ban immigration from Muslim majority countries to separating children from their parents in ICE detention jails.
Stephen Miller: The whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned. At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country.
JS: Backed by men like Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s base of extremist supporters and white nationalists have been repeatedly encouraged by the president over these four years.
DJT: I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately you would say.
Press: Neo-nazis started this thing.
Press: — killed a person. Heather Heyer died.
Press: They showed up in Charlottesville to protest the removal of that statue.
DJT: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people — on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
JS: Trump’s defense of white supremacist violence feels like a demarcation line in his presidency. If there had ever been any doubt, white supremacists now knew they had an ally in the White House.
David Duke: This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we’ve got to do.
JS: For many Americans, the ascension of Donald Trump in the wake of the country’s first Black president was inexplicable. Many people looked outward to explain away his victory, while others sought to place blame on specific quarters of the U.S. electorate for what they perceived as a total aberration.
Eve Ewing: During the Trump campaign and then right after he was elected, there was a lot of justifiable and understandable fear, hand-wringing, and shock, especially from corners of liberal, white America where people thought, basically, this was a referendum that made them realize that the America that they thought they lived in does not exist. Or this election constituted a transformational, historical event that somehow gave permission or highlighted new forms of racism or new forms of xenophobia.
JS: Again, author Eve Ewing.
Eve Ewing: In no way do I want to undercut what I do think have been some of the uniquely awful aspects of this administration, but I also think it’s important for folks to remember that this is not like the man in a laboratory conjuring up these racist people like Frankensteins, who had never existed — you know, Frankenstein monsters that never existed. Rather it is him giving a voice and a platform for an energy behind white supremacy and hatred that has a long history in America and that actually, in my opinion, constitutes the very fabric of the nation.
And so I think that that’s important to realize, because it makes you understand that in order to conquer or change or transform the kind of hatred and vile evil that we’re seeing right now, it’s not just about these particular voters, it’s not just about this particular election, but we have to be brave enough to confront and understand a history that is much deeper.
JS: Despite bipartisan criticism of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, Trump spent the entirety of his term unabashedly spewing racist statements and attacking people of color.
News Anchor: The White House is denying claims that President Trump said in a June meeting that all immigrants from Haiti have AIDS. Trump said immigrants from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts.”
News Anchor 2: Saying Puerto Ricans want everything to be done for them.
News Anchor 3: The president has decided to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona.
DJT: They say get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!
News Anchor 4: He apparently said, this is a quote: “Why are we having all these people from shit-hole countries come here?”
DJT: You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK?
DJT: If you’re not happy here, then you can leave. As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, you’re not happy here, you can leave.
DJT: Omar has a history of launching vicious, anti-semitic screeds.
Crowd: Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!
DJT: Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.
DJT: The Chinese virus. Kung-flu.
DJT: I think I’ve done more for the Black community then any other president.
News Anchor 5: The White House press secretary also defending the president after he approvingly retweeted this video of one of his supporters.
Video: White power! White power!
DJT: I am the least racist person you’ve ever met.
DJT: And I can tell you I’m the least racist person there is in the world.
DJT: Because I am the least racist person ever to serve in office, OK?
DJT: I am certainly the least racist person.
News Anchor 6: Are you racist?
DJT: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.
DJT: As I say often, I am the least racist person that anybody’s going to meet.
DJT: I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world?
News Anchor 7: Are you a racist?
DJT: Absolutely not. I’m the least racist person that you’ve ever met.
JS: Underneath this naked hatred, something more insidious has been cultivated. Trump’s extreme nativist rhetoric inspired actual right-wing terrorism, and the chickens came home to roost.
Jake Tapper: And we’re back with the breaking news. You’re looking at new video showing the suspect. Cesar Sayoc holding a sign that says “CNN sucks” as well as a lot of other nonsense in there. He’s at a Trump rally in February, the 56 year-old Florida resident. And today was arrested and charged with sending a series of explosive devices — 13 IEDs — to prominent critics of President Trump this week.
Anchor 2: The White House is pushing back against accusations that President Trump’s rhetoric encourages white supremacists like the man accused in the New Zealand mass shootings. The manifesto purportedly written by the suspect calls the president a symbol of renewed white identity.
DJT: I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand perhaps that’s a case. I don’t know.
Anchor 3: Twenty minutes, 11 dead, six injured. This time the attack was at a temple in Pittsburgh. It’s the deadliest attack on Jewish American in U.S. history.
CNN Anchor: Do you welcome the president to Pittsburgh in the wake of this?
Lynnette Lederman: I do not welcome this president to my city.
CNN: Why not?
LL: Because he’s the purveyor of hate-speech.
