For a second, Donald Trump seemed to be backing off his vitriolic attacks on the free press. After five journalists were massacred at the Annapolis Capital Gazette, Trump briefly toned down his slurs. He even invited New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzburger to the White House to clear the air. But it didn't last.
Trump quickly returned to his Stalinist, enemies-of-the-people label for journalists and then lied about his meeting with Sulzburger to insist that truthful reporting is "fake news." Those insults have a real effect, and that fact was never frighteningly clearer than at Trump's rally last night in Tampa, where an unhinged-looking mob screamed insults and waved middle fingers at journalists, particularly CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
The scene left many political watchers deeply shaken, including Acosta:
Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy. pic.twitter.com/IhSRw5Ui3R— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 1, 2018
But most national press watchers didn't notice who was right at the center of that mob hurling invective at Acosta and his colleagues: Yep, it was Michael the Black Man, AKA Maurice Symonette, a former member of Miami's murderous Yahweh ben Yawheh cult who once faced charges of conspiring in the group's murders.
That's him with his instantly recognizable "Blacks for Trump" sign:
Symonette has been a mainstay at Florida Trump rallies and over the past year has popped up at other Trump-linked events around the nation. Just last week, he flew to Arizona to film a video at the border with disgraced former sheriff Joe Arpaio. Trump's staff regularly gives Symonette front-and-center seats where he waves his black-and-white sign on national television.
Here's some background on Symonette from New Times' earlier reporting on him:
He's also a former member of the murderous Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, which was led by the charismatic preacher Hulon Mitchell Jr., who was charged by the feds in 1990 with conspiracy in killings that included a gruesome beheading in the Everglades.
Michael, along with 15 other Yahweh followers, was charged for allegedly conspiring in two murders; his brother, who was also in the cult, told jurors that Michael had helped beat one man who was later killed and stuck a sharpened stick into another man's eyeball. But jurors found Michael (and six other Yahweh followers) innocent. They sent Mitchell away for 20 years in the federal pen.
In the years that followed, he changed his last name to Symonette, made a career as a musician, started a radio station in Miami and then re-invented himself as Michael the Black Man, an anti-gay, anti-liberal preacher with a golden instinct for getting on TV at GOP events. He's planned events with Rick Santorum and gotten cable news play for bashing Obama.
Since 1997, he's been charged with grand theft auto, carrying a weapon onto an airplane and threatening a police officer, but never convicted in any of those cases.
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In other words, he's exactly the kind of guy you might not want to drive into a blind rage at journalists who are just trying to do their jobs. Yet there he was in Tampa, right in the middle of the crowd screaming at Acosta — who, incidentally, took time to talk to the crowds who were so angry with him:
There are two safe bets on this topic going forward: Trump won't stop throwing insults at the media, and wherever the president is whipping up that anger, Michael the Black Man will probably be there with his signs, happily taking the bait.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger.