Bernie Sanders speaks at the People's Summit 2017 in Chicago. Credit: Ryan Smith

Bernie Sanders growled while delivering the keynote speech at last weekend’s People Summit in Chicago: “Part of the problem is . . . nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

Packed into McCormick Place’s Arie Crown Theater, thousands of his followers roared in response, some furiously waving bloody fake heads of Donald Trump borrowed from Kathy Griffin. “Knock the crap out of them!” Sanders screamed, his index finger pointing at some invisible target like a cocked gun while red beret-wearing Bernie bros in the aisles began passing out burning torches and pitchforks.

The dark truth about Sanders’s so-called political revolution was suddenly revealed. The GOP needed to feel the Bern in a more tangible way. Would a violent coup be next? Would they reanimate the corpse of Joseph Stalin to help fight Trump?

That’s how the People’s Summit now appears in the fevered imagination of some in the conservative mediasphere after a southern-Illinois man named James Hodgkinson opened fire on a group of Republicans at a congressional baseball field on Wednesday morning, a few days following the summit. The 66-year-old wounded four people, including House majority whip Steve Scalise, before being killed by return gunfire from members of the congressional police force. Quickly it became clear from Hodgkinson’s social media profile that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter who’d volunteered for the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist’s presidential campaign in 2016. The Belleville man frequently expressed rage against the Republican machine on social media, including a recent Facebook post that reads “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Many pundits on the right jumped at the chance to punch left. From the American Spectator:

“Sanders, for whom Hodgkinson stumped in Iowa, took to the well of the Senate and declared himself “sickened” by the attack. He then made clear that violence is unacceptable. Which is all very well, but of course this is a man who spent an entire year barnstorming America demanding a “political revolution in this country.” A revolution necessitates assassinations, does it not? Or did Sanders mean something else? Did he want a nonviolent revolution? What history is there of that? At minimum this should be the end of Sanders’ political career.

Just four days before Hodgkinson’s attempt at a Franz Ferdinand-style kickoff to the revolution he suspected Sanders was asking for, the wild-haired semi-reformed Soviet sympathizer appeared at something called the People’s Summit in Chicago, delivering a broadside of calumnies and bromides so vicious as to sit right at home at a microphone in Caracas or Pyongyang or Havana.”

Yikes. It’s true that the grizzled 75-year old politician spoke to a group of a few thousand progressive activists and organizers in Chicago last week, but the quotations that begin this post are actually phrases that not Sanders but President Donald Trump used on the campaign trail last year. Sanders’s rhetoric in Chicago was —as always—passionate but peaceful.

I was in attendance at last weekend’s People’s Summit with a press pass, and I didn’t hear anything approaching bloodlust. If anything, it was quite the opposite. CNN commentator Van Jones called for progressives to have more empathy for the white working class and Trump voters. Author Naomi Klein, whom I interviewed last week about her new book No Is Not Enough, talked about a more humane economic system—a “love economy.” One of the largest contingents among the 4,000 attendees was a group of outspoken nurses from National Nurses United, focused not on violence but on a better way of treating it via single-payer health care.

The “revolution” that Sanders and other panelists kept referring to? It’s an electoral and ideological one. “We may not have won the campaign in 2016, but there is no question that we have won the battle of ideas,” Sanders said during his People’s Summit speech. “Brothers and sisters, that is no small thing.”

About 4,000 progressive activists and organizers attended last week’s People’s Summit at McCormick Place.Credit: Ryan Smith

Still, the idea that Sanders had fomented the shooting with his angry anti-establishment populist language was taken up even by mainstream news outlets like the New York Times and CNN, albeit in a more measured manner.

During an interview with Jane Sanders, Bernie’s wife, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer played a clip of Bernie’s People’s Summit speech where he called Trump “the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country.” “In retrospect, does he go too far in speaking like that about the president?” Blitzer asked.

Meanwhile, the New York Times built a guilt-by-association case against “the most ardent supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders” in an article headlined “Attack Tests Movement Sanders Founded“:

“To be sure, supporters of Mr. Trump, as well as Mr. Trump himself, have assailed opponents and the news media.

But long before the shooting on Wednesday, some of Mr. Sanders’ supporters had earned a belligerent reputation for their criticism of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and others who they believed disagreed with their ideas. Sanders fans, sometimes referred to derogatorily as “Bernie Bros” or “Bernie Bots,” at times harassed reporters covering Mr. Sanders and flooded social media with angry posts directed at the “corporate media,” a term often used by the senator.

The suspect in the shooting in Virginia put a new spotlight on the rage buried in some corners of the progressive left.”

It’s not surprising that the right (even a so-called “intellectual” conservative magazine like the American Spectator) might exploit the heinous act of one disturbed individual, one reportedly with a history of domestic violence and angry outbursts. But it’s maddening when ostensibly neutral mainstream outlets join the blame game and warn in hushed tones about the need for “respectful discourse”—even toward Trump, whose hawkish military policies are leading to all kinds of violent misery, including an all-time high in civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, according to the British monitoring group Airwars.

The media in the Internet and social media age never seem content to simply report on mass shootings but instead attempt to explain them. They’ve blamed such tragedies on rap lyrics, movies, video games—you name it—in the past. Why not accuse a peaceful progressive moment for this one?