Trump's violence has been normalized: Why the media ignored MAGA's threat against Barack Obama

Donald Trump's threats of eliminationist and other forms of violence have only escalated since being indicted

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 10, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Barack Obama (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Barack Obama (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has spent more than seven years planting millions of seeds of violence, hate, and chaos all over the United States. He is a constant gardener who has sowed a horrible crop.

Last Thursday, Trump posted on his Truth Social disinformation platform what he believed to be the Washington D.C. home address of former president Barack Obama. What happened next was both predictable and what Trump obviously intended. One of Trump's followers, a man authorities say participated in the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, appears to have been intent on assassinating Barack Obama and acted on his Great Leader's encouragement to such violence. According to the Justice Department, 37-year-old Taylor Taranto traveled to D.C. with two firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. And as the Associated Press reports: 

On the day of his June 29 arrest, prosecutors said, Taranto reposted a Truth Social post from Trump containing what Trump claimed was Obama's home address. In a post on Telegram, Taranto wrote: "We got these losers surrounded! See you in hell, Podesta's and Obama's." That's a reference to John Podesta, the former chair of Hillary Clinton's 2016 Democratic presidential campaign….

He was arrested outside of the former president's residence.

Taranto is not alone. Political scientists, law enforcement, and other experts have shown that millions of Trumpists and other right-wingers support using violence to return Trump and the MAGA movement to power. Of that group, it is estimated that there are many thousands who are willing to directly engage in acts of violence and terrorism, as seen on Jan. 6 and elsewhere.

A new report by the public watchdog and government transparency and accountability group CREW details how almost 200 of Trump's followers believed they were following his commands when they attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6:

In letters to federal judges, federal court filings, and appeals to the public, these defendants and their legal representatives have made it clear that Trump's repeated false statements and calls to action drove their actions that day. These findings bolster those of the January 6th Select Committee which found Trump was the "central cause" of the attack on the Capitol…. CREW's analysis bolsters the evidence that January 6th was the result of organized efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to halt the certification of a free and fair election by force.

If Trump's cultist had been successful in his mission to kill or otherwise do serious harm to Obama (and presumably his family) last week, the United States would have experienced a level of shock and trauma and resulting tumult that I do not want to contemplate – this pain would have been especially extreme for Black Americans.

Yet, many Americans have not heard about these events.

Why is this? There are many reasons that include a profound level of denial and an irresponsible choice (and act of cowardice) by the American mainstream news media (with some notable exceptions) to either outright ignore or otherwise downplay the violence of Trump and the Republican fascists and MAGA movement and larger white right. Somehow, the mainstream news media and its gatekeepers have incorrectly concluded that such a choice will magically return the country to "normal." 

The mainstream news media also believes that it is in its financial interests to not alienate Trump's followers and other "conservatives" and members of the right. For example, see the recent changes at CNN. Thus, a commitment to false standards of "balance" and "fairness" and "bothsideism" and "centrism" gives way to a platform for Republican fascists, members of the Trump regime and other malign actors who can launder and circulate their poison even more widely. The mainstream news media has also been conditioned and intimidated into such behavior by the American right through false accusations of mostly non-existent "liberal bias." 

Careerism among mainstream rank-and-file reporters, journalists and editors encourages a type of groupthink and aversion to speaking too boldly and too directly and too consistently about the dangers to American democracy and society embodied by Donald Trump and today's Republican Party and larger white right. In all, getting promoted and playing it safe by representing "the consensus", i.e. the herd mentality, matters more than telling unpopular truths.

The mainstream news media are also members of the elite class. They value access to Trump, the Republican Party, and other centers of right-wing power and influence more than they do staying true to their responsibilities of holding the powerful accountable as the Fourth Estate in a democracy. The mainstream media, both the institution and the people in it, are also of "the system" and will cling to it no matter how damaged and failing it is. Thus, there exists a desperate need to normalize Trumpism and today's Republican Party and conservative movement no matter how extreme and antidemocracy they have now become.

