Friday, March 26, 2010

On Political Violence: Vandalism And Mortal Threats In The Wake Of The Wake Of The Health Care Vote

If you actually go to Sarah Palin's Facebook page, rather than simply believe what you have heard in the media, you can evaluate for yourself whether the twenty Democratic congressional seats she is urging the Republicans to take back in November are, or are not, marked with rifle cross hairs. I'm voting for not, although I haven't looked through a rifle sight in decades, so I am no authority.

I think the notion that Palin is inviting political assassins to, as we now say in the political arena, "bring it on" (I guess if you are a Republican you say "let's roll") takes an act of imagination. In order to imagine that one was being summoned by Palin to harm a sitting Congressman as part of a rebellion against tyranny, one would have to disregard what the former Governor of Alaska (or the person who maintains the site for her) actually says in the note attached to the map. "We’re going to fire them and send them back to the private sector," she says; "which has been shrinking thanks to their destructive government-growing policies. Maybe when they join the millions of unemployed, they’ll understand why Americans wanted them to focus on job creation and an invigorated private sector." Appealing to millions of voters who are unemployed or underemployed, and asking them to blame Democratic rather than Republican policies for their immiseration, Palin is suggesting that Democratic politicians be fired -- not fired upon.

Hell, yeah. Why would you need health insurance if you are unemployed? I ask you. Fire the ignorant bastards!

And yet. And yet.

Let us consider acts of imagination that might turn those crosses into cross hairs. After all, history demonstrates that political violence becomes conceivable through acts of imagination. In the United States, those acts of imagination have often been given tacit (or not so tacit) approval by politicians themselves who imagine themselves leading "the people" in a rebellion against tyranny.

Palin's recent Twitter message to her followers -- "Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!" is an unambiguous use of a war metaphor in the political arena. This causes me to wonder why, if Palin truly wishes to distance herself from political violence, she hasn't retracted that Twitter or redrawn that map with little stars instead. That she should allow the misunderstanding that she is inciting her followers to dangerous attacks to stand strikes me as odd, particularly given the threats to and acts of violence against Democrats that followed the health care vote last week. In the most potentially lethal incident, Virginia Democratic Congressman Tom Periello's home address was listed on a Lynchburg VA Tea Party blog (except it was actually Periello's brother's address.) Subsequently, the gas line to that home was cut, which might have resulted in a lethal explosion and fire.

Although the Lynchburg Tea Party has said it does not condone the violence (while we're at it, we could change the name of that town), it hasn't taken down the address or sanctioned the blogger either. Bricks through windows, some with threatening notes attached, have been more the norm; as have threats delivered by mail. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner received an envelope containing "white powder," intended to mimic an anthrax attack, and pictures of nooses were sent to other Congresspeople who voted yes on the national health bill. As the New York Times reports, Tea Party leaders have "distanced themselves" from these acts, saying that they result from "frustration" but are "not acceptable."

Well, if violence is not acceptable, remove this garbage from your websites, public statements and protest posters. Any responsible political organization would do this if they were concerned about the possibility of violence.

Goading crowds of the disaffected to violent emotions while insisting that actual criminal acts are only perpetrated by fringe elements has a long history in this country: ask Pitchfork Ben Tillman ("It was the riots before the elections precipitated by [Negro voters'] own hot-headedness in attempting to hold the government, that brought on conflicts between the races and caused the shotgun to be used. That is what I meant by saying we used the shotgun.") Ask George Wallace ("Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done.... I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.")

Ask Strom Thurmond ("I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.") Or ask Jesse Helms: "You needed that job. You were the best qualified for this job. But they had to give it to a minority."

Better yet, ask any civil rights worker from the 1950s or 1960s about the ration of threats received to bricks or bombs through the window. As a former candidate for president, Sarah Palin knows exactly what her foolish fear mongering accomplishes among her followers, something that other Republican lawmakers also ought to be held accountable for as they pursue a rhetorical scorched earth policy that summons the Lost Cause, the Alamo, and every other intolerant moment in this country's history (the American Revolution had plenty of them too, as so-called patriots sacked Tories and Native Americans for fun and profit.) As The Telegraph in the UK reported in November 2008, the McCain-Palin campaign's pursuit of rhetoric that linked an Obama presidency to US vulnerability to terrorism not only provoked cries of "Terrorist!" and "K___ him!" against candidate Obama, but a dramatic uptick in threats made against the life of the candidate and his family.* That none of these threats have, to date, resulted in an assault on the President does not make them meaningless, and Palin must actively refrain from provoking them.

