On Wednesday (September 18), the 45th president used his Twitter pulpit to spread another racist, Islamophobic lie about Representative Ilhan Omar. His tweet will once again turn up the heat of the violent threats against her. How do I know? Inspiring hate-fueled violence is what he does best.
Last month, the El Paso shooter echoed Trump’s exact words in a manifesto posted just before he drove 10 hours to kill 22 people in an anti-Latinx rampage. Among the victims were 15-year old Javier Amir Rodriguez, who was there to buy school supplies. The shooter, who witnesses say was searching for Latinx people to kill, jumped over a counter to shoot him in the head at close range.
In April, the FBI arrested a 55-year-old man from upstate New York for allegedly threatening to kill Omar. When an FBI agent interviewed him, the man “stated that he was a patriot, that he loves the President and that he hates radical Muslims in our government.”
In 2017, a Syracuse man was arrested by the United States Capitol Police for threatening to kill Representative Maxine Waters the same week that Trump tweeted this threat: “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has … just called for harm to supporters … of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!’”
In 2016, a 32-year old man stabbed a White woman and a Black man after seeing them kiss on a public street. When police arrived, he said he was a “White supremacist” and that “he planned on heading down to the next Trump rally.”
You may be thinking, “Trump is amplified plenty of places. Why focus on Twitter?” Because Twitter is the centerpiece of Trump’s constant campaign of distraction, misinformation and racist hate-mongering. Trump uses Twitter to set the media agenda, which in turn shapes the public conversation. And because Twitter, like other major social media platforms, is designed make us addicted to what we read.
Yes, Trump makes policy pronouncements via Twitter that are important for the public to know. But that information is available via other channels. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Trump Tweets are intentionally designed to distract and disinform. And incredibly, we all know it.
When will Twitter step up and remove itself as the crown jewel of Trump’s hate propaganda machine? When will it ban White supremacists in general, as Facebook and YouTube have done? Some say it won’t matter, because White supremacists will just retreat to other platforms.
That’s true. But it’s also an effective move. When these movements are chased away from major platforms, they take a major hit in their ability to evangelize and fundraise, and many wither away, taking their violent aims with them.
When I think about this issue, though, I don’t think about public policy guys or hot debate points. I think about Omar’s young daughter. I think about Javier, who went to Wal-Mart with his uncle and never came home. I think about Sylvan and Bernice Simon, who were killed in the same synagogue where they married in 1956.
Yes, there are plenty of other White supremacists on Twitter; they should be banned, too. But I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, which is that Trump’s account is unlike any other. He is literally called the “commander in chief”; it’s not hard to see why his screeds inspire, influence and inflame.
Trump uses Twitter to stoke nativism, xenophobia and demagoguery that by definition calls for the extinction of anyone who isn’t considered a White American. The victims are not theoretical, they are flesh and blood human beings. Why would any platform, especially the one that almost singularly determines the tone and terminology of our public discourse, allow itself to be wielded this way?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that history will judge Twitter and the rest of the compliant corporate media ecosystem harshly. I just wonder how many more crimes and catastrophes it will take for it to realize the err in its ways.
It’s time for Twitter to ban Trump, or go down in history as the microphone he used to Make America Hate Again.
The views expressed are solely hers and do not represent the official position of Watson’s employer or any organization.
Collette Watson is a Phoenix-based writer, musician and communications strategist. She’s co-founder of production studio BlackRiver.Life, co-host of the podcast Venus Clapback and creative communications director for national media reform group Free Press. Follow her on Twitter @collette_music.