In one of her most forceful and surefooted speeches to date, Hillary Clinton on Thursday eviscerated Donald Trump for “offering a dog whistle” to stir up the white nationalist, anti-immigrant, alt-right fringe supporters of his campaign.
Clinton’s Reno, Nevada speech was a show-stopping denouncement of Trump’s worst ills during the campaign, from branding undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” on day one to tweeting a Star of David, being slow to repudiate an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and, most recently, hiring a new campaign CEO who ran the far-right news site Breitbart.
From the beginning, the GOP nominee has built his campaign on “prejudice and paranoia,” Clinton said, all the while inviting the “radical fringe” to take over the Republican Party.
Then Clinton took aim at Trump’s “most hateful supporters,” members of the so-called alternative right, a loosely organized, anti-establishment movement that has proliferated in white nationalist, anti-Muslim, meme-loving corners of the internet.
“No one should have any illusions about what’s really going on here,” she said. “The names may have changed. Racists now call themselves ‘racialists.’ White supremacists now call themselves ‘white nationalists.’ The paranoid fringe now calls itself ‘alt-right,’ but the hate burns just as bright.”
Citing the Mexican proverb, “tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,” Clinton said, “We know who Trump is. A few words on a TelePrompTer won’t change that.” It was a dig at Trump’s recent spate of campaign trail speeches aimed at black and Latino voters.
“He says he wants to make America great again, but more and more it seems as though his real message seems to be make America hate again,” she continued.
While riffing on Trump’s recent line asking black voters, “What the hell do you have to lose?”, Clinton said Trump has a lot of gall to ask the communities “he’s ignored and mistreated for decades” what they have to lose under a Trump presidency.
To criticize Trump for bringing Steve Bannon, the Breitbart chief, on board to lead his campaign, Clinton only needed to read aloud some of the headlines the site published during Bannon’s tenure. Among the posts were: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy,” penned by a writer banned from Twitter for harassment, and “Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield.” The site responded by tweeting an edited photo of Clinton wearing a tinfoil hat.
Clinton also reminded the crowd that Trump has frequently engaged some of the alt-right’s favorite conspiracy theories, saying he “traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far dark reaches of the internet.”
She recounted how just before Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) left the race, Trump suggested Cruz’s father was somehow involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination; how he approved an avowed white nationalist leader to represent the campaign as a convention delegate from California; and insisted that he saw news reports of countless Muslims cheering the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks from New Jersey.
“Of course, there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, a lot of it arising from racial resentment, but it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone until now,” Clinton said.
Speaking just before Clinton Thursday in New Hampshire, Trump tried to preempt the former secretary of state’s attacks, saying she planned to “smear” the “millions of decent Americans” who support his campaign. At a rally on Wednesday night, Trump had called Clinton “a bigot” who “sees people of color only as votes.”
After radio silence during Clinton’s speech, Trump came out swinging on Twitter, accusing the Democrat of “pandering to the worst instincts in our society” and “race-baiting.”
Trump has repeatedly fumbled when confronted about his white supremacist supporters during the campaign. Given the chance to distance himself from Duke’s endorsement, he initially hesitated. After his legions of alt-right supporters descended on a Jewish journalist who wrote a profile of his wife, Melania Trump, the New York billionaire refused to denounce the harassment. Instead, he told a journalist, “I don’t have a message to the fans.”