Huffington Post reports that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have "condemned" the threats against Democrats, but they haven't, not really. As one quote on HuffPo reads,"'I do not condone violence,' Cantor said on Capitol Hill on Thursday. 'There are no leaders in the building, no rank and file members that condone violence, period.'But Cantor admonished Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) for 'dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.'" The condemnation of Democratic fundraisers citing these incidents in fundraising requests (because why would Democrats be afraid of a Republican Party that harbors vandals and assassins?) begs the question of who lit the fire in the first place.

For a good example of who that might be, go to John Boehner's web page, where an article without authorship (it is posted by the "Press Office") trumpets a "states rebellion... in Ohio" in response to a "Washington Democrats’ massive job-killing government takeover of health care." Promising that "the fight is far from over," Boehner announces that "Across the country, nothing short of a rebellion is underway." Embedded in this sentence is a link that takes you to another announcement of politicians in three states -- Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina -- who are moving to oppose the plan.

Anyone recall how peaceful the last rebellion or three that started in those states was? My point exactly.

*My use of blanks for this word is in deference to the fact that it is a federal felony to imply a threat to the the President's life.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.


Unknown said...

I will share this. Thanks for posting!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

But Cantor admonished Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) for 'dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.'

As Digby pointed out a day or so ago, this is classic domestic abuse rhetoric: "Don't make daddy angry or he'll have no choice but to beat you."

Tim Lacy said...

"A rhetorical scorched earth policy."

Well said. Civility begins with civil speech. - TL

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, your list of incendiary speech examples is a little incomplete. Let's not leave out the anti-Vietnam war rhetoric or that of black power. For a historian, how selective you are in your examples. I am sure you were right out there condemning the "Hey hey LBJ" chanters the Chicago rioters and the Malcolm X/ H Rap Brown crowd back in the day, right? (Or perhaps you were too young.)

Shane in SLC said...

Jack, the very fact that you had to go back 40 or 50 years to find examples of left-wing extremism to construct your false equivalency is pretty telling. TR's examples are all from the last 12 months or so. What has the American left done in the lifetime of most of the readers of this blog that can even compare to these "hijinks"?

JackDanielsBlack said...

Shane, I believe that you are missing my point. I was pointing out the selectivity of TRs examples of extremism,
which are generally also quite old -- George Wallace has been dead for awhile, and I believe the War Between the States was about 150 years ago. Also, I don't buy the premise that Sarah Palin is stoking violence. If the right today has so much more passion than the left, then I say too bad for the left and they better get out and fire up the troops before the next congressional election. In America, the pendulum swings between the left and the right, and right now it seems to be swinging rightward.

K said...

Oh Lynchburg.
The town was named for a Quaker, John Lynch, who ran a ferry across the James River at a particularly trecherous crossing (Percival's Rapids) but which happened to be on the route between Charlottesville and Greensboro, NC. To the north and west of Lynchburg are the Blue Ridge Mountains; to the south and east of Lynchburg, on the other side of the river basically, are the foothills and flatlands of Appamattox and the like. The tobacco and cotton farmers to the south and east were quite annoyed with Lynch, as he often ferried escaping slaves across the James on the Underground Railroad. So they raised a mob, went into town, burned down Lynch's house, took over the Quaker meeting house and appropriated it as a Baptist church, and hung Lynch in the center of town, on top of Quaker Hill. Do as Lynch did, spoke the mob, and we'll do to you as we did to Lynch.
And thus the origins of the term "to lynch."
This is also a good understanding of Lynchburg politics: the townies are quite moderate, if not occasionally liberal, but beware the white folks who live on the edge of town: they will burn down your houses (or at least your lawn with a well placed burning cross), brandish their guns, and all in all, be complete asses.

