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Nextdoor Has an Election-Misinformation Problem

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Kate Akyuz is a Girl Scout troop leader who drives a pale-blue Toyota Sienna minivan around her island community—a place full of Teslas and BMWs, surrounded by a large freshwater lake that marks Seattle’s eastern edge. She works for the county government on flood safety and salmon-habitat restoration. But two years ago, she made her first foray into local politics, declaring her candidacy for Mercer Island City Council Position No. 6. Soon after, Akyuz became the unlikely target of what appears to have been a misinformation campaign meant to influence the election.

At the time, residents of major cities all along the West Coast, including Seattle, were expressing concern and anger over an ongoing homelessness crisis that local leaders are still struggling to address. Mercer Island is one of the most expensive places to live in America—the estate of Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, sold a waterfront mansion and other properties for $67 million last year—and its public spaces are generally pristine. The population is nearly 70 percent white, the median household income is $170,000, and fears of Seattle-style problems run deep. In February 2021, the island’s city council voted to ban camping on sidewalks and prohibit sleeping overnight in vehicles.

Akyuz, a Democrat, had opposed this vote; she wanted any action against camping to be coupled with better addiction treatment and mental-health services on Mercer Island. After she launched her novice candidacy, a well-known council incumbent, Lisa Anderl, decided to switch seats to run against her, presenting the island with a sharp contrast on the fall ballot. Anderl was pro–camping ban. In a three-way primary-election contest meant to winnow the field down to two general-election candidates, Akyuz ended up ahead of Anderl by 471 votes, with the third candidate trailing far behind both of them.

“That’s when the misinformation exploded,” Akyuz told me.


There is no television station devoted to Mercer Island issues, and the shrunken Mercer Island Reporter, the longtime local newspaper, is down to 1,600 paying subscribers for its print edition. Even so, the 25,000 people on this six-square-mile crescent of land remain hungry for information about their community. As elsewhere, the local media void is being filled by residents sharing information online, particularly over the platform Nextdoor, which aims to be at the center of all things hyperlocal.

Launched in 2011, Nextdoor says it has a unique value proposition: delivering “trusted information” with a “local perspective.” It promises conversations among “real neighbors,” a very different service than that offered by platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook. Nextdoor says it’s now used by one in three U.S. households. More than half of Mercer Island’s residents—about 15,000—use the platform. It’s where many of the island’s civic debates unfurl. During the heated 2021 city-council race between Anderl and Akyuz, residents saw Nextdoor playing an additional role: as a font of misinformation.

Anderl was accused of wanting to defund the fire department. (She had voted to study outsourcing some functions.) But Akyuz felt that she herself received far worse treatment. She was cast on Nextdoor as a troubadour for Seattle-style homeless encampments, with one Anderl donor posting that Akyuz wanted to allow encampments on school grounds. During the campaign’s final stretch, a Nextdoor post falsely stated that Akyuz had been endorsed by Seattle’s Socialist city-council member, Kshama Sawant. “Don’t let this happen on MI,” the post said. “Avoid a candidate endorsed by Sawant. Don’t vote Akyuz.”

Akyuz tried to defend herself and correct misinformation through her own Nextdoor posts and comments, only to be suspended from the platform days before the general election. (After the election, a Nextdoor representative told her the suspension had been “excessive” and rescinded it.) Akyuz believed there was a pattern: Nextdoor posts that could damage her campaign seemed to be tolerated, whereas posts that could hurt Anderl’s seemed to be quickly removed, even when they didn’t appear to violate the platform’s rules.

It was weird, and she didn’t know what to make of it. “You’re like, ‘Am I being paranoid, or is this coordinated?’” Akyuz said. “And you don’t know; you don’t know.”

Something else Akyuz didn’t know: In small communities all over the country, concerns about politically biased moderation on Nextdoor have been raised repeatedly, along with concerns about people using fake accounts on the platform.

