Since he descended from a Trump Tower escalator in New York in 2015 to begin his presidential campaign, Trump has made little effort to hide his affection for increased violence against his perceived enemies. When Trump condemned violent acts, he repeatedly couched the language in a both-sides, tit-for-tat style.
After rioters stormed the Capitol building Wednesday — as Congress began its formal recognition of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — Trump released a short video calling for the rioters to leave. His statement was peppered with sympathy, telling the rioters, “We love you, you’re very special.”
Trump mentioned in the video the false conspiracy theory that he actually won the 2020 election, saying, “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace.”
On social media posts, Trump said, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”
Twitter and Facebook later removed some of his statements and suspended his accounts for a period of time, citing policy violations.
Before his presidency
Trump has often avoided full-blown condemnations after moments of violence.
After a 2015 beating of a homeless man by two men making anti-immigrant statements saying, according to police, “Donald Trump was right,” Trump said he had not heard about the incident and added, it would “be a shame.” He quickly pivoted to highlighting those who adhere to his views.
“I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate,” Trump said. “They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”
Trump later tweeted that the incident was “terrible” and he would “never condone violence.”
At a 2016 rally after a protester was punched by a Trump supporter, Trump said days later that he “thought it was very, very appropriate,” and also “that’s what we need a little bit more of.”
‘Very fine people’
After a 2017 White nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to violence against counter-protesters and one woman killed, Trump initially blamed “many sides” for the attacks over the course of that Saturday. Remaining silent on Sunday, Trump on Monday condemned the White supremacists and neo-Nazis that took part in the rampage.
In a press conference that Tuesday, Trump changed course again and cast equal blame on neo-Nazi and “alt-left” groups, adding, “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”
When asked about the neo-Nazis at the rally, Trump said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” stating some on the far-right side were supporting the keeping of a Confederate statue.
Trump supporters have consistently said this quote has been misinterpreted and skewed by political opponents, with any criticism of his remarks lacking the full context of the situation. However, the purpose of that weekend was clear from the onset for anyone who wished to attend: The event was organized by a White nationalist for others to rally behind their cause.
In 2019, defending those comments, Trump said, “I have answered that question, and if you look at what I said, you will see that question was answered perfectly.”
Fanning the flames in 2020
Protests following the death of George Floyd in May led to demonstrations in Minneapolis.
After buildings and stores were damaged, Trump took to Twitter to declare “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Twitter flagged the tweet as a “glorification of violence based on the historical context” of the line, which was used in the 1960s by a Miami police chief in the wake of riots.
Trump later said he referred to shootings in general, not shootings by supporters or authorities.
During the first 2020 presidential debate in September, Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace if he would condemn White supremacists and militia groups.
“I’m willing to do that,” the President said, without condemning anyone. “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” Trump deflected and dodged a follow-up question, saying “almost everything” of the violence he’s seen has been from “Antifa and the left.”
“What do you want to call them,” the President said. “Give me a name. Give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn?”
Biden then mentioned the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for its anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric, which Trump seized on.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he said. “Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing.”
The immediate reaction following his comments was bipartisan condemnation, fearing the “stand back and stand by” remark was a future call to arms. Members of the Proud Boys reveled in the moment.
When asked for clarification the next day if he condemned White supremacists, Trump said, “I’ve always denounced any form, any form of any of that, you have to denounce,” before repeating his call for Biden to denounce Antifa groups.
“The problem is on the left and Biden refuses to talk about it, he refuses to issue the words law and order,” Trump said.
Trump, with a well-known penchant for posting on Twitter constantly, ultimately waited until an interview with Fox News two days after the debate, stating, “Let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all White supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”
CNN’s Paul P. Murphy, Jason Hoffman, Kevin Liptak, Dan Merica, Brian Stelter and Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.