Tenured Radical said...

I think the post makes two other points: that the people using this violent language of armed rebellion are politicians. One os the House Minority Leader; another was a governor and candidate for hte Presidency. The people you cite Jack were private citizens -- and I can;t see how those protests are either violent or suggest that violence is an option. Most of those people were ideologically non-violent. Demonstrating and chanting is not the same thing as, say, assassinating someone because you believe he is a "baby killer;" or trying to murder a whole family in their beds because their relative voted for the health care bill.

Second point: white supremacists and segregationists used similar, deeply violent rhetoric which justified the use of legal and extra-legal violence to prevent desegregation. Fact. And this is what Boehner et. al. are drawing on, as well as he violent rebellion of the Civil War, when they sue the language of states rights.

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, you may have forgotten, but people were killed by folks protesting the Vietnam war and other causes of the sixties. Have you forgotten the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army and all the other rabble of the late sixties and early seventies? Remember "Off the pigs?" Incitement is incitement, whether its George Wallace or Huey Newton who is doing the inciting (or Barack Obama's pals Bill Ayers and Jeremy Wright, for that matter).

And I think it is time to take another look at states rights. The tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution seems to me to be at least as clear and deserving of attention as the rest of the Constitution. And saying that George Wallace "used the language" of states rights and therefore it is wrong of Boehner to argue for states rights is a logical fallacy--sort of like saying Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore all vegetarians are Nazis.

Tenured Radical said...

I don't think this is a teachable moment. But for the record: I don;t think you would find any reputable historian, of any political persuasion, who would agree that any violence committed by members of the New Left was equivalent to the systematic, brutal, and lethal repression and murder of African-Americans over the course of the twentieth century. "States rights" is not a race-neutral phrase in the US, nor are references to "rebellion" and the resort to arms.

And, by the way, I would challenge you to name one liberal Democrat who has invoked armed rebellion in the name of resisting an act of Congress or getting one passed.

JackDanielsBlack said...

Indeed, this is not a teachable moment, as you refuse to be taught. Instead, you construct a straw man rather than deal with my comments honestly. As far as Democrats and Republicans are concerned, I believe that three of the four folks you quoted as historical extremists (Ben Tillman, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond when he made the statement) were Democrats. As for Jesse Helms, I hardly think that it is "invoking rebellion" to point out to voters that they may have lost out because of affirmative action. To suggest otherwise is typical liberal hyperbole.

Tenured Radical said...


Anonymous said...

I don't know about armed rebellion but a prominent Dem politician certainly supported violence.

That same politician laughed when Wanda Sykes said she hoped Rush Limbaugh's kidneys fail

And he was the one we were told would bring us together.


Tenured Radical said...

Dear AYY:

Do you think hoping that Rush's kidneys fall out will make it happen?

But what I really want to know is -- what does AYY stand for?

JackDanielsBlack said...

"What we got here is a difference of opinion, but that's nothing a good, old-fashioned election can't fix."

Sarah Palin in Searchlight Nevada, commenting on liberal interpretations of her "Don't Retreat..reload" remark

JackDanielsBlack said...

‘If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun’

Quiz for the day: If Sarah Palin had said this instead of Barack Obama, would TR be condemning her for exhorting her followers to violence? Would the quote have ended up on TR's post as another example of the dangerous rhetoric of the American right?

Tenured Radical said...

I still want to know what AYY means.

Anonymous said...

I assumed it was okay to comment with a pseudonym.


Tenured Radical said...

It is. But AYY obviously stands for something -- I'm just curious about what it stands for. If you don't want to say, you don't have to, but why the mystery?

Anonymous said...

Since it's okay to use a pseudonym, and since I try to keep the comments on point, and since you don't ask others who they are, I don't understand why you're asking.

If I told you what it meant then it wouldn't be very useful as a pseudonym. Since it's your blog, if you'd prefer that I use a different one when commenting, I'll abide by your wishes.


Tenured Radical said...

No, I have no wishes -- I was just curious. Coment away, AYY.