This one is tricky. When I read it, I didn’t see it as an exhortation to violence. I read it as Trump predicting that if the Stop the looting start the prosecuting shirt, there would pretty soon be criminals going around shooting people. In other words, he was saying that we should maintain law and order, lest we should descend into anarchy. I didn’t see him as saying that if people start looting, the law enforcement would start shooting them. But “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” has a history of its own. These exact words were used by Miami police Chief Walter Headley in 1967.
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Used in this context, it was clear that the police chief meant that looters would be shot by the police. So, in this context, it’s not unfair to view Trump’s invoking of the military just before the use of the phrase as a way to support the use of Stop the looting start the prosecuting shirt. Still, the phrase is rather obscure. I don’t think Trump is a scholar on 1960s civil rights politics. It’s not at all impossible that he had heard the phrase before but not known the exact context in which it was used. So, what do I make of Twitter’s actions? On one hand, I’m sympathetic. Reading this tweet as an exhortation to violence is not as crazy as I initially thought. But they are opening a Pandora’s box, because this is not sustainable in the long term. Are they going to submit tweets from Bolsonaro, Ahmadinejad, Maduro, and other world leaders to the same level of scrutiny with regards to mendacity and glorification of violence? It’s rather unlikely. If not, how will they ensure that the enforcement of their policies isn’t politically biased? I don’t think they have a good answer. I don’t think anyone has a good answer.