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U.S. Republican presidential candidate and reality-television actor Donald Trump, a self-professed billionaire, once said he would consider becoming an “Indian” during a radio interview where he also praised Gen. George Custer and went along with a “drunken Injun” joke.
Trump made the comments when he appeared on shock jock Don Imus’ morning radio show, Imus in the Morning, on June 18, 1993. The radio segment aired about two months after he was rebuffed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians on a proposed casino deal and four months before he appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee on Native American Affairs claiming Native American gaming would lead to “Al Capone” levels of organized crime.
Trump, who has run a campaign denigrating Muslims, Mexicans, women and people with disabilities, recently plowed into heavy controversy after a hot mic Access Hollywood recording surfaced that caught him bragging about committing sexual assault against women.
Long before that Access Hollywood recording and his presidential campaign, Trump used racist attacks against Native Americans to protect profits from his Atlantic City, NJ, casinos.
At the time of his 1993 radio interview, Trump aimed particular vitriol at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s casino in Connecticut, which he saw as operating in direct competition to his Atlantic City operations, which would eventually crumble.
“So, what is this now? A bunch of these drunken Injuns want to open a casino down there in New Jersey?” said Imus, in the opening moments of the interview, according to a transcript of the interview that is part of the congressional record.
“Well, it’s a battle that we’re fighting and I think it’s being successfully fought. A lot of the reservations are being….run by organized crime and organized crime elements, as you can imagine,” said Trump, in response. “I think you’ll see some very major things happening over the next couple of months.”
After ridiculing Native American claims of sovereignty—“Before it wasn’t a nation, before gambling. Now it’s this great sovereign nation”—Trump was asked by Imus if he’d consider joining a Native American tribe.
“Well, I think if we lost various things, I would perhaps become an Indian myself…I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations,” said Trump, referring to the Mashantucket Pequot Nation. “I think if you’ve ever been up there, you would truly say that these are not Indians.”
During the interview, Trump also said he was furthering Custer’s fight after Imus continued to ask about the threat of Native American casinos in New Jersey.
“General George Custer was against it also and look what happened to him,” said Trump.
Custer, who led the 7th Calvary Regiment, was famously overwhelmed and killed by an alliance of Cheyenne and Lakota during the Battle of Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Before his defeat, Custer’s campaign against Native Americans included slaughtering women and children.
Two months before Trump raged against Native Americans, he was trying to convince the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, Calif., to break off its talks with Caesars World Inc. and join up with him.
In February of 1993 Trump began calling the Agua Caliente tribal office and finally landed a meeting on the 11th of that month with Agua Caliente’s then-chairman of the Tribal Council Richard Malonovich, according to an Oct. 15, 1993, affidavit from Malonovich, which was filed on the congressional record.
“He described his and his organization’s experience in gaming and told us how his political and other connections could cut through bureaucratic red tape to gain the necessary approvals for such a venture,” said Malonovich’s affidavit. “Our answer to him was essentially thanks, but no thanks.”
Trump called again at the end of the month, then his top officials continued with letters and more phone calls until April, all to no avail.
Then, Trump changed tactics and proceeded to launch a smear campaign against Native American casinos which took him all the way to the U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee on Native American Affairs on Oct. 5, 1993.
Trump unloaded a stream of venom against Native American casinos during his testimony.
“If this continues as a threat, it is my opinion that it will blow, it will blow sky high, it will be the biggest scandal ever or one of the biggest scandals since Al Capone in terms of organized crime,” said Trump. “I listen about sovereign nation, the great sovereign nation, and yet $30 billion to all of the various programs was contributed to the sovereign nation for education, for welfare, for this, for that…I want to know, can Indians sign treaties with foreign nations? Can they go sign a treaty with Germany? The answer is no. How is it a sovereign nation? It is only a sovereign nation in that Indians don’t have to pay tax…The Indians don’t have to pay tax.”
And then he said:
“Nobody is more for the Indians than Donald Trump.”
In 2000, Trump was forced to apologize to the Akwesasne Mohawks after he secretly paid for ads smearing the U.S. side of the community, which is known as the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Trump was fined $250,000 by New York State’s lobbying commission over the ads. Trump’s long-time aide Roger Stone was also forced to apologize as part of the settlement for his involvement in the scheme.
Trump was attacking the Mohawks over their plans to open a casino in New York States’ Catskill resort area.
Indigenous public relations consultant Nicole Robertson, who lives in Calgary, chastised Trump this past May for calling U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.”
The Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which Trump built, shut down on Oct. 10, 2016.