The assassination of journalists represents a post-facto slide into fascism

The first funerals for the five journalists slain by a deranged anti-press activist with a penchant for threatening journalists and supporting alt-right heroes like Donald Trump and former Anne Arundel county board member and racist League of the South advocate Michael Peroutka had yet to be held when Trump warned his opponents to “just take it easy because some of the languages, some of the words you . . . even some of the radical ideas, I really think they’re very bad for the country.”

It was just that sort of anti-press campaign rhetoric from Trump that in September 2015, prompted Jarrod Ramos to tweet a warning to the newspaper. Responding to the paper’s editorial that called Trump “unqualified” to be president, Ramos warned that it “could end badly” for the Capital Gazette. On June 28, 2018, it did end badly for five people at the Maryland community and state capital newspaper, when Ramos opened fire with a pump-action shotgun inside the open-bay newsroom.

What happened at the Annapolis newspaper could have occurred at any newspaper in the United States that criticized Trump and his policies. Some of Trump’s supporters have not hesitated to threaten journalists in phone calls and on social media. Some even threatened violence against surviving journalists at the Capital Gazette. In an open letter published on July 1, the newspaper staff revealed they had received “death threats and emails from people we don’t know celebrating our loss.” The newspaper also cited “the people who called for one of our reporters to get fired because she got angry and cursed on national television after witnessing her friends getting shot.” The Capital Gazette also wrote a response to Trump, referring to his anti-press venom: “We won’t forget being called an enemy of the people. No, we won’t forget that. Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”

Trump has already slipped deeply into the territory of a fascist demagogue. He has called the press the “enemy of the American people” that purveys “fake news.” He called the press a “stain on America” and a “great danger to our country.”

In Trump’s world, any press organ, whether it is a newspaper, like the Capital Gazette that reports on local high school sports, local crime activity, political doings in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, and restaurant reviews or national newspapers, like The Washington Post or New York Times, is an “enemy” of the people. Amid such an environment, any gun-toting neo-Nazi or white supremacist, already lionized by Trump as “good people” in the wake of the alt-right-led violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, against peaceful anti-Ku Klux Klan marchers, have, can, and will target opponents of Trump as fair game.

In April 2017, a noose was left at the front door of The Sacramento Valley Mirror, a small local paper in Willows, California. The noose was left after Trump’s incessant haranguing of the press as his enemy.

In January of this year, Brandon Griesemer of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was arrested for making four telephone death threats against CNN employees at its Atlanta headquarters. In one call, Griesemer said, “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.” He also made slurs against Jews and African-Americans.

Trump’s comments about the press have resulted in the alt-right coining a new phrase: “journocaust,” which means a holocaust for journalists. Just prior to the massacre of the Annapolis journalists, alt-right rabble-rouser and Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos texted a message calling for vigilantes to start killing journalists.

It was only a matter of time before Trump’s incendiary anti-press bombast would result in journalists being murdered. In November 2017, Trump, while visiting Philippines fascist President Rodrigo Duterte, laughed out loud after Duterte twice referred to members of the traveling White House press corps as “spies.” Since taking office in 2016, four journalists in the Philippines have been killed, their attackers spurred on by Duterte’s anti-press vitriol. Duterte said of the deaths, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.” Duterte, while mayor of Davao, was dogged by Jun Pala, a local journalist who uncovered the mayor’s rampant corruption. In 2013, Pala was assassinated. Duterte, after being elected president, said of journalists who deserved to be murdered, “The example here is Pala. I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it.”

It was music to Trump’s ears when Duterte, who has the blood of several journalists on his hands, called the White House press corps “spies.” Trump has called for the death penalty for any American convicted of espionage, among other crimes.

Trump has also singled out certain journalists for juvenile-type criticism. Targets have included journalists for CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, ABC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, American Urban Radio Networks, GQ, and The Wall Street Journal. During the campaign in 2015, Trump even mocked the disability of Serge Kovalaski, an investigative reporter for The New York Times. Trump surrogates have threatened and intimidated reporters for the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, Politico, The Los Angeles Times, Forward, The Arizona Republic, The Daily Beast, and even the neoconservative National Review.

Those who threatened the Arizona Republic, who likely lack the IQ to form a basic sentence structure, were also probably unaware that one of its star reporters, Don Bolles, was murdered in a car bomb explosion in 1976 while pursuing a story about organized crime in Phoenix. Some of the criminals under investigation by Bolles were linked to the Las Vegas Strip, the Mafia’s prime real estate, among whose landlords included a number of mobsters who would later help Trump set down his casino pylons in Atlantic City.

Taking their cue from Trump, Kentucky Republican Governor Matt Bevin has called his state’s two top newspapers, the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader “fake news.” Missouri’s former GOP Governor, Eric Greitens, who resigned amid a sex scandal and campaign fraud, likewise called the papers that covered his criminal activity in office, including The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch “fake news.”

In May 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a major Trump supporter, after firing guns at a shooting range, held up the target sheet and remarked, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”

In May 2017, U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then a candidate for Congress, was charged with assault after physically attacking a reporter for The Guardian newspaper who was covering his campaign. That same month, Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz was slapped by Republican Alaska State Senator David Wilson. In March 2017, a photographer for the Orange County Weekly was struck by a pro-Trump protester yelling “fake news.” In August 2017, Taylor Lorenz, a reporter for The Hill, was punched by alt-right protesters in Charlotteville, Virginia.

