By Mark Sumner / Daily Kos
On Thursday evening, Donald Trump went to Montana to make jokes about assaulting journalists and the rally crowd responded by laughing and making threats against the reporters on hand at the event. If Trump and his followers seemed particularly cruel … that’s exactly where the whole Republican Party is going. Because even as the evidence piles up that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate on orders from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Republicans are planning their response — smear Khashoggi.
As the Washington Post reports, both conservative congressmen and media hosts have mounted a campaign against Khashoggi to paint him as someone who was friendly with terrorists and who conspired against the United States. The purpose of the campaign is to make the gruesome dismemberment of the US resident acceptable, make Saudi actions ugly but necessary, and most of all to make Trump’s continued refusal to speak out against bin Salman acceptable.
Republicans in the House have been swapping links and posts from alt-Reich websites that have already turned Khashoggi into a founding member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and a supporter of terrorists. Those same reports are getting more attention on right-wing talk radio, where they’ve been blown up even larger than the original sites — making the whole idea that Khashoggi was allowed into the United States in the first place seem like a mistake.
And, of course, those accusations have reached Fox News.
“Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner asserted on Thursday’s highly rated “Outnumbered” show. “I just put it out there because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.” Faulkner then dismissed another guest who called her claim “iffy.”
They’ve also started reaching the midterm campaigns, where the alt-Reich’s most reliable water carrier, Corey Stewart, declared that “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.”
No Republican smear could be complete these days without a contribution from Donald Trump Jr, and he’s been spot on — sharing a tweet that accused Khashoggi of associating with bin Laden. Which is true to the extent that Khashoggi interviewed bin Laden several times in his role as a Mujahideen leader fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At the same time, the United States was supplying bin Laden with weapons and training. Several of Khashoggi’s friends have also noted that he encouraged the future terrorist to give up violence following the war.
Like many other people in the region, Khashoggi really did seem to have shown interest in the Muslim Brotherhood when it was newly formed, and he may have formally joined the organization for a short while. But he lost interest when it became clear that rather than fighting for democratic ideals, the Brotherhood only wanted to replace the existing tyranny with one of their own.
But Khashoggi as a supporter of secular, democratic governments is not the image that Republicans are after. As when Trump smeared the family of a fallen American soldier, right-wing politicians and media are falling in line behind a story that Khashoggi was a terrorist supporter. The less than subtle undertone to that story: He deserved what he got.
The Khashoggi smear has another element. From the start, right-wing sources have complained that the Khashoggi story was getting “too much attention.” That’s part of why Trump keeps repeating that the journalist was “not a US citizen” and Republicans keep bringing up other stories that “didn’t get as much coverage.”
The emerging talking point on this is that coverage of Khashoggi is itself a conspiracy — a media conspiracy to embarrass Trump by attacking our unassailable bond to the Saudi royal family trying to turn a terrorist-sympathizer into a martyr and giving his death wall to wall coverage.
Back at his Montana rally, Trump praised Republican Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter, a crime to which Gianforte pleaded guilty, and mimicked doing a body slam against a reporter. His followers laughed and cheered. And to show they got it, one of them looked at CNN reporter Jim Acosta, a frequent target of Trump’s ire, ran a thumb across his throat. And laughed. The message that it’s perfectly fine, and even good, to hurt reporters came across loud and clear.
Republicans have not called for other journalists to be body slammed. Or dismembered. Yet.