Anchor 4: Tonight law enforcement officials telling ABC News that before the chaos broke out…
[Ambiance] Run, mi hija, run.
Anchor: that they believe the suspect had been looking for a good place to target and shoot Mexicans.
Beto O’Rourke: He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. Like, members of the press, what the [bleep]! Connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism, he is promoting racism.
DJT: And if your state was ever allowed to safely reopen by your governor who doesn’t have a clue — she’s like Joe. Open up your state, madam governor. Open up your state.
Anchor 5: The breaking news out of Michigan as state and federal investigators say they’ve broken up this elaborate domestic terror plot designed to overthrow Michigan’s government and kidnap or kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer while she was away on vacation.
Protesters: No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!
Protester: Say his name!
Protesters: George Floyd!
Protester: Say his name!
Protesters: George Floyd!
Protester: Say his name!
Protesters: George Floyd!
JS: This summer saw a historic watershed moment in the fight against anti-blackness and for racial justice in America. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and other Black and brown men and women sparked what many activists themselves describe as an uprising in defense of Black Lives and against a racist police state.
Protesters: No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!
JS: Protests soon spread from Minneapolis to every single state in the union, and a wave of confederate monuments around the country were defiantly torn down.
News 4: It has fallen. There it is. Let’s go. Breaking news here on News 4. We were right here. They have taken down the Confederate statue of Albert Pike.
JS: Though the overwhelming majority of protests were nonviolent, property damage and looting occurred in cities nationwide. Emboldened by these images, governors activated over 62,000 national guardsmen. Trump ratcheted up a pressure campaign against governors and mayors, criticizing them for not attacking protesters with enough force and he even threatened to send in the U.S. military.
Anchor: Twitter, rather, has flagged a post by the president saying that it violates the platform’s rules about violence.
Anchor 2: The president says, “These thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control. But when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
JS: As Trump characterized the protests as “massive violent mobs,” scores of incidents of police brutality were reported in cities across the country and were often caught blatantly on camera.
[Ambience police violence.]
Protesters: Leave him alone! Leave him alone!
Police: Get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck out of here. Get out of here, go!
JS: By the end of June, more than 14,000 people had been arrested.
This focus on property destruction ultimately played into Trump’s racial rhetoric and gave sustenance to his campaign to portray himself as the noble defender of “real America” from the anarchists, terrorists and socialists.
DJT: We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators and call them whatever you want. Some people don’t like that language but that’s what they are.
JS: While Trump certainly exploited the destruction of property during protests in various cities for political gain, that’s not the whole story. There’s a long tradition of property destruction during moments of intense public upheaval and protest, particularly after assassinations of Black leaders, police killings and beatings of Black people and, famously in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, in response to the acquittals of police who abuse or kill Black people with impunity.
Archive: Western and Santa Monica and you can see the police have just arrived at this intersection and are just now trying to take control of it — LAPD officers arriving on the scene. Fire department fighting one fire. There’s a neighboring fire that is raging uncontrolled.
Anchor: Utter anarchy in the streets of Los Angeles tonight. It’s just getting worse and worse by the hour.
JS: At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, the esteemed UCLA Historian Robin D.G. Kelley addressed this history and sought to give context to the destruction of property during times of rebellion.
Robin Kelley: So if you think of capitalism as racial capitalism, then the outcome is you cannot eliminate capitalism, overthrow it, without the complete destruction of white supremacy. You know, when we talk about the police and we talk about, like, defunding the police, if you think about what the police do, the police protect capital. The police were designed to protect property going back to, not just the slave patrols, but even the system of jails in cities in the 19th century. Those jails were designed to hold fugitives, runaways. When you’re trying to track down a runaway slave you pay a jail a fee to hold that enslaved person until the master could come, identify the person, and take them back into slavery. So when you think about the whole system of policing, it’s organized around property. If that’s the point of the police, then we shouldn’t be surprised that qualified immunity or that the violent acts of the police would be supported by capital. Why is that? Because capital needs a police force that could terrify people. That’s what the police do.
[Police brutality ambience.]
JS: Trump has used his attacks on the Black Lives Matter protests and antifa as a distraction from his colossally incompetent and cold-hearted response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a crisis that has disproportionately impacted Black and Latino people, as well as the poor and working classes. It was this tactic that set the stage for Trump’s garish and disturbing nativist carnival in South Dakota earlier this year. At a Fourth of July speech at the foot of Mt. Rushmore, Trump sought to delegitimize the Black Lives Matter protests as being anarchist or Marxist ploys against America, while simultaneously defending Confederate symbols of white domination.
