WASHINGTON – Humans do the strangest things.
In two recent why-dunits, the curious have wondered why: (1) a successful TV star would allegedly orchestrate a fake, hate-inspired attack on himself, and (2) a Coast Guard officer would allegedly plot a mass-murder attack on American Democrats and journalists.
In the first instance, prosecutors say that actor Jussie Smollett paid two men $3,500 to stage an attack, tie a noose around his neck, douse him with bleach and shout, “This is MAGA country!”
The actor, who is gay, and his alleged pretend-assailants, are all black. But when Smollett talked to police on Jan. 29, he said he’d been attacked by two white men wearing masks. After 100 interviews and countless hours of investigation, police identified the two men, who told of being hired by Smollett.
If Smollett hoped to draw attention to himself, as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson characterized the ruse, then Smollett accomplished his mission. Relatively not-famous before, he is now the infamous member of the “Empire” cast who is being written out of the show. He has been charged for disorderly conduct, which seems a mild offense in light of the resources and lost man-hours devoted to his case.
“Make America Great Again,” a Ronald Reagan phrase that was commandeered by Donald Trump, is increasingly perceived as a statement either of patriotic pride or racist malice, as nearly emotionally evocative as the Confederate battle flag is in some places. Thus, when Smollett allegedly used MAGA to fortify his tale of an attack, he was initially believed – at least by many in the pitchfork media – because it wasn’t totally unbelievable.
Yet, a more jaundiced eye might have been skeptical of a scenario in which two men would attack another man at 2 a.m. in subfreezing Chicago because he was black and gay, and in the name of Donald Trump. Then again, people have been acting strangely these days.
A woman recently attacked a man in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for wearing a MAGA hat in a restaurant. Last month, teen boys from Covington Catholic High School, who had come to Washington for the March for Life, were immediately condemned for what was initially reported as harassment of a Native American, but they were cleared by a third-party investigation. And, last week, a California high-school student was banned from wearing her MAGA cap to school.
On a far-more serious note, the Coast Guard lieutenant and would-be terrorist arrested last week allegedly was mapping a plan to kill Democratic leaders and journalists. According to a court filing, Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, had been planning a killing campaign for at least two years, amassing an arsenal of weapons, including 15 firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and contemplating a biological attack. He had studied other mass murderers, read their manifestos and compiled a list of “traitors” he allegedly intended to kill. Authorities say his motive was to “establish a white homeland” through “focused violence.”
Because Hasson, a former skinhead, envisions a world of only white people – and given Trump’s attacks on people based on their race, ethnicity and religion – it doesn’t take much to imagine that he would vote for Trump over the Democrats he hoped to kill. What, if anything, would that mean? Not one thing, yet the president surely deserves some blame for contributing to the racist animus that percolates just beneath the surface in some pockets of civilized society.
Both Hasson and Smollett are 100 percent responsible for their own actions, full stop. But there’s a reason Smollett tossed a MAGA hat into his ring of conspiracy. There’s a reason Hasson, who reportedly never spoke of politics at work and seemed a dedicated three-decade military service member, is presumed by some to be a Trump supporter.
During the two years of the Trump presidency, MAGA has morphed in the public mind from a rah-rah rally chant to a nearly KKK-grade threat of white supremacy. This is obviously unfair to the millions who support, say, a conservative Supreme Court yet never racism or nativism, but this is where we are. The value of MAGA as a positive slogan is spent, except among a relatively small cadre of Trump loyalists who might as well be exchanging a secret handshake.
As a symbol of rebellion, on the other hand, you might want to invest. It should come as no surprise that some kids love the hat because grown-ups are so upset about it.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.