'They’re going to have to kill me': Trump official goes on disturbed tirade filled with violent predictions
A top spokesman for the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services broadcast a disturbing and conspiratorial video on Facebook this Sunday, undermining his official role as a government communicator and stoking fears of imminent violence.
Michael Caputo was a longtime Trump loyalist who was brought into the administration in April in a clear attempt to wrest control over messaging about the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has consistently twisted the truth to fit his own preferred narrative and contradicted the experts who work for the federal government. Multiple reports last week revealed that Caputo had been at work doing exactly what critics had assumed: corrupting the scientific agencies meant to communicate clearly about public health, pressuring them to change messaging to fit the president's rhetoric.
In the Facebook video, as reported by the New York Times and Axios, Caputo described the negative reaction he had received due to the reports. He spun a conspiratorial tale in which opponents of the president are concocting a violent plan to overthrow him and take down his supporters, while insiders within the federal government are undermining Trump's agenda.
“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said. He said he has been continually threatened since joining the administration, and the recent reports about his pressure on the CDC put his physical health under siege and caused his mental health to fail.
He complained about being alone in Washington, D.C., saying that he sees “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”
Even though he predicted that Trump will win re-election, he said that former Vice President Joe Biden won't concede — triggering a violent conflict.
“And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. "The drills that you’ve seen are nothing. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
He called the killing of a right-wing protester in Portland a "drill," again suggesting a Democratic-aligned conspiracy of violence. The shooter in that case, an activist named Michael Forest Reinoehl, refused to be taken alive by U.S. Marshals because "he couldn’t say what he had inside him," Caputo said. There's no evidence for this outrageous claim.
Of the administration scientists working to fight the virus, Caputo said: "There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”
Despite all this dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric, the administration defended Caputo in a statement:
Mr. Caputo is a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Caputo's comments about his own mental health suggest that he may be experiencing some symptoms of mental illness that inspired these dark comments. If this is the case, he should surely be given leave from his position until he is able to seek the appropriate treatment and recover.
But Caputo's comments also clearly fall into a recurring pattern of conpsiratorial, delusional and violent thinking on the right that is not merely a sign of individual pathology. Trump himself often speaks precisely in the way Caputo spoke in this video, and these exact ideas are rampant across right-wing media.
What's most disturbing about it is that it is ratcheting up tensions in the United States that feeds into a vicious cycle, one that really could lead to violence — even if no one is planning a genuine conspiracy. Critics of the president, including me, have warned that he is trying to corrupt the election and undermine the integrity of the vote count in order to retain power, a practice that is in line with the GOP's disdain for democracy. I think the evidence for these claims is overwhelming.
But pointing out these facts and evidence has led to a backlash on the right, inspiring some to now argue that the true danger to the integrity of the election result comes from the left, rather than the president or the conservative movement. This only increases the right-wing's desire to win the election at any cost, and thus increases the urgency of the president's opponents to warn about the dangers. This is a deeply unhealthy cycle for the country to fall into, but at this point, it's difficult to see how we can escape it.