DJT: Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol and memory of our national heritage. That is why I am deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
JS: As Trump spoke at Mt. Rushmore, Indigenous people and native tribes protested his appearance on what they consider to be stolen land. And they also did so in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives.
[Ambience Indigenous protest.]
DJT: We have to cherish our past. We have to cherish good or bad. We have to understand our past. We have to understand our history. Because if we don’t know our history it could all happen again. Have to know our history.
Nick Estes: When somebody like Trump says, you know, “We’re here to protect our national monuments,” he’s been invoking the language of heritage, which is kind of like a dog whistle for the “it’s heritage, not hate” kind of speak around the Confederate monuments as well as the Confederate battle flag.
JS: Native American historian Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
NE: He’s not including Indigenous people in this particular rhetoric because our monuments, our history as Indigenous people, is under constant erasure. And to reduce the kind of struggles over monuments, over how we know and how we write history in this particular moment, to just the idea of Confederate monuments or, you know, Union monuments, completely ignores the larger kind of context of U.S. history. And it attempts to sanitize it, between: Oh, we have good colonizers and we have bad colonizers.
JS: As protests continued, Trump summoned the threat of violence under the guise of “law and order,” not only through the power of the state, but once again through thinly veiled appeals to his supporters to act on their own.
DJT: If Biden wins, the mob wins. If Biden wins, the rioters, anarchists, arsonists and flag burners…
DJT: And if they win, Sleepy Joe, if they win — because he has no power over these people. These people are crazed lunatics. If they win, your cities will be like this. You’ll lose all rights. Your Constitution will be worthless. It’ll be a terrible, terrible thing.
JS: Just like in Charlottesville, cars emerged as one of the preferred weapons of white supremacists. This summer, there were at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protestors — 96 of those drivers were civilians, and eight were cops.
[Vehicle collision ambience, whistles.]
JS: Trump’s rhetoric once again manifested into real world violence. Armed militias took to the streets, looking to commit violence for Trump’s cause under the banner of “Making America Great Again.”
Protestor: This is America. This is our country.
Protestor: That’s right.
Protestor: We’re taking it back.
JS: Historian Dr. Keisha Blain, author of “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom,” explained the roots of this well-worn authoritarian strategy of using both official and unofficial forces to terrorize already victimized and vulnerable populations.
Keisha Blain: I think about the era of lynching and the reasons why we saw, in the late 19th century, even in the early 20th century, so many lynchings taking place across the country and one of the — you know, people would ask at the time, as we’re asking now about police violence, why are so many Black people being lynched? And one of the answers to that question is that so many Black people were being lynched because white racists were emboldened. They were emboldened by the state. They were emboldened by the support of local police. They recognized that they could do it and they could get away with it. And so the fear is in this moment — what will people do? What will white supremacists do when they recognize that their actions will not lead to any negative consequences? I do worry.
And already there was one video that caught my attention of a group of white men, some carrying bats and just walking through the streets, emboldened and encouraged to go into the communities and squash the protests, you know, because they feel like Trump just gave them the green light.
Vigilantes in Philadelphia: A cop can’t defend himself, so we’re here. Anyone who wants to throw shit at a cop or pick on a cop, pick one of us the fuck out and we’ll go around the corner and fight, one on one.
KB: Today it’s bats and tomorrow it’s guns.
JS: By the end of August, an estimated 15 to 26 million Americans had participated in Black Lives Matter protests. On August 23, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot four times in the back by police as his three young children sat in the backseat of their car.
Anchor: Tonight there’s growing outrage over this video showing at least two police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin with their guns drawn following 29-year-old Jacob Blake as he walks around the front of a gray SUV. We paused the video after he opens the door with his back to an officer. At least seven shots can be heard.
JS: Street protests soon followed with some demonstrators defacing police vehicles and the local courthouse. The National Guard was deployed and word began to spread that white supremacists were preparing to join them armed and in the streets.
Richie McGinniss: What are you doing out here? Obviously you’re armed and you’re in front of this business we saw burning last night. So what’s up?
Kyle Rittenhouse: So people are getting injured and our job is to protect this business. Part of my job is if there’s somebody hurt. I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle. It’s to protect myself.
JS: Like clockwork, armed counter protestors and militia members arrived in Kenosha with the sole ambition to confront the largely peaceful protestors. The local police were actually seen thanking these vigilantes and giving them water.
Kenosha Police: Thank you for your cooperation. We understand what you’re doing. Thank you. If you need water. We appreciate you guys, we really do.
JS: On the third day of protests, a 17-year-old from Illinois named Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two protestors and wounded another.
Kyle Rittenhouse: We’re protecting from the citizens. And I just got pepper sprayed by a person in the crowd.
