One of the first instances in which Donald Trump publicly broached the subject of political violence came in August 2016, at a campaign rally in North Carolina. Complaining about Hillary Clinton, the Republican presidential candidate said in an unscripted moment, "By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."
It wasn't exactly subtle. Trump seemed to suggest at the time that armed conservatives could take matters into their own hands and stop Clinton's agenda.
As president, Trump has occasionally dipped his feet in the same provocative waters. At an event in Missouri last September, for example, the Republican said, "They're so lucky that we're peaceful. Law enforcement, military, construction workers, Bikers for Trump.... These are tough people. These are great people. But they're peaceful people, and Antifa and all -- they'd better hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way." A couple of months later, he echoed the sentiment.
This week, as the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale noted, Trump sat down with a far-right website called Breitbart.com, which asked about partisan divisions. The president replied:
"It's so terrible what's happening. You know, the left plays a tougher game, it's very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don't play it tougher. Okay?
"I can tell you, I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump -- I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher."
The fact that Trump has used similar rhetoric before does not make this any less alarming. On the contrary, the fact that he keeps returning to the topic suggests his earlier references to political violence weren't random, accidental asides. This is, in other words, a subject that appears to be on the president's mind.