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Donald Trump said that he knows "very little" about a group the Federal Bureau of Investigation has labeled a domestic terrorism threat.

It's not the first time Trump has claimed ignorance about violent right-wing extremists.

In an NBC News town hall Thursday night, Trump was asked to denounce QAnon, the widely debunked conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of powerful politicians — mostly Democrats — run an international child trafficking ring.


"I know nothing about QAnon," Trump told NBC News' Savannah Guthrie. "I know very little."

He added that "they are very strongly against pedophilia and I agree with that."

Trump has previously praised QAnon as "people that love our country," and noted that "they like me very much" and "it is gaining in popularity." He has also habitually retweeted QAnon followers and their conspiracy theories.

Last May, an FBI intelligence bulletin warned that "conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists" were a growing threat, and specifically mentioned QAnon.

"The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts," the document stated.

It is unlikely that Trump actually knows nothing about the conspiracy theory and its followers. Trump presumably receives intelligence briefings as part of his presidential duties, and Fox News — Trump's TV channel of choice — has regularly covered the QAnon movement.

This is hardly the first time Trump has feigned ignorance of violent right-wing extremists. Like other racist politicians of the past, Trump has frequently claimed to "know nothing" about white nationalist hate groups.

Last month, Trump denied any knowledge of the Proud Boys, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group. In 2018, the FBI classified the Proud Boys as an "extremist group with ties to white nationalism."

"I don't know who the Proud Boys are," Trump told reporters late last month. His comments came one day after Trump told members of the group to "stand back and stand by" from the presidential debate stage.

In 2016, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Trump if he would disavow the support he had received from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. In 2000, Trump repeatedly condemned Duke as a "Klansman." Sixteen years later, Trump claimed to "know nothing" about the white supremacist leader.

"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't even know anything about what you're talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," Trump said at the time. "Did he endorse me, or what's going on? I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists."

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report that right-wing violence poses the biggest domestic security threat to the United States.

"Racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists — specifically white supremacist extremists — will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland," the department's report found.

Trump has repeatedly played down the threat of white nationalist violence, instead labeling anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters as his main concern.

Trump's racist and anti-Democrat rhetoric has directly inspired right-wing attacks.

In October 2018, another Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to several Trump critics and Democratic officials. Trump responded by applauding his arrest, but then complained that the coverage of the "bomb stuff" hurt Republicans before the midterm elections.

In August 2019, a right-wing extremist shot and killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, wrote a "manifesto" that used many of Trump's own buzzwords, including "fake news," "open borders," and "invasion" by Latinx immigrants. Crusius allegedly told authorities his goal was to "kill as many Mexicans as possible."

One year after the El Paso shooting, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly shot and killed two anti-racist protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and injured a third protester. Rittenhouse sat in the front row of a Trump rally in January, BuzzFeed News reported.

Trump has openly defended Rittenhouse, claiming without evidence that Rittenhouse was "violently attacked" and acted in self-defense.

"That was an interesting situation," Trump told reporters in September.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.