These concerns have been posted on an internal Nextdoor forum for volunteer moderators. They were expressed in a 2021 column in Petaluma, California’s, local newspaper, the Argus-Courier, under the headline “Nextdoor Harms Local Democracy.” The company has also been accused of delivering election-related misinformation to its users. In 2020, for example, Michigan officials filed a lawsuit based on their belief that misinformation on Nextdoor sank a local ballot measure proposing a tax hike to fund police and fire services. (In that lawsuit, Nextdoor invoked its protections under Section 230, a controversial liability shield that Congress gave digital platforms 27 years ago. The case was ultimately dismissed.)

Taken together, these complaints show frustrated moderators, platform users, and local officials all struggling to find an effective venue for airing their worry that Nextdoor isn’t doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation on its platform.

One more thing Akyuz didn’t know: Two of the roughly 60 Nextdoor moderators on Mercer Island were quietly gathering evidence that an influence operation was indeed under way in the race for Mercer Island City Council Position No. 6.

“At this point, Nextdoor is actively tampering in local elections,” one of the moderators wrote in an email to Nextdoor just over a week before Election Day. “It’s awful and extraordinarily undemocratic.”


To this day, what really happened on Nextdoor during the Akyuz-Anderl race is something of a mystery, although emails from Nextdoor, along with other evidence, point toward a kind of digital astroturfing. Akyuz, who lost by a little over 1,000 votes, believes that Nextdoor’s volunteer moderators “interfered” with the election. Three local moderators who spoke with me also suspect this. Misinformation and biased moderation on Nextdoor “without a doubt” affected the outcome of the city-council election, says Washington State Representative Tana Senn, a Democrat who supported Akyuz.

Anderl, for her part, said she has no way of knowing whether there was biased moderation on Nextdoor aimed at helping her campaign, but she rejects the idea that it could have altered the outcome of the election. “Nextdoor does not move the needle on a thousand people,” she said.

Of course, the entity with the greatest insight into what truly occurred is Nextdoor. In response to a list of questions, Nextdoor said that it is “aware of the case mentioned” but that it does not comment on individual cases as a matter of policy.

None of this sat right with me. No, it wasn’t a presidential election—okay, it wasn’t even a mayoral election. But if Nextdoor communities across the country really are being taken over by bad actors, potentially with the power to swing elections without consequence, I wanted to know: How is it happening? One day last summer, seeking to learn more about how the interference in the Akyuz-Anderl race supposedly went down, I got in my car and drove from my home in Seattle to Mercer Island’s Aubrey Davis Park, where I was to meet one of the moderators who had noticed strange patterns in the race.

I sat down on some empty bleachers near a baseball field. The moderator sat down next to me, pulled out a laptop, and showed me a spreadsheet. (Three of the four Mercer Island moderators I spoke with requested anonymity because they hope to continue moderating for Nextdoor.)

The spreadsheet tracked a series of moderator accounts on Mercer Island that my source had found suspicious. At first, those accounts were targeting posts related to the city-council race, according to my source. My source alerted Nextdoor repeatedly and, after getting no response, eventually emailed Sarah Friar, the company’s CEO. Only then did a support manager reach out and ask for more information. The city-council election had been over for months, but my source had noticed that the same suspicious moderators were removing posts related to Black History Month. The company launched an investigation that revealed “a group of fraudsters,” according to a follow-up email from the support manager, who removed a handful of moderator accounts. But my source noticed that new suspicious moderators kept popping up for weeks, likely as replacements for the ones that were taken down. In total, about 20 Mercer Island moderator accounts were removed.

“We all know there were fake accounts,” an island resident named Daniel Thompson wrote in a long discussion thread last spring. “But what I find amazing is fake accounts could become” moderators.

Danny Glasser, a Mercer Island moderator, explained to me how the interference might have worked. Glasser worked at Microsoft for 26 years, focusing on the company’s social-networking products for more than 15 of them. He’s a neighborhood lead, the highest level of Nextdoor community moderator, and he’s “frustrated” by the seemingly inadequate vetting of moderators.

