Trump's Conspiratorial Cruelty Reminds Us That Words Matter
On July 19th of 2001, and young woman named Lori Klausutis showed up to work in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. She told multiple people that day that she felt ill. She later collapsed, struck her head as she fell, and died. Her body was found the next morning.
The medical examiner concluded that Klausutis had lost consciousness due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. The head injury was ruled as the cause of her death.
It was an unmistakable tragedy. Klausutis, who was known to friends and family as "Little Miss Mary Sunshine” for her positive attitude, was just 28 years and happily married. Here life was cut far too short.
It’s almost unfathomable to think that nearly two decades later, her widower would find himself in the desperate position of having to beg for an end to abhorrent attacks on his wife’s memory by the sitting President of the United States. But unfortunately, that’s what's happening.
How did we get here? Well, it’s really not all that complicated.
Our president has a long, well-documented history of advancing thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories. It’s sort of a hobby of his. And because a conspiracy theory exists involving one of his frequent media critics, Trump has decided to use his platform as our nation's top executive to draw maximum attention to it… no matter who is hurt in the process.
In this case, the victims are the family and legacy of Lori Klausutis.
You see, Klausutis was an aide to then U.S. Congressman, Joe Scarborough. She happened to be working in his district office at the time of her death. Despite the ruling by the medical examiner, and the fact that there was no sign of foul play, a left-winger named Markos Moulitsas (of the The Daily Kos) took it upon himself back then to start a rumor than Scarborough was actually having an affair with Klausutis, and that her "suspicious" death was directly linked to that relationship.
Scarborough was in Washington DC the day Klausutis died, but that didn’t stop Moulitsas from suggesting he was somehow responsible her death. Moulitsas was upset about the fallout from recent high-profile affairs involving Democratic leaders (Bill Clinton and Gary Condit), and appeared to be motivated by political revenge, being that Scarborough was a Republican.
These days, Scarborough is an MSNBC host. He’s also a prominent critic of President Trump. In turn, Trump has dredged back up this disgusting conspiracy theory, and has been strongly suggesting that Scarborough is indeed a murderer. Here's a couple of examples:
When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2020
A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story! https://t.co/CjBXBXxoNS
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020
To state the obvious, there is no “cold case” in regard to Klausutis’s death. The case was closed in 2001, and that will remain true no matter how many conspiracy sites our president links to.
Understandably, Klausutis’s family is mortified by what the president has been doing. Yet, they’ve been reluctant to speak out, fearing that they would be targeted with retaliation by online conspiracy nuts like the ones who’ve grotesquely harassed the parents of Sandy Hook victims.
But last week, Timothy Klausutis (Lori’s widower) wrote a letter to Jack Dorsey, pleading with the chief executive of Twitter to delete President Trump’s tweets about his late wife.
“Her passing is the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister,” wrote Timothy. “I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life.”
He explained that he has struggled to move forward with his life because of “the constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died,” which has since been added to by Donald Trump.
“These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage. President Trump on Tuesday tweeted to his nearly 80 million followers alluding to the repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough. The son of the president followed and more directly attacked my wife by tweeting to his followers as the means of spreading this vicious lie.”
To support his request that the president’s tweets be deleted, Timothy cited Twitter’s rules and terms of service: “The President's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered (without evidence and contrary to the official autopsy)—is a violation of Twitter's community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.”
Timothy closed his letter with these heartfelt remarks: “I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain. I would also ask that you consider Lori's niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to ‘learn’ about her this way. My wife deserves better.”
Regardless of how one feels about Twitter's policies, and when and how they should be enforced, it's Trump himself who has added to the family's pain with this disgraceful, indefensible display.
I hear often from Trump fans, in response to my criticisms of our president’s conduct, that we shouldn’t judge him by the words that come out of his mouth. “Actions, not words!” they parrot, extending a dirt-low standard to Trump that they wouldn’t even afford to a friend or family member, let alone a different U.S. president.
But as I often argue, when you’re the leader of the free world, your words are actions. They can have deep consequences. They have the power to inspire people. They have the power to comfort citizens, assure allies, and fend off threats from bad actors. They also have the power to personally and needlessly devastate people.
Far too often, this president’s words follow the latter path. And those who refuse to hold him accountable — or worse, defend his behavior — only embolden more of it.