LAS VEGAS—Anna Khait, a 27-year-old professional poker player and a contestant on the latest season of Survivor, was standing next to the entrance of the Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère in the Treasure Island Hotel, explaining the shirt she was wearing. It read “Hillary for Prison 2016.” A line looped around vast portions of the sprawling casino—thousands of people, in all, hoping to see Donald Trump speak.
“I got this on Infowars.com. I love this shirt,” Khait said. “There’s so many people walking by saying, ‘I love this shirt, I love this shirt, give me a high five.’ ”
At this moment a middle-aged black woman stopped to compliment Khait on her shirt. “Yay, Hillary!”
“For prison,” Khait explained gently.
“Oh, you want her in prison?” the woman asked.
“She’s a criminal,” Khait said.
This proved to be something of a motif at Trump’s event in Vegas on Saturday. The idea that the woman favored to take the White House in November belongs in prison was endorsed heartily by supporters and introductory speakers alike and was hinted at by the candidate himself. It wasn’t an argument so much as a mood, and it was general across the room.
Our colloquy continued.
“He’s an idiot,” the woman was saying of Trump. “He’s crazy.”
Khait: “Google ‘Clinton Foundation.’ No, no, just Google ‘Clinton Foundation.’ They take like $25 million from Saudi Arabia and places that kill … ”
Woman: “Why would you want a president that talks the way he talks? Why?”
Khait: “He says it like it is, though.”
Woman: “No, he doesn’t say it like it is. He says it like an idiot.”
Khait was unmoved. She described again what she wanted the woman to search for on Google.
“She’s such an advocate for women’s rights and gay rights and all that stuff? She just took $25 million from Saudi Arabia. She takes so much outside foreign money to the Clinton Foundation,” Khait said. “She doesn’t have American people’s mentality in mind. She has foreign country’s mentality because she got paid so much money.”
America, this is our discourse. Our discourse is a half-celebrity in an Infowars T-shirt, making an argumentum ad search engine about Clinton’s treason. We can call this a symptom of the Trump candidacy, this habit of criminalizing the GOP’s main political adversaries, but all Trump did was take the animal impulses of his party and put them in the shop window. It’s not so hard to imagine a world in which the “Hillary for Prison” memes were a major theme of a different nominee’s candidacy—Ted Cruz’s, say, or Marco Rubio’s.
It’s true that, as Khait notes, Bill and Hillary’s Clinton Foundation did take between $10 million and $25 million from Saudi Arabia and millions more from other regimes and political actors that oppress the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities. Trump has demanded that the foundation return the money. Whether or not this was an actual conflict of interest when Clinton served as secretary of state, it certainly contributes to a general sense that the Clintons are too enmeshed with too many wicked people to be clean themselves. Here at the Trump rally it means more than that: It is reason to throw Clinton behind bars.
To be a Trump supporter is to enter an unending psychodrama in which the country is alive with sedition. Khait grew up liberal and voted for Obama in 2008, but now she agrees when she hears Trump say that Obama might have “something else in mind” when it comes to his purported failure to prevent terrorism.
“This is going to sound extreme: Either he’s blackmailed with something or he has an ulterior motive,” she said. “I don’t know what [the ulterior motives] are, but to be honest with you I happen to agree with Trump on this that he’s a terrible leader and he’s not keeping our country safe and there’s something else there. I have a strong feeling that this guy is not a friend of America.” She also said that Clinton and Obama had “a lot to gain by having these attacks happen” and cited their pro-gun control stances.
Khait, who was born in Russia and immigrated with her parents 23 years ago, also adamantly supports Trump’s immigration policies, including his Muslim ban, even though she said she favors certain legal immigration. “There’s a lot of safe and peaceful immigrants,” she said. “For example Russia. Peaceful. … Italians. Germans.” (Khait’s official Survivor profile lists her pet peeves as “[a]rrogance, ignorance and when someone picks on someone less fortunate.”)
It was Mitt Romney, now one of Trump’s leading opponents in the GOP, who actively sought Trump’s endorsement in 2012 despite his vocal views that Obama was a foreign-born usurper of the White House. The 2012 Republican nominee even hosted a Vegas fundraiser with Trump on the same day Trump doubled down on the birtherism. And the talking point that helped torpedo Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid—“He knows exactly what he’s doing”—is just a gentler variation on Khait’s idea that Obama is intentionally trying to destroy America from within. The Republicans’ 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, recently said that Obama was “directly responsible” for the Orlando killings, another light spin on the theme that he is expressly allowing Americans to be killed. And you can look no further than the hyperpartisan folderol that was the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s humiliating 11-hour grilling of Clinton, the intent of which was to depict her as a negligent criminal who has undermined the security of America. Republicans have been working from this hymn book since at least the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Wayne Allyn Root, one of Trump’s introductory speakers in Vegas, was a huge hit with the crowd when he said that Obama was bringing in immigrants who wanted to hurt America and promised that Trump would prosecute both him and Clinton. Trump will “stop the madness of purposefully importing Syrian migrants and Muslim refugees into our country,” Root said to massive applause. He cited a notoriously shaky survey that said that 51 percent of Muslims in the U.S. support Sharia and argued that “liberal lawyers and Muslim sympathizers” were setting current U.S. anti-terrorism policy. Continuing to list the things he said Trump would do as president, Root arrived at “the big one”—prosecutions of Clinton and Obama:
[He will] investigate and prosecute the politicians who committed crimes against you the American people. What if the main things Donald accomplishes—other than cutting taxes and regulations and building a wall—is cleaning up the D.C. cesspool, holding the politicians accountable, and bringing criminals to justice. What if he sends Hillary Clinton to prison? You like that, huh? …
What if he prosecutes everyone involved with the fraud of Obamacare? Anyone who said, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it.”
That alone is worth the price of admission of President Donald J. Trump.
This was met with perhaps the healthiest applause of the entire event, which was punctuated repeatedly with shouts from the crowd of “Hillary for prison!” and “Impeach Obama!” and “Arrest Obama!”
On and on it went in this vein. Someone yelled, “Hillary for prison!” at Trump’s personal hype man, Stephen Miller, during his introduction, and Miller responded, “Hillary Clinton is a career criminal, folks.” Someone yelled, “She’s a traitor!” and Miller responded, “The corruption of Hillary Clinton would make many, many, many crime syndicates very jealous.” Trump came on and said the reason Bernie Sanders was staying in the Democratic primary was because “he’s really waiting for the FBI to do what everybody thinks they’re going to do” and charge Clinton with a crime related to her email scandal. This resulted in another “Hillary for prison!” cry from the crowd. “We’ll see if the right thing happens,” Trump said. “Everybody knows what the right thing is.”
It was the same hymn book, for sure, only with horn arrangements now and a righteous organ solo and Trump and his fans giving the old songs everything they have.
“She’s done treasonous acts,” said Gary Wilson, an exceedingly friendly 39-year-old registered Libertarian and former Ross Perot supporter who was wearing a tricorn hat with a “Make America Great Again” sticker on it. Wilson was involved in the Tea Party movement until it was “co-opted,” in his words, and he supported Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff with federal officials in 2014. (“I enjoyed their company,” he said of meeting the Bundys. “I thought they were really solid people.”)
What should the punishment be for these crimes of Clinton’s?
“Public hanging, to be honest with you,” he said.
Does Wilson actually believe this?
“I do,” he said. He’d want the execution to be public. “I believe that would probably be the biggest pay-per-view event in the history of cable.”