Last week began with a wave of mail bombs sent to the enemies of President Donald Trump and ended with the massacre of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In between, a racially motivated shooter in Kentucky killed two African Americans. That incident received relatively little coverage, primarily because a locked door prevented the perpetrator from killing even more people at a nearby black church.
In the wake of these attacks, America collectively returned to the all-too-familiar ritual of crawling through each perpetrator’s paper trail and social-media footprint, looking for the ideological bread crumbs that might explain their actions.
Relatively little has emerged about the Kentucky murderer’s beliefs and motives, although his actions and words at the scene are clear enough to establish a racial basis for the attack. In Pittsburgh, the alleged killer was a committed neo-Nazi with a presence on gab.com, the alt-right social network. And the mail-bomb suspect, Cesar Sayoc, blazed a verbose trail on social media, not explicitly identifying himself with a specific extremist movement but invoking a host of conspiracy theories popular within the American far right.
All three investigations are in their early stages, and additional information may emerge that clarifies each perpetrator’s specific influences. But in many ways, there’s a clear common thread tying these incidents together. America is caught in a wave of radicalization being driven from the top, by the toxic rhetoric Trump blasts almost daily from the biggest pulpit in the world, the U.S. presidency. His casual invocations of violence and consistent demonization of his political enemies have opened the floodgates of hate in communities where anger has long simmered.