The current White House occupant used his Twitter page this week to recount his own harrowing account of the ongoing impeachment proceeding against him, describing the constitutionally mandated investigation of his alleged one-president crime wave as “a lynching.”

UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Seth Kotch, an expert on imprisonment, punishment, the death penalty, and, yes, lynching, had some thoughts about that. 

“Take it from a historian,” Kotch posted on Twitter, “lynching is not something that can be appropriated by a billionaire president who wants to do crimes without consequences. But victimhood apparently can be.”

In an email to the INDY, Kotch—whose latest book, Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina, Kotch asserts that lynchings after slavery principally targeted African American men to preserve white supremacy, and capital punishment in the state served as an extension of that goal—says there were at least 180 lynchings in North Carolina. The earliest took place just after the Civil War, with the last documented lynching occurring in 1946.

Kotch says the mob murders in North Carolina had the same purpose here as in other towns and cities across the South: disrupting black communities, breaking up black-owned property, stealing black wealth, and harming and controlling black people.

North Carolina was the scene of “small, private [lynchings], and we had larger ones with many hundreds in attendance.”

Kotch asserts in Lethal State that this was especially the case if the victim in those cases was white.

“Obviously, this isn’t a #lynching,” Kotch wrote in the first of thirteen tweets he posted in response to the president’s lament. “But this complaint is really revealing about how lynching was about the perverse and enduring idea of white male victimhood.”

Kotch then pointed out the obvious, writing that the actual victims of lynchings have been African Americans, Latinx, Asians, and other people of color. He added that some white people were lynched, too, but they weren’t (self-proclaimed) members of the billionaire class who aligned their business interests with the world’s most autocratic regimes.

“White men who joined lynch mobs probably often did so as a grotesque bonding ritual,” he tweeted, “because they believed violence against non-whites was part of their racial inheritance; and because maintaining white dominance was materially and symbolically important to them.”

Kotch pointed out that, as aberrant as the act was, it was sanctioned by mainstream institutions, particularly in the media and law enforcement: “After the fact though, they explained their deed—and were given a mouthpiece to by the white-owned news—by imagining themselves as the real victims. In this deception, the victim of the lynch mob becomes the ‘beast’ who posed a threat to their communities and their way of life. The courts amplified amplified that threat by doing little about it. Sheriffs protected evil-doers rather than punished them.”

Law enforcement, far from protecting the rights of those targeted for the barbaric act, “participated in the lynchings or covered them up afterwards. Early in the 1900s, the head of NC’s prison system wrote an editorial defending lynching!” 

“Even without the threat of lynching, courtrooms were often hostile places for black defendants, who were usually tried before all-white juries,” Kotch told the INDY

Kotch points out that poor whites suffered, too—but because they were powerless, not because of race. 

“In a nutshell, it shows the way lynching was an expression of white male victimhood and anti-black male terrorism, rather—as we’ve known since Ida B. Wells spelled it out for us—than a response to criminal behavior.”

Kotch adds: “The claim fits perfectly in this day and age as a distillation of our political moment. If immigrants are attacking us, if black men threaten the lives of police officers, if transgender people pose risks to our children … as if we white Americans are under attack, it makes perfect sense to claim that we white men are the real victims and the people who you might think are under threat in detention centers, in jails, on the streets, are in fact threats to us.”

And, Kotch says, no one has exploited poor whites and people of color for his benefit more than Trump. “The real enemy of poor white people is rich white people,” he tweeted. “Like our president, a billionaire, the person in the world with the most power to make people’s lives better, who revels in suffering: the real suffering he inflicts and the fake suffering he imagines he experiences.”

Kotch says Trump is trying to lay the groundwork for an argument that “pre-impeachment is a lynching” by saying that the inquiry is proceeding without due process.”

This, Kotch says, “indicates a de-raced understanding of lynching—a legal process that lacked due process, like the hanging of horse thieves in the Old West or something. Setting aside that lots of lynchings in the Old West of ‘bandits’ were in fact murders of Mexican people … of course his inheritance is on the side of the mob. He’s the one who has committed crimes with impunity. He’s the one with a long track record of bodily violations of people he seeks to violate. He’s the one who doesn’t believe the rule of law does not apply to him, that he has the right to act as he pleases.”

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at 

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