Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man suspected of organizing the Paris attacks, was killed in a police raid Wednesday, and Donald Trump wasted no time in registering his opinion on the issue. In a radio interview with Breitbart News, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination criticized the media for branding Abaaoud a “mastermind.” In fact, Trump said Abaaoud should be called "garbage" and be referred to as “a punk.” And you know what? He has a good point.
“He’s not a mastermind, he’s a punk,” Trump told Breitbart News. “They ought to call him what he is. He’s garbage, and they ought to call him what he is.” Trump added that ISIS' savvy Internet skills are being used to recruit new fighters, and these potential recruits are “hearing about ‘the mastermind,’ and they’re respecting him.” This is part of “why the kids are joining and going over to ISIS,” Trump argued.
Hang on to your hats, folks, because I'm about to say the unthinkable: Trump is really not off base with this one. Nobody can say with certainty what compels somebody to join ISIS, of course. It’s true, though, that referring to violent extremists as “masterminds” places them on some sort of pedestal. The phrase highlights the attackers’ organizational competence, not their moral degeneracy, and suggests a kind of high achievement in pulling off the attacks. It’s a word that’s often applied to successful military commanders or CEOs or diabolical super-villains in movies, and in that sense, it’s more of a complimentary term than anything else.
Many have argued this same point with regard to mass shootings in the United States. The shooters — sorry, the “garbage punks” — often receive substantial media attention after the fact, with their names and pictures plastered throughout the news. Many believe this attention incentivizes other troubled individuals to engage in violence as well, and some activist groups, like No Notoriety, have launched campaigns to dissuade the media and public from saying these killers' names. While it’s impossible to say for sure whether those efforts make a difference, placing such focus on the criminals themselves probably doesn’t help.
It is, of course, entirely within character for Trump to resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks on his foes. No surprise there. But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and it appears to be the right time of the day for Trump.