In February 2016, Trump spoke at the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome, an event that this editor covered. After Trump launched into one of his anti-press tantrums, the media area was pelted with debris from the stands and on the receiving end of profane verbal abuse. This is the environment Trump has manufactured for attacks against journalists and he bears the blood of journalists murdered or injured on his hands.

The German Nazi precedent

Fritz Gerlich, like many reporters in the United States today, recognized the inherent evil in a rising far-right politician in his native Germany in the 1920s and 30s. Gerlich was the editor-in-chief of Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, an influential newspaper in Munich and Bavaria. Gerlich and his paper editorialized against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party as it gained more and more power in Bavaria. Gerlich’s top journalists, including deputy editor Fritz Buechner, domestic editor Erwein Freiherr von Aretin, and general manager Nikolaus Cossmann, all wrote about the dangers posed by Hitler and his henchmen. In 1932, Gerlich took over as editor of the anti-Nazi Der Gerade Weg and the weekly news magazine, Der Illustrierte Sonntag. In 1932, the magazine’s circulation climbed to 40,000 readers. An April 24, 1932, headline in Gerade Weg read, “Hitler the Bankrupt.” In an eerie reminder of what Trump threatens for the United States, Gerlich wrote about the Nazis: “National Socialism means: Enmity with neighboring nations, tyranny internally, civil war, world war, lies, hatred, fratricide and boundless want.”

Felix Fechenbach was the editor-in-chief of the Social Democratic Party newspaper Volksblatt published in Detmold, North Rhine-Westphalia. Fechenbach was a fierce opponent of the Nazis. Fechenbach was arrested by the Nazis on March 11, 1933. On August 7, Fechenbach was shot by members of the Nazi SS and SA between Detmold and Warburg, while being transported to Dachau. The Nazis could not wait to kill the anti-Nazi editor in Dachau, so they assassinated him while en route to the infamous death camp.

Gerlich was arrested by the Nazis during the evening of March 9, 1933—the infamous “Night of the Long Knives.” On June 30, 1934, almost 84 years, to the day, before the massacre in Annapolis, Gerlich, a Roman Catholic, was murdered in the Dachau concentration camp. Cossmann, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, was murdered at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Bohemia in 1942. Ironically, Cossmann had helped initiate a treason trial against Fechenbach in 1922, in what was known as the “German Dreyfus Affair.” Fechenbach’s eleven-year prison sentence was overturned by the German Supreme Court in 1926. In the end, both old adversaries would fall victim to the Nazis.

Buchner and von Aretin were ultimately released from arrest, with von Aretin smuggling articles from Nazi-imposed exile in the Black Forest to Switzerland for publication under a pseudonym.

The fate of journalists in Nazi-occupied Europe were no better than those in Germany. On August 30, 1943, Carl Henrik Clemmensen, the editor of the large Copenhagen daily, Berlingske Tidende, was shot to death by three Danish SS members, working on behalf of the Nazi High Commissioner of Denmark, Werner Best. Clemmensen was discovered to have been working for the Danish resistance against the Nazis. The staff of the Danish Communist paper, Arbejderbladet, did not wait around to be rounded up by the Gestapo. After the paper was banned by the Nazis on August 22, 1941, the staff took it underground, along with their resistance to the Nazis. The paper, briefly renamed Politiske Maanedsbreve (Political Monthly Letters), changed its name to Land og Folk (Country and People) on March 1, 1942. One of its senior editors and resistance leaders was Victoria Karen Madsen, this editor’s grandmother. In 1943, Hitler ordered a crackdown on the Danish resistance. The Gestapo had a most-wanted list and “Frau V.K. Madsen” was near the top of it. Her “crimes” included helping thousands of Danish Jews, including nuclear physicist Niels Bohr, escape to Sweden and freedom, and the major capital crime of sabotage of strategic infrastructures, including railways, shipyards, and meeting places frequented by the Gestapo.

All of the Land og Folk journalists were members of the two main Resistance groups, the BOPA (Borgelige Partisaner or Bourgeois Partisans) and Holger Danske. Their attacks on the Forum Arena in 1943 and the Burmeister & Wain shipyard in 1944 infuriated Hitler. He ordered the Gestapo to round up all the saboteurs and execute them on the spot. It was under this type of Nazi pressure that Land og Folk not only continued publication clandestinely, but saw its circulation grow to 130,000 by 1944. The newspaper’s editors and reporters helped fund their operations by secretly selling books banned by the Nazis.

Investigating Trump’s malfeasance can serve as a death sentence for journalists

On October 16, 2017, Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died in a car bombing. Caruana Galizia was linking together various Russian and Azerbaijani oligarch businesses and bank accounts in Cyprus and Malta. She was discovering, thanks to the leaks of banking and business documents, secret murky business operations that ultimately led to individuals like Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Mammadov family. The Mammadovs, business partners for the Trump Tower in Baku, are known as the “Azerbaijani Trumps.” Another Azerbaijani billionaire, Aras Agalarov, sponsored Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Agalarov was also Trump’s partner in the ill-fated plan to build a Trump tower in Moscow. The reporter who connected the dots in Trump’s and Ross’s sordid overseas business activities died and an official multi-country cover-up ensued.

Until Trump and his cronies are driven from power, journalists are unable to rest easy, as they go about their constitutionally-mandated task of informing the public and holding government and corporate officials accountable for their actions. Demagogues like Trump always fear a free press because, like cockroaches and other vermin, they abhor the disinfectant of sunlight shined on their crimes and abuses of power.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2018

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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