If a post is reported Nextdoor moderators can vote “remove,” “maybe,” or “keep.” As Glasser explained: “If a post fairly quickly gets three ‘remove’ votes from moderators without getting any ‘keep’ votes, that post tends to be removed almost immediately.” His suspicion, shared by other moderators I spoke with, is that three “remove” votes without a single “keep” vote trigger a takedown action from Nextdoor’s algorithm. The vulnerability in Nextdoor’s system, he continued, is that those three votes could be coming from, for example, one biased moderator who controls two other sock-puppet moderator accounts. Or they could come from sock-puppet moderator accounts controlled by anyone.

Mercer Island moderators told me that biased moderation votes from accounts they suspected were fake occurred over and over during the Akyuz-Anderl contest. “The ones that I know about were all pro-Anderl and anti-Akyuz,” including a number of anti-Akyuz votes that were cast in the middle of the night, one moderator told me: “What are the chances that these people are all going to be sitting by their computers in the 3 a.m. hour?”

Screenshots back up the claims. They show, for example, the “endorsed by Sawant” post, which Akyuz herself reported, calling it “inaccurate and hurtful.” The moderator accounts that considered Akyuz’s complaint included four accounts that disappeared after Nextdoor’s fraudster purge.

Another example documented by the moderators involved a Nextdoor post that endorsed Akyuz and criticized Anderl. It was reported for “public shaming” and removed. All five moderators that voted to take the post down (including two of the same accounts that had previously voted to keep the false “endorsed by Sawant” post) disappeared from Nextdoor after the fraudster purge.

Anderl, for her part, told me she has no illusions about the accuracy of Nextdoor information. “It’s too easy to get an account,” she said. She recalled that, years ago, when she first joined Nextdoor, she had to provide the company with her street address, send back a postcard mailed to her by Nextdoor, even have a neighbor vouch for her. Then, once she was in, she had to use her first and last name in any posts. “I don’t think that’s there anymore,” Anderl said, a concern that was echoed by other Mercer Island residents.

Indeed, when my editor, who lives in New York, tested this claim, he found that it was easy to sign up for Nextdoor using a fake address and a fake name—and to become a new member of Mercer Island Nextdoor while actually residing on the opposite coast. Nextdoor would not discuss how exactly it verifies users, saying only that its process is based “on trust.”


Every social platform struggles with moderation issues. Nextdoor, like Facebook and Twitter, uses algorithms to create the endless feeds of user-generated content viewed by its 42 million “weekly active users.” But the fact that its content is policed largely by 210,000 unpaid volunteers makes Nextdoor different. This volunteer-heavy approach is called community moderation.

When I looked through a private forum for Nextdoor moderators (which has since been shut down), I saw recurring questions and complaints. A moderator from Humble, Texas, griped about “bias” and “collusion” among local moderators who were allegedly working together to remove comments. Another from Portland, Oregon, said that neighborhood moderators were voting to remove posts “based on whether or not they agree with the post as opposed to if it breaks the rules.”

Nearly identical concerns have been lodged from Wakefield, Rhode Island (a moderator was voting “based on her own bias and partisan views”); Brookfield, Wisconsin (“Our area has 4 [moderators] who regularly seem to vote per personal or political bias”); and Concord, California (“There appear to be [moderators] that vote in sync on one side of the political spectrum. They take down posts that disagree with their political leanings, but leave up others that they support”).

Fake accounts are another recurring concern. From Laguna Niguel, California, under the heading “Biased Leads—Making Their Own Rules,” a moderator wrote, “ND really needs to verify identity and home address, making sure it matches and that there aren’t multiple in system.” From Knoxville, Tennessee: “We’ve seen an influx of fake accounts in our neighborhood recently.” One of the responses, from North Bend, Washington, noted that “reporting someone is a cumbersome process and often takes multiple reports before the fake profile is removed.”

In theory, a decentralized approach to content decisions could produce great results, because local moderators likely understand their community’s norms and nuances better than a bunch of hired hands. But there are drawbacks, as Shagun Jhaver, an assistant professor at Rutgers University who has studied community moderation, explained to me: “There’s a lot of power that these moderators can wield over their communities … Does this attract power-hungry individuals? Does it attract individuals who are actually interested and motivated to do community engagement? That is also an open question.”

