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Trump allies reject link of rhetoric to increased violence

By Mark Niquette • Oct 29, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Allies of President Donald Trump Sunday rejected any link between harsh political rhetoric and a rise in violence in the U.S., as President Barack Obama’s homeland security chief said a change to the “toxic” environment must start at the top.

The comments came after last week’s attempted pipe bombings and the mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“Deranged individuals infused with today’s uncivil political discourse think it’s their place to bring about change in society with assault weapons or bombs, and Americans listen to their leaders — including the president, said Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security.

“Our president has the largest microphone, he has the largest bullhorn,” Johnson said on ABC’s “This Week.” “This particular president has a particularly large voice and a large microphone, and Americans should demand that their leaders insist on change, a more civil discourse and a more civil environment generally.”

The attack in Pittsburgh during Saturday services killed 11 people, many of them elderly, in what’s being investigated as a hate crime. On Friday, a Florida man known to have attended Trump campaign events was charged in connection with mailing at least 13 suspected explosive devices that targeted high-profile Democrats, including Obama. That “should be a wake-up call to all Americans to demand change,” Johnson said.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Trump bears any responsibility for the recent incidents, Kirstjen Nielsen, the current secretary of homeland security, said the president “has made it extraordinarily clear that we will never allow political violence to take root in this country.”

Vice President Mike Pence also rejected the notion that confrontational rhetoric by Trump, himself and other Republican leaders has created a spike in political violence.

“People on both sides of the aisle use strong language about our political differences, but I just don’t think you can connect it to threats or acts of violence,” Pence said on NBC Saturday.

But Matthew Dowd, a Republican consultant who was chief strategist for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, said the president needs to do more.

Trump is “not responsible” for recent violent acts by white supremacists, but he has “an obligation to try to rid us of much of this tribalism” and “he has not spoken in the right way in the course of this that it has diminished the hate,” Dowd said on ABC.

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(Ben Brody contributed to this report.)

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