I always figured that if Donald Trump got banned from Twitter, it would be for one of two reasons. Either he would tweet something beyond the pale even for him—an explicit death threat, say—or he would leave the White House and stop benefiting from Twitter’s lenient rules for public figures.
Neither scenario is how Trump’s Twitter career finally came to an apparent end. On Friday night, with just 12 days left in his presidency and two days after a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol, leading to several deaths, Twitter said it had permanently suspended Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” The pair of tweets that did him in, however, wouldn’t even crack his thousand most egregious:
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
To understand how these seemingly anodyne tweets (by Trump’s standards, anyway) got the president of the United States kicked off Twitter, we have to go back to Wednesday’s lethal chaos. Hours into the siege of the Capitol, Trump released a short video telling the rioters to “go home.” But in the video, he also repeated the false claim motivating the riot, namely that the election had been stolen from him. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all took the post down. In their eyes, the video was more likely to cause violence than quell it. By Thursday, both Facebook and Twitter had frozen Trump’s accounts—finally taking the dramatic step they had avoided throughout his presidency.
As I wrote on Thursday, the striking thing about the account suspensions was that Trump had really not crossed any new line; as outrageous as his message was, he at least told his followers to stand down. The rest was just classic Trump. Falsely claiming election fraud and praising even his most despicable followers is simply what the man does, and has done for the past four-odd years. What changed, then, was not Trump’s behavior on the platforms but rather the facts on the ground: With the Capitol ransacked and blood spilled, the hypothesis that Trump’s language could incite violence had been replaced by the straightforward fact that it had.