At a rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump complained to his supporters that there was an “invasion” of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This meant, he asserted, that there were just a couple of Border Patrol agents to handle “hundreds and hundreds of people” arriving en masse. “And don’t forget, we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons,” he said. “We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?”
“Shoot them!” someone in the audience of about 7,000 shouted. The crowd laughed, and many applauded.
Trump smiled and shook his head. “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” he said. The crowd cheered. “Only in the Panhandle.”
While not an endorsement of extrajudicial killings, Trump’s tolerance for a joke about murdering asylum-seekers and failure to condemn the thought of violence still galled many people. The comment also came after the recent arrest of the leader of a right-wing militia group that had been detaining—or, as the American Civil Liberties Union called it, kidnapping—groups of migrant families, allegedly at gunpoint and while passing itself off as law enforcement, to hold them for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The group, the United Constitutional Patriots, is led by Larry Mitchell Hopkins, who was arrested on charges of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon. According to an FBI document cited in his arrest warrant, Hopkins had once allegedly said his group was training to assassinate President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros. According to a police report obtained by The Young Turks, another member of the group allegedly had asked why they weren’t just killing the migrants. “Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” he allegedly asked another member during a patrol in April. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”
It’s not the first time Trump has seemed to wink at the idea of violence from his supporters. There was, famously, his comment about “Second Amendment people” handling the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency. After a protester was removed from one of his rallies in Las Vegas, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” In another incident, after a protester was removed from a Birmingham, Alabama, rally, Trump suggested, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.” At another rally: “Part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.” And another: “Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees.” At a rally in Montana, he praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, who once body-slammed a reporter, specifically for the assault: “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of—he’s my guy.”