On Wednesday, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch made a strange comment on NRATV’s program Relentless. “They’re trying to Al Capone the president,” she said. “I mean, you remember. Capone didn’t go down for murder. Elliot Ness didn’t put him in for murder. He went in for tax fraud. Prosecutors didn’t care how he went down as long as he went down. The same goes for Democrats. Whatever avenue is needed to bring down the president, they’ll take it.”
Here is the way the Capone story is normally understood: Al Capone was a gangster who was responsible for many murder, but these crimes couldn’t be proved. So Federal agents targeted Capone for tax evasion, and got him for that crime. The metaphor of prosecuting someone in the manner of Al Capone thus means you are going after a guilty person not for their most heinous offense but for something provable in court.
But Loesch, by linking Capone with someone she is defending, makes it sound like Capone was the victim of an unfair prosecution. Nor is Loesch alone. In early August, Terresa Monroe-Hamilton of Right Wing News’ wrote, “They are looking to catch these people in a process crime...Think Al Capone and the IRS. It’s a trap meant to take down the Trump Presidency.”
The president himself is perhaps the origin of the misused Capone metaphor. In July, interviewed by Sean Hannity, Trump said, “With Paul Manafort, who really is a nice man, you look at what’s going on with him, it’s like Al Capone.” The following month, Trump tweeted: