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The Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm

Fears that the 2020 election campaign will be marked by violence are growing after a raucous crowd at a Trump rally chanted “send her back” about Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMcCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' White House reverses course on refugee cap after Democratic eruption Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap MORE (D-Minn.), one of four congresswomen attacked earlier in the week by the president.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashBiden: 'Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK' Battle rages over vaccine passports Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote MORE (I-Mich.), a conservative who recently left the Republican Party in protest over the president’s behavior, tweeted on Thursday morning that the Trump rally the previous night was “how history’s worst episodes begin.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezA proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Omar: 'Shameful' Biden reneging on refugee promise MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the members of the self-proclaimed “squad” that Trump has targeted, told reporters on Thursday that the president had “put millions of Americans in danger” with his language.

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The crowd’s chants for the expulsion of a congresswoman from the country on Wednesday evening raised concerns over the nation’s febrile political mood to a new level.

Democrats in Congress called for additional security for Omar and other rank-and-file members, who have seen a spike in death threats according to Capitol Police.

“These are dangerous times. Every member of this House needs additional security,” said Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenBipartisan lawmakers call for action on anti-hate crime measures House Democrat sits on Capitol steps to protest extremist threat Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm MORE (D-Texas).

On Thursday, Trump claimed that he “was not happy” with the anti-Omar chant in North Carolina. Asked why he did not say anything to stop it, Trump demurred, claiming that he “started speaking very quickly” after the chant broke out.

He did not do so, instead pausing for well over 10 seconds.

Trump ignited the broader controversy on Sunday by tweeting that the congresswomen in question should “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.”

All four congresswomen — Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Reps. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' FDA ends restrictions on mailing abortion pills during pandemic Tlaib: US policing 'intentionally racist,' can't be reformed MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMcCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' Pro-Trump lawmakers form caucus promoting 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' Omar: 'Shameful' Biden reneging on refugee promise MORE (D-Mich.) — are U.S. citizens. Only Omar, a child refugee from Somalia, was born outside the United States.

Trump and his allies have denied that his tweets and comments are racist. 

But the president has also signaled he is intent on using white identity politics as a central part of his appeal, meaning that with almost 16 months left until Election Day this is plenty of opportunity for fuel to be added to the fire.

Experts on political extremism express concern that the president’s words could lead to violence. 

“This is the president of the United States — arguably the most powerful person in the world — and so it is hard to overestimate how dangerous it really is,” said Peter Simi, a professor at Chapman University who specializes in the study of extremism.

Referring to Trump’s rally, he added, “Most people who hear those words, even if they agree, are not going to act in a violent fashion. But it only takes one person who has some vulnerability, some susceptibility [to violence] and tragic events could occur.”

David Niewert, the author of “Alt-America,” a book that examines the radical right in the Trump era, drew attention to previous examples where people sympathetic to the president have acted violently. 

The most high-profile example is likely Cesar Sayoc, who has pleaded guilty to sending pipe bombs in the mail to a number of high-profile Democrats, including former President Obama, and Trump critics.

In April, Sayoc wrote to the judge in his case that attending a Trump rally “became like a new found drug” for him. 

Neiwert insisted that no other president, with the possible exception of President Andrew Jackson in the 19th century, was so willing to indulge in demagoguery as Trump.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen in history a president who explicitly is attempting to divide the country rather than unify it. And that is really a horrifying and frightening thought,” he said.

Trump supporters — and conservatives more generally — object to this analysis. 

The president has cast his attacks on the congresswomen as pushing back against Democrats who use what he characterizes as “anti-USA” rhetoric.

Extremist violence has not always been in one direction, either. House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Scalise: House would 'take action' against Gaetz if DOJ filed charges Scalise carries a milk carton saying Harris is 'missing' at the border MORE (R-La.) was badly injured in a June 2017 shooting at a baseball practice, carried out by a left-wing activist.

Trump, despite claiming to be unhappy about the “send her back” chant on Wednesday, has also said that the people saying those words are “people who love our country.”

Later Thursday, after CNN anchor Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperArkansas governor says 'divisive' Trump attacks on GOP officials are 'unhelpful' Arkansas governor: Veto on trans youth bill was a 'message of compassion and conservatism' Buttigieg: Lawmakers can call infrastructure package 'whatever they like' but 'it's good policy' MORE accused Trump’s reelection campaign of using “naked racism” as part of its strategy, a campaign spokesperson blasted the claim as “ridiculous.”

Experts in extremism are alarmed both by how Trump is willing to transgress boundaries that other presidents have respected — and because it may work for him in electoral terms.

Trump’s 2016 campaign ignited several race-related controversies, including the candidate saying in his launch speech that Mexico was sending “rapists” to the United States. 

Trump also called during that campaign for the “shutdown” of Muslim immigration for an unspecified period.

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Trump was now engaging in “a calculated strategy to embolden parts of his base.”

She added that “to stop this, to unwind this, to once again make racism unacceptable, is going to take some work. You have to think that one of the things that might do it is if people start losing elections by doing this.”

But there is a long time to go before Election Day 2020. 

Trump appears to be trying to tie the Democratic Party nationally to the members of “the squad.”

There are also several nonwhite candidates running for the Democratic nomination, and if one of them were to become his general election opponent — at the moment, Sen, Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election Passing the Clean School Bus Act can help protect our children's health and our planet The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal after pushback MORE (D-Calif.) appears the most likely possibility — racial issues could become even more intense.

Experts point out that even the election is not necessarily the end of the story.

Simi, the Chapman University professor, said that for the most hard-line of Trump supporters “victory will be a further emboldening and defeat is going to be framed as some kind of fraudulent election.”

Asked if he saw any reason for optimism in the immediate future, he replied, “I try, for the sake of principle, to find optimism. But right now there is not a lot of reason for it. 

“We are in a very dark time.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE’s presidency.