Days after a whistleblower triggered an impeachment inquiry over Donald Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine, Trump insinuated that the person should be executed.
“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now,” the president said.
And as Trump proceeds to accuse members of Congress of “treason,” and his own intelligence officers of being “spies,” it bears remembering that the man has long called for the execution of people of all stripes.
For Trump, capital punishment is more than a sober matter of justice; it’s another instrument to strike fear into the hearts of his perceived enemies. He relishes acting out executions at his rallies and at times speaks about it in near-cinematic tones.
At a campaign rally in 2015, Trump discussed his love for the 1974 movie “Death Wish,” in which Charles Bronson plays a vigilante fighting crime in New York City by summarily executing people with an air of ill intent.
Trump openly fantasized about acting out the plot of “Death Wish” in real life before a crowd of supporters in Franklin, Tennessee, on Oct. 3, 2015:
“In fact, I have a license to carry in New York, can you believe that? Nobody knows that,” Trump said, as he pantomimed drawing a firearm from his hip. “Somebody attacks me, somebody attacks me … Oh, they’re gonna be shocked. Can you imagine? Somebody says, ‘Oh, there’s Trump. He’s easy pickins.’” He then pantomimed more gunplay: “What’d you say?”
It was a deeply revealing moment for Trump, but not out of the ordinary. Trump has been calling for capital punishment since long before he became president.
When four black males and one Latino male, aged 14 to 16, were on trial in 1989 for the assault and rape of a white female who had been jogging in Central Park, Donald Trump spent $85,000 to run a full-page advertisement in four New York City newspapers calling for their executions via the reinstatement of the death penalty. “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” the ad blared in bold capital letters.
The five men were later exonerated by DNA evidence, but Donald Trump has never retracted or apologized for his demand to have them put to death.
In his since -eleted “From the Desk of Donald Trump” video blog, Trump called for the death penalty for Drew Peterson, a police officer convicted of killing his wife. Trump also wanted to “bring the death penalty to Norway,” as a punishment for mass shooter Anders Breivik.
On Twitter, Trump additionally called for the death penalty for Colorado mass shooter James Holmes; Tucson mass shooter Jared Loughner; the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing; unspecified “perverts” who abduct children; and Jeffrey T. Johnson, who shot and killed a co-worker at the Empire State Building, and was killed at the scene by police officers.
But for some villains, a simple execution isn’t good enough for Trump. “Now they give the death penalty where they give a slight injection so that they don’t have pain when the needle goes in, to slowly put them to sleep. I mean, these people have to be treated very, very severely,” Trump said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" in 2010.
On another occasion, Trump took the Babylonian “eye for an eye” approach, suggesting that Alton Nolen, who beheaded a woman at a Vaughan Foods store in Oklahoma, should also be beheaded.
Trump’s support for the death penalty is also not limited to the cases of murderers, terrorists, or those who've committed sex crimes against children. In 2013 he explicitly called for the execution of Edward Snowden, whom he labeled a “traitor” and a “spy.”
2016 Presidential Campaign
During the Republican primary and presidential campaign of 2016, Trump reiterated his support for capital punishment as well as torture. “I’ve always supported the death penalty. I don’t even understand people that don’t,” Trump said in a February town hall in New Hampshire.
During numerous other campaign events, Trump lamented how Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who deserted his post and was taken hostage by the Taliban, got off too easy. Trump would gleefully act out how in “the old days” Bergdahl would have been executed by firing squad. And, just in case the “old days” act left any doubt as to how Trump would handle the Bergdahl situation, he called for Bergdahl’s execution directly:
The execution president
Trump has continued to support the death penalty in office and has even looked for opportunities to expand its use. Trump’s Department of Justice recently asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to revive the federal death penalty, which has been dormant since 2003.
On multiple occasions, Trump has also tacitly endorsed other countries’ use of the death penalty for some drug crimes, such as Singapore, a country where possessing 500 grams of marijuana can be punishable by death.
During remarks in February, Trump characterized a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping in almost exactly the same fashion, quoting Xi as saying the reason China doesn’t have a drug problem is that dealers get the death penalty. “End of problem,” Trump said. Trump also hailed a deal he struck with Xi to expand China’s death penalty to manufacturers of fentanyl.
Perhaps it was conversations like this that inspired Trump to suggest, during his remarks on the opioid crisis in March of 2018.. that the United States implement the death penalty for certain drug crimes.
“Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year. And that’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many much tougher penalties than we’ve ever had ... led by the death penalty, for the really bad pushers and abusers.”
At the same event, Trump did include a caveat.
“The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty,” he said. “Now maybe our country’s not ready for that; it’s possible. It’s possible that our county’s not ready for that. And I can understand it, maybe. Although personally, I can’t understand that.”