“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” ~ Diane Arbus
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” ~ Susan Sontag
And it was just one picture:
A backlash is building over a picture posted by Melania Trump on Twitter that showed her and Donald Trump smiling broadly while holding a baby who was orphaned in the mass shooting in El Paso.
On a visit to El Paso this week, the president flashed a thumbs-up when posing with the two-month-old, whose parents Andre and Jordan Anchondo were shot dead last Saturday. When the picture was posted on the first lady’s Twitter account on Thursday, it prompted outrage.
It was the president’s thumbs-up that was the problem, or it was more than that:
The orphaned child, named Paul, had been brought back to the hospital – reportedly at the request of White House during the visit by the Trumps on Wednesday. The baby’s uncle, standing next to Donald Trump, is reportedly a Trump supporter, as was the deceased father.
The baby was injured, breaking his fingers, in the shooting, after his mother died trying to protect him and her body fell on him. His father had dived to try to shield her as bullets flew.
Bring that kid with the broken fingers back to the hospital! We’ll get a great shot! That seems absurd, but maybe not:
Speaking to NPR, the uncle, Tito Anchondo, said: “I think people are misconstruing President Trump’s ideas. My brother was very supportive of Trump.”
But no one thought that was relevant at all:
Condemnation of the picture – which was circulated by Melania Trump and not the family – was swift. White House aides had not allowed media into the hospital during the visit, saying it was “not a photo op.”
Then what was it?
The president did not meet any of the eight survivors still recovering in hospital. Three were unable because they are in too poor a condition, or do not speak English, according to the hospital. Five declined the offer.
This was a mess, and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick tries to make sense of it all:
Trump was evidently fuming on the return trip to Washington that video of his consolation and empathy tour had not been released fast enough; that he wasn’t getting “credit” for his compassion, prompting Dan Scavino to tweet that he was greeted as a “ROCK STAR.” Then, independent video surfaced Thursday of Trump comforting medical staff in an El Paso hospital by bragging about his crowd size at a February rally.
“That was some crowd,” Trump said. “We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, and they said his crowd was wonderful.”
The cherry bomb on top was a photo from first lady Melania Trump’s Twitter account that appeared to feature a grinning president with a two-month-old infant who was orphaned during the El Paso shooting. The baby’s parents were both killed trying to protect him… It appears baby Paul was brought back to the hospital by White House staff for the photo-op.
And then things went bad:
That’s the president, grinning and giving a thumbs-up, as the orphaned child is held out like a trophy. If words weren’t inclined to fail, ghoulish and surreal might serve. This child has no parents because a shooter spouting Trumpist talking points about foreign “invaders” went to El Paso to kill them. And while the president refused to speak to reporters, who were scolded by the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, in a statement saying that the visits were all “about the victims” and not a “photo op,” hours later, Trump released a campaign-style video of his triumphal comforting tour.
It is clearly a horrifying spectacle of degradation when even consummate soulless showman Anthony Scaramucci is forced to say that the trip proved to be a “catastrophe” for the president, who was incapable of demonstrating the requisite quantum of “compassion” and “empathy” to win the reality show seal of approval. But for all its failures as a television event, Trump’s failure served to remind us how truly small he really is. And maybe that is enough.
But no, that’s not enough:
It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans – that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.
Was that it? Graeme Wood has other ideas:
The latest publicity photograph of the president in El Paso, Texas, knocked me into silence for a good half hour this morning while I tried to figure out the many layers of obscenity on display. The photo features a baby whose parents were killed in El Paso a few days ago. The baby survived because his parents shielded him with their bodies. In the photo, he is cradled by Melania Trump. The president is next to her; both are smiling broadly, and the president is offering a thumbs-up. The child is expressionless and wearing a cute plaid bow-tie.
If Trump had failed to visit El Paso, liberals would surely be criticizing him, rightly, for his absence. So it isn’t his presence alone that makes the photograph odious.
So something else must be going on here:
First there are the smiles, so chipper in the aftermath of mass murder. For some reason, this Trump smile calls to mind the one in his famous tweeted portrait in which he’s eating a taco bowl (“I love Hispanics!”) served by Trump Tower Grill. Then there is the thumbs-up, also present to signal approval of the taco bowl, and in this case to signal approval of what, exactly? The narrow survival of the infant? The heroism of the hospital staff and first responders who cared for the wounded? Somehow neither of these possibilities seems quite right, and contemplation has brought me no closer to a better answer. I do not imagine that Trump is applauding the slaughter. But few gestures are appropriate for both a taco bowl and the death of a baby’s parents.