Using volunteer moderators does cost less, and a recent paper from researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities tried to place a dollar value on that savings by assessing Reddit’s volunteer moderators. It found that those unpaid moderators collectively put in 466 hours of work a day in 2020—uncompensated labor that, according to the researchers, was worth $3.4 million. A different paper, published in 2021, described dynamics like this as part of “the implicit feudalism of online communities,” and noted the fallout from an early version of the community-moderation strategy, AOL’s Community Leader Program: It ended up the subject of a class-action lawsuit, which was settled for $15 million, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Technically, Nextdoor requires nothing of its unpaid moderators: no minimum hours, no mandatory training, nothing that might suggest that the relationship is employer-employee. Further emphasizing the distance between Nextdoor and its volunteer moderators, Nextdoor’s terms of service state in all caps: “WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS TAKEN BY THESE MEMBERS.”

But if Nextdoor were to take more responsibility for its moderators, and if it paid them like employees, that “could be one way to get the best of both worlds, where you’re not exploiting individuals, but you’re still embedding individuals in communities where they can have a more special focus,” Jhaver said. He added, “I’m not aware of any platform which actually does that.”


Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School and an expert on content moderation who occasionally contributes to The Atlantic, told me that what happened in the Akyuz-Anderl race was “somewhat inevitable” because of Nextdoor’s moderation policies. “In this particular case, it was locals,” Douek pointed out. “But there’s no particular reason why it would need to be.” Corporations, unions, interest groups, and ideologues of all stripes have deep interest in the outcomes of local elections. “You could imagine outsiders doing exactly the same thing in other places,” Douek said.

In an indication that Nextdoor at least knows that moderation is an ongoing issue, Caty Kobe, Nextdoor’s head of community, appeared on a late-January webinar for moderators and tackled what she called “the ever-question”: What to do about politically biased moderators? Kobe’s answer was the same one she gave during a webinar in October: Report them to Nextdoor. In 2022, Nextdoor began allowing users to submit an appeal if they felt their post had been unfairly removed. Roughly 10 percent of appeals were successful last year.

Douek’s words stuck in my mind and eventually got me wondering how much effort it would take for me to become a Nextdoor moderator. At the time, the midterm elections were nearing, and Nextdoor was promoting its efforts to protect the U.S. electoral process. I’d only joined the platform a few months earlier, and my single contribution to the platform had been one comment left on another person’s post about some local flowers.

I sent a message through Nextdoor’s “Contact Us” page asking if I was eligible to become a moderator. Within a day, I’d been invited to become a review-team member in my neighborhood. “You’re in!” the email from Nextdoor said.

I was offered resources for learning about content moderation on Nextdoor, but I wasn’t required to review any of them, so I ignored them and jumped right in. The first moderation opportunity presented to me by Nextdoor: a comment about Seattle’s Socialist city-council member, Kshama Sawant. It had been reported as disrespectful for comparing her to “a malignant cancer.”


Research for this story was funded by the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, using a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


This article previously identified Daniel Thompson as a Mercer Island Nextdoor moderator. He is not.

 

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Is Ivanka Trump plotting a return to politics

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If you’re a woman freaking out about the imminent possibility of another Trump term, don’t despair quite yet. Yes, Project 2025 is hoping to turn the US into a Christian nationalist country. Yes, JD Vance, Donald Trump’s running partner, has been primed for the job by Peter Thiel, a man who has mused that women having the vote is problematic. Yes, experts are raising the alarm that “a Trump-Vance administration will be the most dangerous administration for abortion and reproductive freedom in this country’s history.” But it’s not all doom and gloom: there may well be a beacon of light and female liberation coming into the White House as well. Signs suggest Ivanka Trump is considering a return to politics. Ladies and gentlewomen, the patron saint of female empowerment may selflessly serve us once again!

To be clear: the younger Trump hasn’t explicitly said that she’s interested in another go at being Daddy’s special adviser. In fact, she’s spent the last few years getting as far away from politics as possible. A renaissance woman, Trump has sold everything from handbags to shoes to real estate – but her most valuable product has always been herself. The former first daughter has always been very careful about protecting her personal brand. And, for a while, that meant staying well clear of her father.

