Politicians address – and don’t address – political violence

No incivility here
Vice President Mike Pence campaigns with congressional candidate Cresent Hardy at the Venetian Saturday. Photo: Michael Lyle

With Election Day finally — some might say mercifully — in sight, Nevada candidates have been joined on the campaign trail by famous astronauts and national political figures. But amid news of attempted bombings and hate-inspired murders, candidates and their surrogates in Nevada have had to recast their stump speeches, acknowledging political violence in the same breath they talk about immigration, the economy and the direction of the country.

During the first week of early voting, pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democratic figures, including former President Barack Obama, progressive donor George Soros, and the Clintons.

Cesar Sayoc, a fervent Trump supporter, was arrested in connection to the bombs.

Prior to the arrest, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root and Amy Tarkanian, the former chair of the Nevada Republican Party and wife of congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian, were among many political and media figures on the right who took to social media to echo a conspiracy theory that the mail bombs were all part of a Democratic plot to make Trump and his supporters look bad.

There were also two suspected hate crimes within a 72-hour-period.

After trying, and failing to enter a black church in Kentucky, a white gunman shot two African-American people — he was heard uttering “whites don’t kill whites.”

And Saturday, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs shot and killed 11 people and injured six more at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The shooter’s social media posts showed he had picked up what has become a Republican rallying cry — the threat posed by the refugee caravan. The shooter  also had bought into the conspiracy theory that Soros, who is Jewish, was bankrolling it in a deliberate attempt to undermine … something.

Trump and other mainstream Republican politicians routinely blame Soros for all manner of events that displease them, even alleging that thousands of protestors who demonstrated against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were paid by Soros.

“We are better than this,” Nevada gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak told a group of potential voters Friday referencing the mail bombs.

Sen. Mike Lee, who was in town supporting congressional candidate Cresent Hardy Saturday, also talked about how the country needs to go through “a time of healing.” Citing the Pittsburgh mass murder, Lee said “We need to return to our roots … We need to return not only to an era of civility, but also to an era of love.”

Politicians in both parties have been calling for a return to civility — while at the same time debating the cause of civility’s decline.

Many point to Trump. During the campaign trail Trump told supporters he’d punch protestors in the face, and even encouraged the crowd to “knock the crap out of” some of them. He has repeatedly called the media “the enemy of the people” — CNN, which was also sent a pipe bomb, is routinely called”fake news” by Trump, and even was attacked by him after a bomb was sent to CNN.

At a rally on Wednesday, Trump called for “peace and harmony.” In another rally a few days before, he praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana for assaulting a reporter in 2017, saying: “Never wrestle him. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy.”

Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted “Political disagreements are fine, even healthy, but we should always be civil and respect each other’s humanity.” He then joked that his political opponent Beto O’Rouke should share a jail cell with Hillary Clinton — it’s unclear why Cruz, a graduate of Harvard Law, thought O’Rourke should be incarcerated, but the crowd responded, chanting “Lock him up.”

Republicans have recently decried the left’s angry “mob,” citing incidents of sexual assault survivors cornering Senate Republicans to question them on their pledge to support the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had been accused of attacking classmates. They also reference protestors interrupting Trump Administration officials and Congressional leaders while they are out in public. 

Here in Nevada, an organizer with American Bridge, a progressive organization, was arrested after being accused of assaulting Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s campaign manager. “This mob behavior from the left is out of control,” responded a Laxalt campaign spokesman, seizing on the incident to advance the “mob” narrative.

A small group of people gathered Saturday morning inside the Sands Showroom at the Venetian. Wearing MAGA hats and American flag apparel, they were eagerly awaiting Vice President Mike Pence, who flew into town to campaign for Hardy — Pence flew to Carson City that same day to campaign for Laxalt and Sen. Dean Heller.

“There is no place in America for violence or anti-semitism,” he said at the beginning of his speech. “This has to end.”

He later referenced the Route 91 mass shooting last October in an appeal to the audience to pray for the victims of the most recent shooting and the overall state of America. Authorities have not determined any motive, and certainly not a political one, behind the shooting.

Pence made no mention of the dozen pipe bombs that had been sent to Democrats in the last week.

Hardy did not address the violence. 

Since Sayoc was caught, Pence has been asked whether the president should take responsibility. He responded: “Look, the reality is the people responsible are the people responsible. And what the President and I stand for, and I think every American stands for, is that threats or acts of political violence from anyone, anywhere, for any reason should not be allowed.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Cory Gardner also made their way to Henderson to campaign for U.S. Dean Heller and Tarkanian on Friday.

When asked by the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the bomb threats, Graham said: “This is political terrorism generated by a man who thinks he’s helping Trump, who’s hurting America. I hope he feels the full force of the law. I don’t blame President Trump for his actions any more than I blame Bernie Sanders for the actions of the man who shot Steve Scalise.”

Sanders never attacked or called for the attack of Scalise at a rally. Trump has repeatedly attacked and antagonized those who received mailed threats.

Graham didn’t stop there. He also told the crowd: “If you’re the radical left and you want to destroy this country, kiss my ass.”

Across town the same day Graham was in Southern Nevada, Sisolak hosted a variety of campaign events within the hispanic community with Jose Hernandez, the first Mexican-American astronaut, by his side.

“The Hispanic population is going to decide who wins this election,” he told a crowd at Make the Road, a Latino engagement organization.

While he made pitches for protecting DREAMers and TPS recipients and talked about policies for paid sick leave, it all fell under the guise of voting for a different vision for the country. It also came back to civility — Sisolak also launched a television ad discussing recent events.

“If you watch news right now, there are bombs going to former presidents. Bombs!” he told the crowd. “Reporters are getting punched in the face. Women are totally being disrespected. This is not the world I want to live in. It’s not our Nevada. It’s not our country.”

Meanwhile, as some politicians have taken to calling for civility — in greater or lesser consistency — on the campaign trail, others have openly complained that calls for civility may in and of themselves skew the election.

“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, “and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows — news not talking politics. Very unfortunate what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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