This past Saturday, 39-year-old Curt Brockway was at the county fair rodeo in the western Montana town of Superior when the national anthem came on. According to court documents, he noticed a 13-year-old boy nearby wearing a hat, and Brockway claims that when he asked him to take it off, the boy said, "Fuck you." So Brockway grabbed the boy by the neck, lifted him in the air, and slammed him into the ground.
A witness told the Missoulian that she was watching the rodeo when she heard a "pop" and turned around. "There was a little boy lying on the ground. He was bleeding out of his ears, seizing on the ground, just not coherent," she said. The boy was rushed to a nearby hospital before being airlifted to Spokane, Washington, reportedly with a fractured skull. Brockway was arrested later that night.
On Monday, Brockway, who is an army veteran, was charged with assault on a minor, and his attorney Lance Jasper told the Missoulian that he was responding to the "rhetoric" of Donald Trump. "His commander in chief is telling people that if they kneel, they should be fired, or if they burn a flag, they should be punished. He certainly didn't understand it was a crime." He added, "Obviously he owes a big portion of accountability for what took place, but it's certain that there was other things at work here that definitely contributed."
Trump adopted defending the anthem as a go-to talking point after Colin Kaepernick, then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the national anthem at the start of NFL games in 2016. Trump said at the time, "I think it's a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it's not gonna happen." Kaepernick was protesting police brutality and the shootings of unarmed black men, but Trump characterized it as a sign of disrespect for troops, policemen, and the American flag.
The next year, no team would touch Kaepernick but more players started following his lead and kneeling in solidarity. In September 2017, Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired.'" After the Philadelphia Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl and few players agreed to a visit, Trump rescinded the traditional White House invitation and instead threw a football-free party, during which he said, "We love our country, we respect our flag and we always proudly stand for the national anthem. We stand to honor our military and to honor our country and to remember the fallen heroes who never made it back home." Three months later, in a call-in interview to Fox & Friends, he said that players protesting the anthem "shouldn't be in the country." And this June, Trump claimed that burning the U.S. flag should be banned by constitutional amendment, saying, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"
Brockway's defense is similar to that of Cesar Sayoc, the Donald Trump devotee who mailed pipe-bombs to media organizations and Democratic politicians who he considered to be the president's "enemies." Sayoc's attorney argued that his client came to see Trump as a "surrogate father figure," and that he became so consumed by the president's "alternate reality" that he "began to consider Democrats as not just dangerous in theory, but imminently and seriously dangerous to his personal safety." The judge didn't see that as cause for leniency, sentencing Sayoc to 20 years in prison this week.
Originally Appeared on GQ