If Donald J. Trump can’t win the presidency, it seems he’s determined to go out with a bang. Win or lose, he’s determined to make his mark on America—even if the mark is drawn in bloodstains on the pavement. And should that happen, the supposedly upstanding party leaders who lined up behind him will be forever known as his enablers.
Unless you live a life of quiet contemplation in some isolated locale, you surely know that Trump, the Republican nominee for the presidency, suggested Tuesday that “Second Amendment people” could take matters into their own hands should his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, win the election and appoint justices to the Supreme Court. You might also know that Trump is suffering in the polls, and cannot bear to be out of the media limelight for a nanosecond.
“Second Amendment people,” of course, refers to that subset of gunowners who see their right to bear arms, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, as somehow threatened by any regulation of firearms.
That comment alone would have been incendiary enough, but set in the context of the conspiracy theories that animate Trump’s followers—with the candidate’s encouragement—it’s potentially lethal. And Trump knows this. That’s why he worded his suggestion as he did. His intention was clearly conveyed through the code words, “Second Amendment people,” yet his idiosyncratic syntax allowed the tiniest bit of deniability.
The set-up was Trump’s lie that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment, a false claim based on nothing the Democratic candidate has ever done or said. It’s a lie Trump repeats again and again, and factcheckers debunk it again and again. But the facts and the checking have no effect on Trump’s followers, assured as they have been, time and again, that “the system is rigged” against them. The system to which Trump refers is construed to be some all-encompassing conspiracy concocted by the media and political leaders, all designed, in his telling, to deprive his followers of their purportedly rightful place at the head of the line.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” Trump said. “I don’t know.”
But you already know that part. What you may not know is that Trump and his acolytes have been trafficking in the conspiracy theory that the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered in order to create the current deadlock on the Supreme Court, which has led to several significant cases being reassigned to lower-court rulings after 4-4 ties among the justices. Most notable among these was Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could have decimated the U.S. labor movement if a conservative majority on the Court had its way.
Here’s how Trump followed up that Second Amendment bit. “You see what’s going on?” he asked. “We’re tied because Scalia—this was not supposed to happen. Justice Scalia was going to be around for 10 more years at least and this is what happens. That was a horrible thing.”
In February, Trump was asked by far-right radio host Michael Savage if an investigation of Scalia’s death was warranted. Trump responded, according to Right Wing Watch, that the circumstances in which the justice’s body was found were “pretty unusual” because “he was found with a pillow on his face.”
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a de facto member of Trump’s campaign, is a major purveyor of the Scalia myth.
In Trump’s affirmation of the Scalia conspiracy theory, he never expressly states that the justice was murdered—just that the whole deal looks fishy to him.
Donald J. Trump may have no inclination to curb his insatiable need for attention, but he’s not an idiot. Somewhere, in his heart of hearts—assuming he actually has one—Trump knows he may very well lose the biggest contest of his life on November 8. So he’s building his post-candidacy legacy. When the history books are written, Trump could well have a chapter devoted to the mayhem he fomented, about how the actions of an unhinged followers altered the course of events.
And that, apparently, will suit him just fine.