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In the case of Trump's cultist who was on a mission to assassinate Obama, many in the news media will likely defend not amplifying that story by claiming that the suspect in question may be emotionally disturbed or mentally ill. That, however, does not minimize or somehow erase the danger to Obama. Moreover, the alleged would-be assassin's mental health is a legal matter that is separate from the fact that Trump (again) targeted Obama for violence. Trump's incitements to and direct threats of violence against Obama are part of a much larger pattern of behavior that must be highlighted and not ignored as something "everyone knows." 

Trump's incitements to and direct threats of violence against Barack Obama are part of a much larger pattern of behavior. He is now suggesting that special counsel Jack Smith should be "put out to rest." He has also asserted – absurdly — that Smith and President Biden are cocaine addicts (Trump went so far as to suggest that Smith is a "crackhead"). Trump has repeatedly made threats and encouraged violence against President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other prosecutors and law enforcement who are daring to hold him accountable for his public crime spree. In addition to Trump's threats of a "final battle" and revenge, the ex-president and coup plotter has repeatedly suggested that Biden and other leading Democrats are traitors and enemies of the nation who should be punished accordingly to save the country.

Trump is now sending out a series of fundraising emails directly accusing President Biden and his family of being guilty of "treason." Historically, the punishment for treason is death. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump directly threatened Hillary Clinton with "Second Amendment people" – which means gun violence and death.

Trump has publicly and repeatedly stated that his followers who participated in his Jan. 6 coup attempt by launching a lethal attack on the Capitol are "political prisoners" and "patriots" who he will pardon if he becomes president again.

Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party and its presumed 2024 presidential nominee. Republican elected officials and other senior members of the party are echoing Trump's threats of violence and other lawbreaking including support for the Jan. 6 terrorists. Trump's MAGA cultists and other right-wing militants are displaying black flags as a signal that they will offer no quarter or mercy to the Democrats, liberals, and other "enemies" in what they believe is an imminent second American Civil War.

For several decades, the right-wing news media and propaganda machine echo chamber, anchored by Fox News, has encouraged eliminationist and other massive widescale violence against Democrats ("Demorats"), liberals ("libtards"), progressives ("commies", "socialists"), black and brown people ("anti-white", "leaches", "takers not makers", "welfare queens", "Woke" and "BLM"), migrants and refugees from Latin and South America and other nonwhite countries ("rats", "rapists", "poison", "snakes", "infestation", "vermin"), Muslims ("terrorists"), atheists ("godless" and "evil"), feminists and others who believe that women should have reproductive rights and freedoms ("feminazis" and "baby killers"), the LGBTQI community ("groomers" and "pedophiles") and others deemed to be the "enemy" because they are not "real Americans", meaning White right-wing "Christian" authoritarians and "conservatives".

These threats of eliminationist and other forms of violence have only escalated and become even more extreme and common throughout the Age of Trump and beyond as the country descends into what journalist Jeff Sharlet has described as a slow civil war.

In a recent conversation here at Salon, Sharlet elaborates:

As a society and country, America is going to experience and have to go through fascism. We're not in it now. There's a fascist movement now. It drives me crazy. People say, "Well, it's not like the Hitler regime." No, it's not. That was a regime. We don't have a fascist regime. We could with a fascist movement. It's worse post-Trump than it was during Trump's presidency.

I am sympathetic to the argument that in some ways it is unfair to fully blame the American people for their failure to truly comprehend the existential danger to their society, democracy – and yes, safety and lives – embodied by Donald Trump, his MAGA movement, and the Republican fascists and larger white right.

As an institution, the American mainstream news media has failed the public.

However, the American people, like the mainstream news media and the country's responsible political class and other elites, have now had more than seven years of experience with the Trumpocene and its horrors. As such, for them and their leaders to continue to live in a state of denial is now a choice – and a very dangerous one which will not save any of them in the end.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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