With Donald Trump now formally the nominee, it can be hard to remember just how bad things looked for the former president a couple of years ago. After an underwhelming performance by GOP candidates in the 2022 midterm elections, a lot of Trump’s former acolytes started turning on him. High-profile Republicans complained that Trump was a drag on the party. Even the New York Post, once Trump’s personal Pravda, thought he was a joke: “TRUMPTY DUMPTY”, a post-midterm front page crowed. And then, of course, there were Trump’s mountains of legal problems. A lot of people wrote Trump off.

Ivanka was noticeably not by her father’s side during his hours of need. The moment that Donald got kicked out of the White House, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, followed him to Florida but kept a safe distance from the political goings on at Mar-a-Lago. Can’t have an insurrection ruining one’s image, after all.

A company called College Hunks Hauling Junk helped them clear out their DC mansion and the pair decamped to Miami’s “Billionaire Bunker”. They didn’t go empty-handed, of course. The couple reported between $172m and $640m in outside income while working in the White House and Saudi Arabia gave Kushner’s private equity firm $2bn to invest. Enough to keep them busy for a while.

For a long time, Javanka stayed fairly under the radar. Ivanka Trump would pop up in headlines now and again in Fun-loving Mother and Caring Philanthropist mode. Behold, a flattering headline about Ivanka helping deploy medical supplies and meals to Ukraine! Look: here’s an Instagram slideshow of the whole family skiing! Now here’s a fun picture of the Javanka family at the flashy Ambani wedding!

A cynic might say these carefully curated images were designed to humanize Trump and erase her messy political past. Aiding this was a consistent drip-drip of mysterious sources telling the press that Javanka had no desire whatsoever to return to politics. Even this year, when Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee, media “sources” kept insisting that the former first daughter wanted nothing to do with the White House. “She is very happy, living her best life,” a source told People in March. “She left politics totally in the rearview mirror and so this time around, even if her dad is the leading Republican candidate, she basically doesn’t care. She told him when he said he was going to run again that she didn’t want to be involved.”

Mary Trump, the woman who has made a career out of being Donald Trump’s disgruntled niece after a legal battle over her inheritance, has been blunt about why Ivanka seems to have retreated from politics. “I think Ivanka made very clear that she doesn’t get enough out of [her relationship with her father] any more,” Mary Trump told CNN at the end of May. “She’s barely been heard from for months; she could not be bothered to show up at [her father’s] trial [over falsifying business records].”

As the election inches closer, however, Ivanka seems to have reassessed the value of her relationship with her father. In early May, the media outlet Puck reported that she was “warming to the idea of trying to be helpful again … She’s not like ‘Hell no’ any more”. A similar report from Business Insider soon followed: according to a “friend of Ivanka”, the entrepreneur wasn’t ruling politics out. A spokesperson for the couple told Puck that this was all nonsense but rumours of a political comeback kept mounting.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Ivanka jumped back into the spotlight with an appearance on Lex Fridman’s highly influential podcast. (Fridman has more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube.) In this she opened up about how working at the White House was “the most extraordinary growth experience of my life” and how privileged she was to have been asked by her father to help so many people. During the conversation, she also carefully recapped some of (what’s she’s claimed as) her key achievements in the White House, such as boosting the child tax credit. It wasn’t so much an interview as it was a hype project by a friend. It felt lot like it was teasing Trump’s return to political life should her dad be re-elected.

So, after years in the Floridian wilderness, has the Maga Princess officially returned to the family fold? It’s a tad too early to tell but it increasingly looks that way. As one would expect, Trump has spent the last few days close to her father after the attempt on his life: she’s very much thrown herself into the role of doting daughter again.

And while Ivanka has been absent from the Republican national convention so far, she and Jared are expected to be at Donald’s side on Thursday when he formally accepts the party’s nomination. And if that happens and images of Ivanka standing next to her father hit the headlines, it won’t just be a celebratory photoshoot – it’ll be a preview of Trump’s second term.

 

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Are assassination attempts getting more common?

