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, he said he’d been attacked by two white men wearing masks. After countless hours of investigation, police identified the men, who told of being hired by Smollett.
If Smollett hoped to draw attention to himself, he did. 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 devoted to his case.
“Make America Great Again,” a Ronald Reagan phrase that was commandeered by Donald Trump, is increasingly perceived as a statement of patriotic pride or racist malice. Thus, when Smollett allegedly used MAGA to fortify his tale of an attack, he was initially believed.
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.
On a far-more serious note, the Coast Guard lieutenant and would-be terrorist allegedly was planning 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, and contemplating a biological attack. Authorities say his motive was to “establish a white homeland” through “focused violence.”
Because Hasson envisions a world of only white people, 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 responsible for their own actions. But there’s a reason Smollett tossed a MAGA hat into his ring of conspiracy. There’s a reason Hasson 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.