President Donald Trump giggled at a Florida rally Wednesday night when an audience member suggested that the only way to deal with illegal immigrants is to “shoot them.” Trump smiled as he responded, “Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”
Taken without context, it’s a shameful moment not entirely out of character for a president who has repeatedly incited violence at his rallies and makes his disdain for immigrants no secret.
With context, the implication of his comment is dire: There is a homegrown militia currently at the southern border, apparently waiting for an endorsement to shoot migrants entering the country.
On Monday, a police report obtained by The Young Turks revealed that a member of a border militia group said he would like to put all immigrants “in a gas chamber,” as Hitler would have wanted.
“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” Armando Gonzalez, a member of the United Constitutional Patriots, allegedly asked another militiaman.
The UCP, which itself stands accused of illegally detaining hundreds of immigrants at the U.S-Mexico border, was allegedly “training” prior to 2017 to kill Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and billionaire George Soros over their perceived support of anti-fascist activists, according to an FBI affidavit. Despite the recent arrest of its leader, the militia has said that it will continue to roam the border looking for immigrants, an effort it says helps U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Trump, meanwhile, seems to lament his inability to allow border patrol agents to shoot immigrants at will. During Wednesday’s rally, he characterized some border crossings as weak points at which two border patrol agents might be up against “15,000 people marching up.” Then, he noted that he’s not allowed to “let them use their weapons.”
“Don’t forget: We can’t let them use weapons, we can’t, other countries do, we can’t, I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?”
An audience member received round laughter, including from the president, for their reply: “Shoot them!”
Previously, lines have been drawn between Trump’s rhetoric and real-life violence carried out in his name. In October, after explosive devices and suspicious packages started showing up at the homes and offices of top Democrats and media headquarters like that of CNN, the victims pointed to the president’s rhetoric as inciteful.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker said at the time. “The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”