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“There’s no place in America for this kind of violence,” President Joe Biden said on Saturday, following the shooting at a Donald Trump rally in Pennsylvania that left the former president hurt and killed an audience member.

But the fact is, this type of violence has a long history in American politics: Four US presidents have been killed in office and virtually all of them, in the modern era, have been targeted by assassination plots of varying levels of seriousness.

Along with the general atmosphere of political turmoil of recent years — Trump himself, Covid, police violence and the resulting protests, January 6 — attacks targeting public officials of both parties in the US also seem to be becoming more common.

Recent examples include the 2017 shooting by a left-wing extremist at a Republican Congressional baseball practice that critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise; the Donald Trump supporter who sent mail bombs to more than a dozen prominent Democrats in 2018; a right-wing militia’s plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020; the abortion rights supporter who attempted to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at this home in 2022; and the QAnon adherent who attacked Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while attempting to target her, in 2022.

That violence is having a clear impact on how American politics is conducted. Spending on security by House and Senate campaigns increased by 500 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to the Washington Post.

Nor is this just an American phenomenon: There’s been a global wave of recent assassinations as well. The UK has seen two members of parliament killed in recent years: Jo Cox, a Labour MP murdered by a right-wing extremist days before the Brexit vote in 2016, and David Amess, a Conservative MP fatally stabbed by an Islamic State supporter in 2021. Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro survived a stabbing during his campaign for president in 2018. In 2021, Haitian Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by mercenaries.

Last year saw the killing of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In January of this year, South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung survived being stabbed in the neck, while Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and nearly killed in May. In Mexico, where political violence is rampant on a scale far beyond most other countries, at least 36 candidates seeking offices throughout the country were killed ahead of the country’s recent elections, according to the New York Times.

Then there are the numerous alleged plots targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The growing threat of assassination

Despite all that, it’s difficult to say for sure if political killings are on the rise. There’s a data problem: Assassinations are still relatively rare compared to other forms of political violence — violent protests, terrorist bombings — and attempts that succeed in killing their target, or even come close enough to succeeding, are even rarer.

But there is some data to suggest they’re getting more common. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, which includes incidents of political violence from 1970 to 2020, the number of assassination incidents around the world fell dramatically from more than a thousand per year in the early 1990s to less than 100 per year in 1999, then started to creep up again, jumping to more than 900 in 2015. This trend has roughly corresponded with a global uptick in international armed conflict, which also dipped through the 1990s before rising more recently.

Threatened acts of violence have increased even faster. In the United States, the Capitol Police reported 9,625 threats against members of Congress in 2021, compared to just 3,939 in 2017.

What could be driving this trend? Political violence researcher Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that political violence, including assassinations, becomes more common in countries where there are highly competitive elections that could shift the balance of power, where partisan politics becomes a dominant social identity, and where there are weak institutional constraints on violence. All of those reasons fit the US now, which is why Kleinfeld suggests the country is particularly vulnerable to a surge in political violence.

Kleinfeld also notes that a difference between today’s political violence and previous periods where it was common — such as the 1970s, the high point of terrorist violence within the US with more than 1,470 attacks compared to 214 in the decade following 9/11 — is that today’s perpetrators are more likely to not belong to any formal organization, but rather to self-radicalize via online engagement.

The Georgetown University terrorism researchers Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware argued in an article published two years ago that political assassination is becoming more common around the world in part to the emergence of so-called “accelerationism” — the deliberate effort to foment political chaos or societal collapse in order to accelerate political transformation — as a more prominent strategy for extremists. They write, “For extremists seeking to sow chaos and speed up some cataclysmic societal collapse, high-profile politicians provide an attractive target” because they personify the political order these extremists are trying to tear down.

Previous waves of political violence happened in eras when security was more lax and politicians more accessible. Think of John F. Kennedy’s open motorcade in Dallas, which no president would think of doing today. But Hoffman and Ware also note that even as politicians and governments invest more in security, new technologies are making assassination attempts easier. Consider the homemade gun used to kill Abe, which the assassin put together with parts and instructions he found online, or the attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro using explosive drones in 2018.

