Authorities say a 19-year-old Missouri man with a Nazi flag in the truck crashed a U-Haul into security barriers near the White House late Monday night. The Nazi flag that authorities say he had with him was later photographed unfurled on the ground near the truck. He could face multiple charges, including threatening to hurt the president.
Trump Jr. wrote, “If the threat of white supremacy is so real, why do they have to outsource all the hate?”
Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, soon retweeted a post that expressed skepticism about the official version of events and added more skepticism of his own. He said of federal law enforcement, “You would think … they would be able to do a much better job at creating fake crimes and fake hate.” Later, in a tweet that drew attention to the suspect’s Indian name, Trump Jr. wrote, “If the threat of white supremacy is so real, why do they have to outsource all the hate?”
That wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Trump Jr. accusing federal authorities of exaggerating the white supremacist threat. Last Saturday, after about a hundred members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front marched in Washington, Trump Jr. suggested the marchers were all feds: “Do we really want to pretend it’s not a fed operation?” he asked on a podcast. He was preaching to the choir of conspiracy theorists across platforms that echoed similar sentiments. Popular podcaster Joe Rogan joked with guest Matt Taibbi that the marchers had to be federal agents because, he said, there were no “fat people” among them.
Those high-profile people weren’t alone. In fact, claiming that federal authorities are falsely connecting crimes to white supremacists has become a trend. Almost as fast as the Secret Service descended on the man in the U-Haul, far-right MAGA followers launched a counteroffensive against any implication that the driver was one of theirs. We’re in an interesting moment when followers and close associates of a former president seem compelled, sometimes in unison, to deny any association with the authoritarian, white supremacist, white nationalist or even neo-Nazi ideologies some of them seem to espouse. To paraphrase a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Methinks they doth protest too much.”
This new strategy involves claiming that any violent incident by someone who even appears to have such leanings is not just a false flag operation but maybe a false flag operation staged by the government. These claims happen so quickly, in such large volume and across so many social media platforms, that the word “feds” was trending on Twitter for much of Tuesday morning. At that time, we didn’t yet have the report from authorities that the U-Haul suspect had “praised Hitler” to police and told them that his intent was to kill President Joe Biden. Facts weren’t needed. Someone had to defend the honor of MAGA loyalists.
The same strategy of feigned disbelief was on display after the May 6 mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas. The police reported that the Latino suspect had “neo-Nazi ideation” and wore associated patches and tattoos, but the MAGA faithful pretended it was all a government ruse designed to make them look bad. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted: “Only dumb white people would believe that a Mexican gang member is killing people for white supremacy.”
The fact that people who aren’t white have been known to identify with white supremacy didn’t stop people from making arguments that law enforcement’s reports about the Allen shooter were wrong. Twitter CEO Elon Musk also joined in and claimed the shooter’s alleged ideologies seemed suspicious.
There are three reasons why this strategy of denying the validity of reports linking violent crimes to white supremacy — and deflecting them onto scheming federal agents — has become so prevalent.
The same strategy of feigned disbelief was on display after the May 6 mass shooting at mall in Allen, Texas.
First, the strategy sends a reassuring message to far-right adherents who might think that a hate-fueled mass shooting, or other violent attack, is their cue to leave the MAGA movement. Well-publicized claims that such crimes or the hateful marchers dressed in khaki cargo pants aren’t real, provides the kind of solace that helps delude adherents into sticking around. Effectively, the message to the MAGA masses is, “Don’t worry. We didn’t do this.”
Second, denial and deflection tactics help far-right extremists convince themselves that the problem of violence associated with white nationalism is overblown. It encourages far-right opinion writers to cherry-pick anecdotes in an attempt to demonstrate that the racism problem isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. But the data tells another story. Violent hate is on the rise.
In 2020, Christopher Wray, the then-FBI director who'd been appointed by Trump, said in testimony before Congress that the Bureau’s data indicates that “motivated violent extremists in recent years have been responsible for the most lethal activity.” Similarly, President Biden told the graduating class of Howard University last Saturday that white supremacy is “the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Third, the deniers and deflectors are increasingly aware that “the feds,” as they consistently call them, are not only investigating their leader but may be close to indicting him. They fear what’s coming. If and when charges come, folks such as Donald Trump Jr. will need to be able to refute any charges by repeating the mantra that the feds make stuff up, including, even criminal cases. They’ll likely tell their followers that the folks who investigated Trump are the same people who staged violent incidents to make it look like MAGA followers were responsible.
Denial, deflection and delusion. That’s not just a Trump Jr. thing. It's also the strategic opiate of the chronically unaware. Sad to see how often it works.