Interviewer: So you had non-lethal but you didn’t respond.
Kyle Rittenhouse: We don’t have non-lethal.
Interviewer: So you guys are full-on ready to defend the property.
Kyle Rittenhouse: Yes, we are. Now, if I can ask, can you guys step…
Protester: We got a gun, baby. Oh!
Protester: He shot him! [Bleep]
JS: Donald Trump defended Rittenhouse.
DJT: That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw and he was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like. And he fell. And then they very violently attacked him and it was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been — he probably would have been killed. But it’s under investigation.
JS: Like that Apprentice season that never aired, the stoking of racial animus, for Trump, has one primary function: to pay dividends to his agenda. But Trump is not the host of a reality show now. His words and deeds are deadly. His racism, emboldened by the power of the presidency, is lethal. Here is NYU professor Nikhil Pal Singh.
Nikhil Pal Singh: You remember his first, very first political act was taking out a full-page ad in The Daily News calling for the execution of five African-American boys who were wrongly accused, it turns out, of raping a white woman in Central Park. And Trump called for their death. He still, even in the revelations that have come since, never admitted that he was wrong. Trump is all of it, really. He’s the reactionary business ethic. He’s unilateral militarism. He’s hostile to a diverse demos, and he embraces the extractive mania of environmental deregulation. He represents, in some ways, all the worst aspects of our history. And they have all, in many ways, coalesced to all of our horror.
JS: And now, as the 2020 election looms ever closer, the Trump campaign, the GOP and the president himself are waging an open campaign to disenfranchise voters — particularly Black voters.
Journalist Ari Berman, an election expert and author of the book “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” discussed these tactics.
Ari Berman: The first thing to understand is that Republicans were already engaged in a widespread effort to make it more difficult to vote because of the pandemic. They had already passed restrictions on voting in half the states in the country — in 25 states — ranging from requiring voter IDs, to cutting back on early voting, to closing polling places, to purging the voter rolls, to preventing people with past felony convictions from voting. So there are a whole series of restrictions they had already put in place before the pandemic, and now voting is just so much more difficult when people can’t safely leave their homes. And the country is really not prepared to hold anywhere close to an all-mail election.
JS: What Trump and William Barr have said in recent weeks about the upcoming election is absolutely chilling. Both are spouting blatant lies about widespread Democratic voter fraud.
DJT: This whole thing, I’ve been telling you, this whole ballot scam is going to cause a lot of problems for our country. I want to see a very peaceful transition but it’s got to be a legal process.
William Barr: This is playing with fire. We’re a very closely divided country here. And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government, and people trying to change the rules to this methodology, which, as a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion is reckless and dangerous. And people are playing with fire.
JS: Trump has called on his own supporters to just show up rogue at polling places on election day to monitor other voters, a clear call for acts of intimidation.
Chris Wallace: President Trump, you go first.
DJT: I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. As you know today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia they went in to watch — they were called poll watchers, a very safe, a very nice thing — they were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things. And I am urging, I am urging my people — I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election —
CW: You’re urging them what?
DJT: I am a hundred percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.
CW: What does that mean, ‘not go along’? Does that mean you’re going to tell your people to take to the streets?
DJT: It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots.
CW: And what would you do about that?
DJT: They’re not equipped to — These people aren’t equipped to handle it, number one. Number two, they cheat. They cheat.
Hey, they found ballots in a waste paper basket three days ago and they all had the name — military ballots, they were military — they all had the name Trump on them.
JS: It is abundantly clear that voter suppression, with all of its real and racist history in this country, it’s not going to be a concern for Donald Trump, it’s going to be an asset. As Ari Berman points out, William Barr, Donald Trump and others, they’ll be focused on how to intimidate, disenfranchise, and contest the results — plunging us all into assured chaos come November.
Ari Berman: The biggest thing that I’m afraid about is a Bush v. Gore scenario not in one state, but in five or six states, and a Supreme Court declaring Donald Trump the winner of the next election, as opposed to the people actually deciding.
JS: This has been Part 3 of an Intercepted limited documentary series, American Mythology: The Presidency of Donald Trump.
Over the next week we are going to be releasing an episode each weekday focusing on a different aspect of the Trump presidency and digging into the history and context of the actions of this administration. Make sure to tune in on Monday to part four of this series where we’ll take an in-depth look at Donald Trump’s policies on war and national security.
American Mythology: The Presidency of Donald Trump is an Intercepted limited documentary series. You can follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Lucie Kroening. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Make sure to tell your friends and even your foes about this series and tune in for episode four on Monday. Until then, I’m Jeremy Scahill.