There’s that, or there’s this:
Out of context, the photo looks like a portrait of a family, with proud parents or grandparents awkwardly posing next to a new baby. In all such photos, the baby participates unwittingly. But in this one, his conscription is grotesque, and his lack of expression nauseating to behold. The vacancy of his stare is somehow more crushing than if he were bawling, and thereby showing some awareness of his loss.
Does he know that his parents will never come back? Does he know that these plastic people, grinning in his parents’ place, will hand him to relatives and never come back either? Does he know that one of them called people who looked like his parents “invaders,” the same word used by the killer who shot them dead at a Walmart?
Who knows? But photographs are dangerous:
The president of the United States is photographed wherever he goes, and of course some of those photos will show him picking his nose or smirking when he should be serious. The optical demands of the job are impossible to appreciate, and we should forgive him for the occasional failure to twist his face into an appropriate expression. But sometimes – and this is one of those times – the optical demands of the office are the only demands. In the immediate bereavement of an infant’s parents, nothing is needed but respectful silence. This is never truer than for a man like Trump, who cannot speak without giving offense and enjoying it. The photograph was released by Melania and could have been taken in the spirit of mourning that the occasion deserved, or it could have been taken not at all.
It is one of the most twisted things I have seen in a long time.
Graeme Wood hasn’t been paying attention:
An armed Trump supporter was detained and released by police Wednesday outside a community space for immigrants in El Paso, Texas, days after a mass shooting that killed 22 people at a Walmart in the border town.
Witnesses said they called police after Thomas Bartram, 21, made threatening comments to people and brandished a knife while sitting in his truck outside the community center Casa Carmelita. His truck was emblazoned with pro-Trump banners and bumper stickers promoting InfoWars, a far-right conspiracy website and radio show.
He was armed and talking about killing all of those immigrants over yonder, across the street, but that’s no crime:
“Central patrol officers responded to a suspicious subject at the 900 block of Stanton near Casa Carmelita,” the El Paso Police Department tweeted Thursday. “The subject was detained, interviewed and released after it was determined that no criminal offense had been committed.”
In short, he has his opinions:
Reached by phone, Bartram said he often went to Trump rallies, but said he tried to be respectful of the high tensions in El Paso following the shootings – though he said he could not rule out the possibility that the massacre had been a “false flag” perpetrated by the government.
Bartram acknowledged he was legally carrying a pistol but denied waving it around.
But everyone should just let this go:
Bartram is no longer in El Paso but on his way to Portland, Oregon, to attend a protest that local officials have warned is expected to turn violent.
“People can interpret my political opinion outside what they are; that’s their right,” he said. “But I’m definitely not a white supremacist.”
Ana Deveze, of Casa Carmelita, told NBC News that police also recovered a loaded gun, ammunition and a bag of white powder from the man’s truck. She said people at the community center are still “terrified” and “frustrated.”
Deveze said El Paso police officers were confrontational with the witnesses and eventually told them Bartram hadn’t broken any laws.
He’s just a Trump guy:
Bartram had been featured in a Washington Examiner article Wednesday. The article included a photo of Bartram making a hand signal often used by white supremacists and standing alongside his truck, the back of which was covered with a banner of Trump dressed as Rambo and a bumper sticker of George Washington that reads “Me and my homies woulda been stacking bodies by now.”
“It seemed like the right thing to do, to come out and support Trump,” Bartram is quoted saying in the article.
And he’s not alone:
A 23-year-old Las Vegas man who allegedly wanted to attack Jews and patrons of an LGBTQ bar was arrested on suspicion of possessing parts to make a bomb, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada said Friday.
Conor Climo, who was arrested Thursday, was connected to white supremacists though encrypted online conversations, federal prosecutors said.
After Climo’s arrest, FBI agents said he told them he had acquired electronic components to build a bomb and that he wanted to mobilize an eight-man sniper platoon to shoot Jewish people either at a Las Vegas synagogue or some other location.
But this is no more than the usual and quite predictable situation:
FBI officials said they received information that Climo was communicating with individuals who identified with the white supremacist extremist group Atomwaffen Division. Prosecutors said in their statement that he also communicated with people who “identified with” the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group.
Climo could face up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted, prosecutors said. His next court date is scheduled for Aug. 23.
But he’s one of the good guys with a gun:
Climo was featured on a local TV report in 2016 that described him as a “local citizen on patrol” who openly carried an assault-style weapon and a large knife.
Authorities said Climo was a security guard.
He just wants to protect and serve, like this guy:
Police in Springfield, Missouri, arrested a man on Thursday afternoon after he walked into a Walmart, armed with a rifle and wearing body armor.
The man, identified as 20-year-old Dmitriy Andreychenko, was arrested for making a terrorist threat, Springfield Police confirmed Friday.
