Yesterday, while sitting in a classroom, listening to my journalism professor lecture about fair use, a press office was being shot up by a man with a rifle, irate that they report the truth.
The man responsible for killing five reporters at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Thursday afternoon, has been identified as 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos. He was identified using facial recognition software by reports from the Associated Press and other outlets. The technology was used after it was discovered the suspect damaged his fingerprints, possibly to delay law enforcement from identifying him.
Ramos sued Capital Gazette for defamation in September 2013, after he was the subject of a July 2011 article detailing a court case against him, which he plead guilty for. The article factually reported that Ramos harassed and threatened a former high school classmate on social media, which included telling the classmate to kill herself. Judge Maureen M. Lamasney ruled in the paper’s favor stating, “The appellant plead guilty to having perpetrated a criminal act. The appellant was punished for his criminal act. He is not entitled to equal sympathy with his victim and may not blithely dismiss her as a “bipolar drunkard.” He does not appear to have learned his Lesson. JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.”
After having his case dismissed, Ramos continued speaking out against the Capital Gazette in the form of Twitter diatribes. When a horror movie was filming at the newspaper’s former offices in 2015, Ramos tweeted about the paper being “blood-stained.”
Later, “i’ll enjoy seeing @capgaznews cease publication,” he tweeted earlier that year, “but it would be nicer to see [them] cease breathing.”
At one point Ramos warned, “Referring to @realDonaldTrump as ‘unqualified @capgaznews could end badly (again).” Which is telling, because as Trump supporters have been emboldened under his administration, they’ve echoed his sentiment to discourage facts, and knowledge—weapons wielded by journalists to fight corruption, which just happens to be Trump’s hallmark.
In order to understand why Trump’s supporters are wilfully opposed to trusting the media, lies in why they voted for him. Hint: it wasn’t because they thought he was a great businessman (because great businessmen don’t file for bankruptcy six times). After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz affirmed in an article for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that the reason was “about dominant groups that felt threatened by change and a candidate who took advantage of that trend.”
She writes, “For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country, white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race.” When individuals of a historically dominant group feel threatened, she explains, they try to protect the status quo however they can. Her findings showed a few specific correlations with support for Trump: their desire for their group to be dominant, as well as how much they felt that “the American way of life is threatened,” and that high-status groups, like men, Christians, and whites, are discriminated against.
In one study, white respondents who were presented with evidence of racial progress experienced lower self-esteem afterward. In another study, reminding white individuals who were high in “ethnic identification” that nonwhite groups will soon outnumber them revved up their support for Trump, their desire for anti-immigrant policies, and their opposition to political correctness.
In other words, white people who believe we should value whiteness over that of other ethnicities are frustrated and marginalized—not on a fact-based level, but on an existential one. Therefore, when evidence is presented to them that contradicts their feelings, they try to silence those who give the facts a platform.
Earlier this month, Trump made a declaration that the free press “is the enemy of the American people,” which is exactly how a communist leader behaves. And the thing is, he’s lying about his motives for saying this to his own supporters. Just four weeks ago, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl revealed Trump had admitted his consistent attacks on the media were meant to “discredit” journalists so that negative stories about him would not be believed.
His remarks were followed by several more from far-right dingbat, and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who sent threatening messages to multiple reporters. Yiannopoulos has been famously supported by Trump, who vocally praises Yiannopoulos for his bigoted hate speech. One day before the shooting, Yiannopoulos told Davis Richardson of the New York Observer, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Yiannopoulos sent the same message to the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer in an email, which Sommer included in a story he published Tuesday about how Yiannopoulos is joining forces with far-right YouTube personalities to attempt a “soft coup” of the conservative party. Under a screenshot of the story posted to his Instagram account, Yiannopoulos added the caption, “where is the lie,” confirming, and in a sense even bragging, that he told Sommer he was excited for journalists to get gunned down by vigilante shooters.
That Instagram post received more than 7,000 likes, according to a screenshot tweeted by BuzzFeed reporter Joe Bernstein, who shared the image Wednesday, before news broke Thursday afternoon that the Jarrod Ramos had opened fire on the Capital Gazette newsroom and had killed at least five people; several others reported to be seriously injured.
