With the international community's attention and horror still centered on the Saudi regime's alleged torture, murder, and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi just over two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump took the stage at a rally in Montana Thursday night and unleashed a lengthy and "chilling" tirade in support of a GOP congressman who violently assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year for the crime of asking questions about healthcare policy.
"In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments."
—John Mulholland, Guardian editor
Detailing his early and enthusiastic support for Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.)—who pleaded guilty to assault after he body-slammed Jacobs the day before last May's special election and went on to win anyway—Trump said he initially worried that the Republican's attack on a reporter would hurt his chances in the race.
"We endorsed Greg very early. But I heard that he body-slammed a reporter.... This was the day of the election or just before, and I thought 'Oh, this is terrible! He's going to lose the election,'" Trump said. "And then I said, 'Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.' And it did."
"Any guy who can do a body-slam... He's my guy," Trump declared, doing his best impression of a wrestling move to raucous applause and cheers from his Montana audience. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about."
Here's the video of Trump on Greg Gianforte body slamming Ben Jacobs: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy." pic.twitter.com/8tWxLXE6Jx
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 19, 2018
Trump's rant in support of Gianforte—which came as the president continues to act as a megaphone for the Saudi regime's implausible claim that it was not involved in the Khashoggi assassination—was met with fierce denunciations from journalists and press freedom advocates, who slammed the president's comments as yet another incitement to violence against the media.
"So this week the president has helped cover up the murder of one journalist and is now praising the assault of another journalist."
—Chris Hayes, MSNBC
"The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it," the Guardian's U.S. editor John Mulholland said in a statement.
“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats," Mulholland added. "We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them."
Journalists from the U.S. and around the world were quick to express solidarity with the Guardian and condemned Trump's comments as "shocking" and those of a "psychopath."
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"So this week the president has helped cover up the murder of one journalist and is now praising the assault of another journalist," noted MSNBC's Chris Hayes following Trump's remarks.
This is shocking and chilling, especially in light of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: Trump has praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for his violent assault on a Guardian reporter: https://t.co/k6KcqTW11d
— Katharine Viner (@KathViner) October 19, 2018
The US has slipped two years ago and is in free fall – #Trump now praises a physical assault against a US @guardian reporter, possibly instigating madmen and rulers around the world to do the same and worse. Black day for the free press. #endarkenment https://t.co/2kPoMTQIeT
— Christian Schwägerl (@chrschwaegerl) October 19, 2018
Trump is a psychopath. With a lot of followers. At Montana rally, Trump praises congressman for assaulting reporter. https://t.co/8ko5oSJgT4
— Jeffrey D. Sachs (@JeffDSachs) October 19, 2018
"Trump praises the violent assault of a reporter. His supporters cheer... Horrific," Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch, wrote following the president's rally. "He's declared open season on all journalists."