Andreychenko was stopped at the scene by an armed off-duty firefighter until officers arrived and took the man into custody, the Springfield Police Department said.
But this might not have been a “terrorist” threat:
It’s unclear what the Andreychenko’s motive was, but police told ABC Springfield affiliate KSPR that the man was recording himself with his cellphone while walking through the store.
Andreychenko had about 100 rounds of ammunition on him when he entered the store, police told the station.
“All we know is the fact that he walked in here heavily armed, with body armor on, and military fatigues on, and caused a great amount of panic inside the store,” Springfield Police Department Lt. Mike Lucas said Thursday. “He certainly had the capability and potential to harm people.”
But would he? No, because he was a real patriot:
A 20-year-old man who sent shoppers fleeing after he entered a Walmart store in Missouri while wearing body armor and carrying a rifle and handgun on Thursday, said he wanted to see whether the store would respect his Second Amendment rights, according to a probable cause statement released Friday…
The probable cause document quoted Andreychenko as saying he “wanted to know if Walmart honored the Second Amendment.” He said he had bought the rifle and body armor because of three recent shootings and a stabbing, and wanted to protect himself.
That might not fly in court:
“Missouri protects the right of people to open-carry a firearm, but that does not allow an individual to act in a reckless and criminal manner endangering other citizens,” Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson said in a statement announcing charges. Patterson compared the actions of the accused to “falsely shouting fire in a theater, causing a panic.”
His defense might be that their panic is not his problem. He has his rights too – free speech rights and Second Amendment rights. No one can touch him.
It may not work out that way, but he too is not alone:
An Ohio man was slammed with criminal charges Friday for threatening New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and stockpiling illegal ammunition in his home, according to prosecutors.
Federal agents raided Tim Ireland’s Toledo home on Thursday and arrested him after learning he had posted on Facebook that Ocasio-Cortez “should be shot,” prosecutors said.
“My employer would load the gun for me,” Ireland posted, according to court records.
During the raid, feds found several rounds of illegal ammunition in Ireland’s home, prosecutors said.
And he didn’t identify his “employer” – if there is one – but he’s not backing down:
Before Ireland’s arrest, a federal agent had called him and asked about the inflammatory Facebook post about Ocasio-Cortez, according to records.
“Ireland stated he was very proud of that post he made,” the agent wrote in an affidavit.
Ireland also told the agent he “always carries his guns concealed” and that “everyone he knows has guns,” according to the affidavit.
He and his friend are armed, so don’t mess with him, or with them, and they’re breaking no laws anyway. Everyone has the right to carry guns, and does. Would he assassinate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? He’s not saying and his friends aren’t saying. He wants people to guess. That seems to amuse him.
That seems a bit twisted, but no more twisted than this:
An attorney for the Montana man accused of slamming a 13-year-old boy’s head into the ground for not removing his hat during the national anthem says President Trump’s “rhetoric” is partially to blame for his client’s actions.
Yes, this is an odd story too:
Earlier this week, Mineral County Sheriff Mike Boone identified 39-year-old Curt James Brockway as a suspect in the alleged Saturday night assault. According to court documents filed in Mineral County, Brockway reportedly told investigators that he asked the boy to take off his hat as the anthem began to play at a local rodeo. When the youth cursed back at him instead, Brockway claimed, he “lifted him into the air, and slammed the boy into the ground.”
The attack reportedly fractured the boy’s skull and left him with a concussion.
Apparently, that sort of thing is forbidden:
Brockway was apprehended Saturday at the fairgrounds, located in the western Montana town of Superior, and charged with assault on a minor, a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
But cut this guy some slack:
The man’s attorney, Lance Jasper, told the Missoulian on Wednesday that his client is a U.S. Army veteran who was honorably discharged for disability after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in 2000 while on active duty in Fort Lewis, Wash. As a result, Jasper said, Brockway believed he was following orders from “his commander in chief” while attacking the teenager.
“President Trump is telling people that if they kneel, they should be fired, or if they burn a flag, they should be punished,” Jasper told the Missoulian. “He certainly didn’t understand it was a crime.”
Is that brain damage from sustaining a traumatic brain injury – not in combat – he was a metal worker stateside – or is that a mistake anyone would make these days? This man’s attorney will argue it’s the brain damage in this case, but what about all the other cases? All of these people can’t have brain damage too.
Graeme Wood argued that the grinning thumps up it’s-so-cool-that-your-parents-are-dead Trump photo is one of the most twisted things he has seen in a long time, but everything is twisted now. That photo can act as a summary of all of this. “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”
But now we know the secret, and we know more.