A stunning statement made by President Trump late on Thursday suggests that he has authorized deadly force at the U.S. border against incoming migrant caravans.
During a question and answer session with reporters at the White House, the president was asked about violent migrants who had previously clashed with police near the Guatemala-Mexico border.
“They’re throwing rocks viciously and violently,” Trump forcefully responded. “You saw that three days ago. Really hurting the military.”
He was almost certainly referring to an incident where several Mexican police — not military troops — were injured in the southern region of that country. One migrant was killed in that scuffle.
“We’re not going to put up with that,” Trump declared. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.”
Then he made the statement that could be seen as confirmation that he was giving permission for the U.S. military to use deadly force against caravan members.
.@realDonaldTrump: “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back … and I told them consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say consider it a rifle.” pic.twitter.com/htWRasl6HS
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) November 1, 2018
“I told them consider it a rifle,” the president said, referring to caravan members who throw objects or otherwise assault border officials. “When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”
The only reasonable conclusion is that “considering it a rifle” means engaging with lethal force in response. If criminals shot at police or an enemy opened fire on American troops, the natural response would be to return fire.
Now, it is possible that Trump meant a less-than-lethal response, but his words and demeanor don’t seem to suggest that.
Rocks and other improvised weapons can certainly be deadly. This is something that people in Israel know all too well.
“(A)t least 14 Israelis have been killed in rock-throwing attacks,” reported JNS News in 2015. A well-known incident of rock throwing killed an Israeli soldier named Staff Sergeant Binyamin Meisner, although that occurred several decades ago.
Less serious injuries from rock attacks are more common, and are considered to be an ongoing problem along the Israeli border.
There are a few ways to look at Trump’s statement. On the one hand, it sends a clear law-and-order message that violent attacks against American police officers or military members will not be tolerated. That, in theory, is a good thing, and will hopefully cause caravan members to think twice before trying violent tactics at our border.
On the other hand, Trump’s apparent endorsement of force all the way up to lethality could signal that the border crisis is about to escalate. Without a doubt, hundreds of cameras will be rolling when caravan members reach U.S. territory , and any move made by American authorities will be broadcast and possibly manipulated to push certain narratives.
We saw that in Ferguson. We see it any time the police are forced to deal with disruptive law-breakers.
It’s a classic case of “anything you do will be used against you.” There is a propaganda element to the rising migrant situation, and the people who support the caravan may purposely try to create that propaganda in their favor.
The military and police officers tasked with guarding our border have a right to defend themselves, but they should also tread carefully as hundreds of cameras roll.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that migrants had previously clashed with police at the “Guatemala-U.S.” border. The sentence should have said the “Guatemala-Mexico” border. We apologize to our readers for this mistake.
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