A man and his T-shirt, photographed at a Trump rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were the source of public outcry this week. In the photo—taken and tweeted by Reuters—the man is turned away from the camera. The back of his shirt reads: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” Two women, both white, one very young, and one very old, smile delightedly beside him.
The photo went viral for obvious reasons. Violence, or its understood specter—in general and against journalists specifically—has been a troubling element throughout Trump’s campaign. Now, in one photo, a Trump supporter and his guffawing peers were leaving little doubt about their understanding of the Republican candidate’s not-so-subtle message on the media: Journalists should be silenced. In fact, journalists should be hanged from a tree, until they are dead, for doing their jobs.
What kind of a monster, I wanted to know, would at best, joke, and at worst, advocate for the lynching of journalists, the very people encapsulated by the the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the document that conservatives claim to hold so dear?
The seller and listed designer of the Hang Journalist shirts, which have been pulled from Zazzle and Teespring—online shops where anyone can design and sell apparel—is however, just a man. I reached out to him several times, but he didn’t respond to my requests for an interview. (Unsurprising, given his view of reporters.) Although this person seemingly wants me and my coworkers hung by our necks from a strong branch, or just profits on others who do, I don’t want to subject him to public ridicule or harassment and so won’t name him here. But through information culled through public records and and social media, I can tell you about him.
Let’s call him Bob.
Bob is a 58-year-old Navy veteran who lives in a town of about 150 people near the Tennessee/Georgia border. Bob has a wife and children and grandchildren. Since his retirement, Bob spends his time hunting and fishing in Florida and Georgia, and sometimes he still picks up his old guitar—he plays mostly bluesy stuff.
Bob’s Pinterest board is a view into his aspirations: “How to Camouflage Paint A Rifle,” recipes for mac and cheese and chicken and dumplings, “How to Make a Moonshine Still,” and instructions for an herb garden made with old milk bottles from the creamery.
Though Bob probably has a lot more in common with hipsters than he knows, he’s also deeply conservative, and that’s where these shirts come in. When Bob isn’t eyeing designs for rustic timber log wall shelves, he’s complaining on social media about the government and the media, which he sees as corrupt.
On Facebook, Bob reads and share fake news stories, like the one with the headline, “Judge Orders Investigation Into Obama’s Fake Social Security Number,” and complains that the “mainstream media” isn’t reporting it. He also posts photos of the confederate flag, and links to conservative country songs. “Pissed-Off Rednecks” lyrics go: “Mr. stick-head politician, I got some news for you/If you want to come, tryin’ to take my gun, son you better be bulletproof/And don’t try to tell my children when and where to pray/We ain’t that far gone, we’re still standing on the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
He thinks Obama is a “turd” and Ronald Reagan a hero, and according to his Twitter feed he’s voted for Trump, both in the primaries and in the general election. Twitter is mostly where Bob goes to talk to, or about, his candidate. “The system is rigged,” Bob tweets. And “Build a wall around Mexico and fill it up with water.”
Bob’s ideas—suggestions that we drown the inhabitants of a neighboring country, and murder journalists—seem to align with Donald Trump’s.
Trump’s disdain for the media has been vocal and unrelenting. Reporters covering Trump campaign rallies have been forced into a gated area, where they were literally pointed at and criticized by the candidate during nearly every speech. “These people are among the most dishonest people I’ve ever met,” he recently said before a Miami crowd, the same rally where he called MSNBC’s Katy Tur out by name, continuing a streak of intimidation of female journalists in particular.
As chronicled by Anna Merlan in her piece on the shirt for Jezebel, reporters covering Trump rallies have been verbally harassed, violently grabbed, and choked and thrown to the ground—in some instances by campaign staff. And lest one think this is all just schtick, Trump has praised Putin’s tendency to kill journalists and political opponents with whom he disagrees as “leadership.”
As Merlan and others have suggested, Bob’s shirts seem uniquely germaine to this election, and Trump, a candidate especially obsessed with the media. And yet, they’re not.
The shirt in the Minneapolis photo was, according to the lettering (a larger type and different font than in Bob’s design) likely bought almost a decade ago—designed by a conservative blogger known as Misha, who writes at the website Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, and purchased here. Another design read “Celebrate Diversity,” accompanied by an image of 18 handguns.
Misha was, in 2006, according to an old blog post by Glenn Greenwald, the 42nd most linked-to blogger on the internet and listed on the blogroll of Michelle Malkin, when he upped the ante and advocated for the murder of five Supreme Court Justices in response to a decision in which he disagreed:
“Five ropes, five robes, five trees.
Some assembly required.”
Just today, Misha took to his blog to demand credit for the shirt and its puerile message.
“It appears everybody and his brother has been selling our design long after we dropped it,” he explained. But he added, “It’s nice to see that our words still resonate loudly out there, even after we’d forgotten about them ourself [sic].”
And he had a message for the media, as well. Rattling a list of grievances allegedly perpetuated by journalists (reporting on Ken Bone and Joe the Plumber, and publishing the addresses of gun permit holders among them), Misha concluded reporters should, “be grateful that the print on that T-shirt, then as now, is mere hyperbole. Because you deserve far, far worse at this point in history. And if you don’t back off, we predict that you may just one day get it.”