In an email to Vox, Hoffman said that the attempt on Trump “does fit into the trend … where attacks on elected officials are becoming more commonplace and, dare one say, even accepted as a norm in our politically polarized/divided country.”

What comes next

Political violence is a phenomenon that tends to feed on itself. Attacks create justifications for more attacks, leading to long periods of violence, such as Italy’s infamous “years of lead,” from the late ’60s through the ’80s, when assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings by right-wing and left-wing extremist groups were disturbingly common.

Another very inconvenient fact about political assassinations is that when successful, they often accomplish their political goals, if not always in ways the assassin might intend: The murder of Abraham Lincoln and his replacement by pro-states rights Southerner Andrew Johnson utterly changed the course of post-Civil War Reconstruction. The right-wing Israeli who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, in the wake of the historic Oslo Accords, dealt a serious, perhaps fatal, blow to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The killing of Abe led to a dramatic political reckoning in Japan with the assassin’s primary target: the controversial Unification Church.

We still don’t know the specific motivations of the shooter who attempted to kill Trump, or what impact the event will have on the upcoming election or American politics generally. But it’s safe to say the impact, whatever the gunman’s intentions, would have been far greater if he had adjusted his aim by just a few inches.

When the stakes of political contests start to seem existential, and political violence of all kinds more permissible, an increase in assassination attempts — in the US and abroad — seems almost inevitable.

 

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July 14, 2024, coverage of the Trump assassination attempt

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Pesident Joe Biden gave an Oval Office address Sunday — a rare form of presidential remarks reserved for the most solemn times — and urged Americans to unite and take the temperature down on politics following an assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

Here’s what else to know:

Biden’s speech: The president condemned political violence and said “disagreement is inevitable and American democracy is part of human nature, but politics must never be a literal battlefield or, God forbid, a killing field.” He warned against the normalization of this violence and urged Americans to step out of their political silos “where we only listen to those with whom we agree, and where disinformation is rampant, where foreign actors fan the flames of our division to shape the outcomes consistent with their interests, not ours.”

Trump’s movements: The former president said on Truth Social that he is going to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday for the Republican National Convention after initially considering delaying his trip. After the assassination attempt at the rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Trump flew to Newark, New Jersey, and spent time with his daughter Ivanka at his golf club in Bedminster, sources told CNN. The Secret Service said Sunday that there are no plans to tighten security plans for the RNC, saying it is confident in the plans that are in place.

What happened at the rally on Saturday: Trump’s rally speech in Butler, Pennsylvania, Saturday evening began just as it had at dozens of rallies previously – his attendees chanted “USA! USA!” and the former president clapped and pointed to faces in the crowd before taking the lectern. About 150 yards to the north, a gunman was climbing onto the roof of a building outside the rally security perimeter. He had an AR-style weapon with him. Six minutes into the former president’s speech, the gunman took aim at Trump and squeezed the trigger. Here’s a timeline.

Gunman was spotted: A local police officer saw the gunman on a rooftop during campaign rally but was unable to engage him, Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe told CNN on Sunday. Slupe said that Butler Township officers received calls about a suspicious person outside the perimeter of the rally and went looking to find that person. He said the initial calls that came in did not indicate the suspicious person had a gun.

New investigation details: The shooter, 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, had no prior contacts with the FBI and had not been previously on its radar or databases. Investigators are struggling to understand his motives. Crooks used an AR-style 556 rifle purchased legally by his father, FBI officials said, and one of the things that investigators are still looking to understand is how Crooks gained access to his father’s firearm. He also had “rudimentary” explosive devices in his car, an official said.

About the shooter: A former classmate and co-worker told CNN they remember Crooks as “the sweetest guy.” The colleague said Crooks was “not a radical” and never expressed any political views at work. “It’s hard seeing everything that’s going on online because he was a really, really good person that did a really bad thing. And I just wish I knew why,” the colleague said.

Congress: House Speaker Mike Johnson on Sunday called for the country “to get back to civility” and said he hasn’t gotten a “satisfactory answer” yet from US Secret Service on the “security lapse” at Trump’s Pennsylvania rally.

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