HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is renewing his push to make threats of physical violence — as well as actual attacks — against journalists a federal crime after another parody video depicting such attacks surfaced over the weekend.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Blumenthal said he felt it was more important than ever for Congress to pass legislation making it a federal crime to physically threaten and/or cause bodily harm to anyone engaged in newsgathering practices.
“We know from incidents that have occurred in the past — in fact, some of these attacks on journalists have been fatal — that there is a segment of the population that feels an antipathy toward the press that they express verbally in threats and also, at the extreme, physically in direct attacks,” he said. ” … What we have to address is the continuing threat of physical violence — whether by guns or other means — against the press, that may intimidate them in their vital newsgathering operations.”
Blumenthal is one of several members of Congress supporting the Journalist Protection Act, a bicameral bill sponsored by Blumenthal in the Senate and by U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, D-California, in the House. Introduced in March of this year, the legislation would criminalize threats of or attacks against journalists that cause “bodily harm” or “serious bodily harm.” If passed and signed into law, individuals convicted under the law would face significant fines and up to six years in prison depending on the severity of the threat or attack.
Blumenthal went on to criticize President Donald Trump for his role in promulgating verbal and physical attacks on members of the press in recent years.
“The video highlights the need for this protection, but unfortunately the President’s past actions and words are a reminder of how he personally has condoned and encouraged this kind of hostility and even overt attack,” Blumenthal said. “It has occurred at his rallies before and these kinds of videos only heighten the danger, and that is why we will pursue this legislation.”
Blumenthal’s remarks came after the New York Times reported Sunday that a parody video depicting President Donald Trump violently shooting, stabbing, and assaulting journalists and political opponents was shown at a conference for his supporters at his Miami resort last week. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube a little over a year ago, features Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man shooting and stabbing members of the press, as well as members of Congress and his political opponents, inside “the Church of Fake News.”
According to the Times, a conference attendee “took a video of the clip on his phone” and sent it to a Times reporter via an “intermediary.”
White House condemns video; Trump continues calling press ‘fake news’
Following the Times’ report Sunday, members of the press, as well as the White House and several members of Congress, condemned the video and the violence it depicts.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy tweeted a link to the video near midnight on Sunday and blamed Trump for the message the video sent.
“Every mother and father in America should watch (this) video. Play it all the way to (the) end,” he tweeted. “Know that this is the re-election message of your President. And then ask yourself — how (do) you sit your kids down and tell them you want this person to lead us.”
While the White House’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told reporters Monday that Trump “strongly condemns” the video, Trump continued to refer to the press as “fake news” in tweets on Monday.
YouTube officials said Monday that while the video is graphic, it doesn’t violate the company’s policies against content that incites violence because the video is “purely fictional.” The video had nearly 300,000 views on YouTube as of Tuesday evening.
Trump has regularly criticized journalists at his rallies and on Twitter since at least 2015, frequently referring to the press as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” In 2017, he shared a doctored video of himself wrestling WWE owner Vince McMahon — whose face was covered with a CNN logo in the video — to the ground. The same year, Trump also praised U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, for allegedly body-slamming a reporter who asked him a question, calling Gianforte “my kind of guy.”