Yiannopoulos has more than 348,000 Instagram followers and a verified account. Bernstein tweet included both Yiannopoulos’ hate speech, as well as proof that post was reported to Instagram, and a response from the Facebook-owned social media site ruling that the post didn’t violate its community guidelines.
According to Instagram’s community guidelines, hate speech may be allowed if the post is coming from someone with a strong following. “We do generally allow stronger conversation around people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience due to their profession or chosen activities,” the guidelines read. So, by their own admission, they allow bad things to happen on their site, if the person doing the bad things, is a public figure who will get their companies name trending when that bad thing becomes public.
Following the tragedy in Annapolis, Yiannopoulos affirmed that he did nothing wrong. In a public Facebook post, he wrote “I regret nothing I said,” a quote he immediately had embossed on a T-shit, which he wore for a photo posted today with the caption “I must be the most lied-about person since Jesus.”
Yiannopoulos repeatedly insisted that the comments made to those reporters were intended to be private, even though he—a former news editor—knew that he was speaking to reporters who were seeking his comment, and gave said comment, numerous times. Then, directed more eyeballs to the articles that quoted him, proudly so. He, who claims to be a media professional, either doesn’t understand the difference between being on and off the record, or wants only to reap the rewards of what he says, but none of the consequences. Given his profession, I have to logically assume it is the latter, and that makes what he did illegal.
In the landmark 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court said speech loses First Amendment protection if it calls for and is likely to lead to “imminent lawless action.” The remarks made by Trump declaring journalists as an imminent threat to the safety of our country, and Milo’s call to arms that citizens act quickly, fall well within the purview of the ruling. Why? Because, in the same month that the president gave implied consent to his supporters to protect themselves and their loved ones from the free press, someone went out and did it.
Although police are calling this a “targeted attack” on the media outlet, it is unlikely justifiable charges will be brought on either Trump or Yannopoulos—both of whom aided the man who killed five reporters with their rhetoric. We are living in an increasingly unjust society that is often devoid of consequences.
Reporters in the newsroom at the time of the attack shared horrifying details on social media. When the shooting started, Phil Davis described that the gunman had shot through the glass door to the newsroom and proceeded to open fire on multiple people. ”There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Davis said.
A summer intern named Anthony Messenger wrote, “Active shooter 888 Bestgate please help us.” As an aspiring journalist who just applied for my first fellowship, this breaks my heart. When the news hit, it took all of 30 seconds for the two-dozen of us and our professor to go into journalist mode, and gather as much information about what had happened as we could. I scrolled furiously through my Twitter feed, along with the others, and I soon I started to cry. I tried to dry my eyes, but looking around, I wasn’t alone. My professor didn’t say anything more, and the room was silent. No one had the words. We left one by one, not really sure how to go on with the rest of our day.
But, somehow, the professionals at the Capital Gazette did. The newspaper reported on the shooting that took place inside its own building, and managed to get today’s issue of the paper out even after the shooting occurred. Which goes to show their commitment to telling the truth in the face of adversity.
And right now, Trump is furious that we are sympathizing with them. Today, In response to reporters’ questions at the White House about the shooting, Trump simply ignored them. In an NBC News’ clip, Trump walks away from the press as journalists ask questions such as, “Can you please talk to us about the dead reporters in Annapolis?” Another reporter is heard asking, “Why are you walking away?” One more shouted, “Why don’t you come and talk to us about that?”
Granted, crafting an original statement is difficult for Trump. The man doesn’t read, can’t string together a coherent sentence, and only has access to two, maybe three, adjectives.
Snark aside, you can read this, knowing that every statement made is factual. You know how I know? Because, journalists—investigative reporters with years of education, training, and track records—did their jobs to report the facts. Facts matter. Words matter. Hold those in power accountable for their rhetoric; not by screaming into the wind about Trump’s attacks on the press, but by supporting those who uncover his lies every day. Subscribe to the Capital Gazette, or any newspaper for that matter, and put your money behind the idea that journalists aren’t enemies.