We’re through the looking glass, in a once-great place called America where those who point out racism are the real racists, and those who protest a candidate endorsed by Klan leaders are the new Klansmen.
The day after canceling his campaign rally in Chicago, Donald Trump pointed a finger at MoveOn. “What they've done really on the other side—it was MoveOn.org or other groups—these are bad groups, bad groups. These are bad people. Let me tell you… These are people who really don't want to see our country be great again, let me tell you.”
The right-wing media picked up his message, with Fox mentioning MoveOn at least 167 times since then, according to the group’s own media tracking. Sean Hannity, for example: “This is liberal fascism. This is silencing voices that you dare to disagree with.” Insanely, Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord deemed the progressive petitioners “The New KKK.”
This is just craziness. If MoveOn is the new Klan, then I’m the new Donald Trump. So I asked Ben Wikler, the group’s Washington director, to respond to all this and to spell out what role his group really did play in Chicago.
As organizing in response to Trump’s Chicago rally was mounting, MoveOn was nearly caught off guard. The Chicago protests began, he said, when “some local organizers started a petition on our site, which was just one piece of a tremendous organizing drive.” Wikler described that momentum behind the petition as “breaking the needle on our gauge.”
Asked by local organizers to help, MoveOn sent recruiting emails for the protest and helped print signs. Even then, they were involved in planning only the demonstration outside the stadium and, says Wikler, it would be “wildly inaccurate to credit MoveOn with doing all the work to turn people out” for the protest outside the stadium. As to the sometimes rowdier protests that unfolded inside it? “We had no knowledge of that.”
So why is Trump portraying MoveOn as the evil mastermind behind these protests? “It would be very convenient for Trump if he could write off the national opposition movement he’s sparked as somehow staged or inauthentic,” said Wikler.
“There’s an effort underway by Trump and Fox News to somehow write off the protests as the staged work of paid operatives when in fact there’s a national grassroots groundswell of opposition to Trump’s hatred that transcends party or race or geography… The reality is there’s a movement building up from below.”
He continued: “Trump wants to tell a story where he and his supporters are aggrieved victims, where in fact they’re the perpetrators of hate and violence,” Wikler added. “Trump has more freedom of speech than perhaps anyone on the planet but the night he canceled his rally, he spent hours on national television complaining about how his chance to speak his mind was cut off.”
It’s hard to imagine this line of “reasoning” works on anyone but trust me, it does. I’ve talked to Trump supporters and right-wing Twitter trolls in general who very much believe it. And, as Wikler suggested, the narrative plays into the us-versus-them scapegoating on which Trump generally preys—the idea that Mexican immigrants and Muslims and Black Lives Matter activists are attacking and undermining white America, when in fact they’re standing up for the American ideals of more fairness and opportunity for all.
“The KKK is a racial terrorist organization. The anti-Trump protests are fundamentally about rejecting racism and white supremacy,” Wikler told me Tuesday. “For some Trump supporters like Jeffrey Lord, the only way to be racist is pointing out racism. Maybe it’s time for a long look in the mirror.”
Wikler says MoveOn will continue to support peaceful protests at Trump rallies, with the organizing and energy still coming from and being led by the grassroots. Until when? “Until Trump does down in a ruinous defeat.”