WASHINGTON — One of the Internet's most fertile sites for racist political posts was ready for action Thursday. Amid word Hillary Clinton was planning a speech about the spread of racism in American politics, the popular message board known as 4Chan was awash in images of her with swastikas.
She delivered it.
Clinton devoted a whole speech to depicting Donald Trump as a racist, reaching way back to his first appearance in a major newspaper story: It was 1973, and he was fighting a federal lawsuit for refusing to rent apartments to black people.
She called him unworthy not only of running the country — but unworthy of his own political party. Clinton invited traditional Republicans to abandon their 2016 nominee. She referred to past Republican leaders — Abraham Lincoln, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain — who stood up to racists.
"A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the Internet, should never run our government or command our military," Clinton told a Nevada crowd.
"Of course there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now.
"On (Ku Klux Klansman) David Duke’s radio show the other day, the mood was jubilant."
Clinton ran through a list dating back decades:
—In 1973, the federal government sued Trump's company for allegedly designing a system to avoid renting to black people. He denied the charges, which was the first time he was ever quoted in the New York Times. The parties later settled out of court, with the company agreeing to new oversight procedures.
—One of his casinos was fined by regulators for removing black employees from the floor.
—He suggested President Barack Obama was born in Africa.
—He referred to Mexicans as rapists and criminals in his presidential campaign launch speech.
—He suggested he couldn't be judged fairly by a judge whose parents were Mexican.
—He reluctantly disavowed the support of Duke, the Klansman.
—He suggested Muslims celebrated the 9-11 attacks on a New Jersey rooftop.
—He slurred Sen. Ted Cruz's Cuban-born father.
—He praised a talk-show host who indulges in wild conspiracy theories, like 9-11 being an inside job and the school massacre at Sandy Hook involving child actors.
—He hired a campaign manager who headed the Breitbart news site, which celebrated the Confederate flag amid the controversy following last year's Charleston massacre: "Just imagine," Clinton said, "Donald Trump reading that and thinking, 'This is what I need more of in my campaign.'"
When it was over, the anchor at Fox News cast it as a unique speech in campaign history. And the anchor on the Republican-friendly network suggested it won't be easy for the nominee to wiggle from its central charge.
"That was an extraordinary moment," Shepard Smith said, as Clinton left the stage.
"(She) has just tagged her Republican rival as a racist, fear-mongering conspiracy theorist who's temperamentally unfit to be president of the United States. The problem with any attempt to rebut her is that in this case she used Donald Trump's own words; was historically accurate on his policies."
Polls suggest Clinton's strategy of reaching out to disaffected Republicans is bearing some fruit.
She's leading almost every survey nationally and, perhaps more crucially, almost every survey of every battleground state. One reason is Trump's weaker standing within his own party, as women and college-educated voters have resisted him.
Trump is trying to turn the tide — he's promising compassion in his deportation policy against southern migrants, walking back his initial ban on Muslim visitors, and lamenting the plight of African-American neighbourhoods.
He offered a pre-buttal of sorts of Clinton's speech.
At a rally before she took the stage, he said he hadn't seen the remarks but wanted to address her smearing millions of decent voters as racists. He said Democrats are the ones who've failed minorities, by allowing inner cities to crumble.
"It's the oldest play in the Democratic playbook," Trump said.
"When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one tired argument. It's the last refuge of the discredited politician."
Trump's supporters joined in.
The Breitbart site posted a picture of Clinton hugging the late senator Robert Byrd — who was once a segregationist and Ku Klux Klansman. The speech generated lots of commentary on a popular online discussion page of the so-called alt-right — a virtual gathering point for actual neo-Nazis, mock racists who revel in flinging epithets, and white identitarians.
Posters on the 4Chan page were acutely aware Clinton's speech would send new visitors and media in their direction. Numerous commenters on the pro-Trump page prepared for the big moment by ironically professing their love for Clinton and posting swastikas beside her image.
Another commenter wrote: "Be at your best best behaviour."