Greg Gianforte's jail mugshot
Greg Gianforte's jail mugshot - Gallatin County, Montana Detention Center

Montana body-slam reveals a GOP problem

Montana’s starting to look more like Moscow, after then-Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte’s assault Wednesday on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. As the Guardian reported and a Fox News reporter in the room confirmed, Gianforte allegedly grabbed Jacobs and slammed him to the ground. This incident comes on the heels of other instances of political reporters facing physical intimidation and arrest for doing their jobs — which is the persistent questioning of public figures.

Gianforte’s action may cost him personally: he’s been charged with misdemeanor assault and he lost some key endorsements — though he managed to win anyway in a state where Republicans have held the House seat for more than 20 years. Yet there’s a bigger picture to consider — this is also a perfect storm for the GOP. It highlights the expressions of violence that permeate a party that is dangerously dependent on the National Rifle Association, supports militia groups who elsewhere might be considered dangerous insurgents, and backs those who use violent speech — such as several state GOP lawmakers who called for Democratic Party Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to be killed.

But this incident also shows how effective President Donald Trump’s attempts to criminalize the media have been, and how his glorification of strongmen sets the tone for everyday behavior by the rank and file.

Donald Trump came out swinging at journalists from the very start of his presidential campaign. He labeled journalists as dishonest jackals out to smear all that was decent — him above all. At his rallies, he treated the press as though they were suspects, penning them behind security barriers and trying to intimidate them. Trump even backed up his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, after he roughed up Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a rally in March 2016.

It’s just as well that National Public Radio and other media outlets offered reporters on the Trump beat the kind of threat-awareness training normally given to those who cover conflict zones abroad. Gianforte’s alleged assault on Jacobs — after asking a question about the CBO report on the impact of the Republican health care bill — shows they may need it. And how can it be otherwise, when Trump spent so much energy training his followers to hate them? “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required,” reads a T-shirt still popular at Trump events.

As someone who writes about authoritarians, I’m not surprised that President Trump would like to take the next step of jailing journalists, as a leaked memo given to former FBI director James Comey reveals. Then the real sport can begin, out of sight.

Read the entire essay at CNN

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