Yes, America Does Have a Problem With Violent Rhetoric

Yes, America Does Have a Problem With Violent Rhetoric

The above tweet was posted almost exactly a year ago. This is particularly troubling as Rand Paul is a United States Senator. He’s also a Republican. He’s also not the first, and likely won’t be the last to use rhetoric that appears to condone, if not outright encourage, violence against politicians and those with opposing viewpoints and policy goals.

The idea that violence, particularly gun violence, is just another item in the political toolbox with rhetorical speech, charts, and a legal education is not something that sprung up overnight. It didn’t just emerge since January 20, 2017; and the reality is that it likely won’t disappear any time soon. Nonetheless, after a horrific shooting yesterday where Congressional Republicans were the target and victims, a renewed call to tone down the violence in our politics has been issued. This shouldn’t be surprising. What is probably surprising, however, is that this call is coming from the political right.

Many on the right, perhaps most notably Donald Trump Jr, have attempted to put the blame for the shooting squarely on, you guessed it, their political opponents. This is days after Eric Trump, Donald’s brother, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe that Democrats are human. Before Don Jr. goes pointing his trigger finger at others, he should look at the words of his brother. Eric’s insistence that liberals are subhuman is itself a piece of violent rhetoric. Dehumanizing one’s opponents is a frequent tactic in authoritarian regimes, not just because it elevates one side over the other, but because it makes it easier to deny basic rights and liberties, up to and including life, to one’s opponents.

But, the Trump brothers aren’t the first conservatives to advocate, tacitly or otherwise, violence against their political opponents. They aren’t even the first members of the Trump family to do that. In the campaign last year, Donald Trump, yes that Donald Trump, made a thinly veiled call for the assassination of Hillary Clinton should she win the presidency. He later claimed he was being sarcastic (which, itself makes little sense), but followed that up with that he wasn’t being that sarcastic.

Still, the Trumps’ use of violent and dehumanizing rhetoric, while shocking coming from a then presidential candidate and more recently from his family, is just part of a pattern of violent rhetoric bandied about by the right in recent years. During the early days of the campaign, another candidate, Carly Fiorina made an impassioned, if entirely false, speech during a debate about the Planned Parenthood death factories and how they were selling “baby parts.” She insinuated that the left were evil, and were not only condoning, but were actively involved in the slaughter of innocents. This speech inspired Robert Lewis Dear Jr. to walk into a Planned Parenthood and open fire. Three people were killed. Dear said he was doing it, “for the babies.”

Late last year, a man named Edgar Welch walked into Comet Ping Pong, a family pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. and opened fire. Thankfully, no one was injured. Welch was inspired by rhetoric and conspiracy theories pushed by far right media outlets that Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex ring out of the basement of the restaurant.

Dylann Roof opened fire in a historically black church in Charleston. He was inspired by far right extremist groups, such as the American Nazi Party, and the right-wing media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, which attempted to push the narrative that African-Americans were inherently violent and dangerous, and were a threat to themselves and to white people collectively. This same narrative was pushed by Bill O’Reilly, and later elements of it were posted on Twitter by then-candidate Donald Trump.

Alex Jones, of Info Wars infamy stated after the Newtown shootings (which he doesn’t believe actually occurred) that any attempt at new legislation that restricted access to firearms by the mentally unstable and those with prior convictions would result in a new Civil War just like “in 1776” [sic] where conservative Americans would take up arms and overthrow the government. Jones yesterday also attempted to push the narrative that it is liberals that are advocating violent overthrow and assassination of politicians they disagree with.

This would make ultra-conservative B-list rocker Ted Nugent a liberal. Nugent has, since the early days of the Obama era, made many violent and over the top speeches at his concerts and on his social media accounts. He has suggested that Hillary Clinton should be forced to “suck on” the end of his AR-15. He has referred to Barrack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” He even threatened to assassinate Obama if he won reelection in 2012. For this, he was rewarded with an invitation to the 2013 State of the Union address from former Texas Representative Steve Stockman, who is currently under indictment for conspiracy charges relating to misuse of campaign funds. He blames his arrest on the so-called Deep State, a fictional tyrannical shadow government that supposedly exists within the United States government, but really only exists in the minds of paranoid conservatives. Nugent was also invited to the White House by Donald Trump.

So, with all this violent rhetoric and calling for assassination, how to explain the shooting that occurred yesterday? Conservatives are now pointing to the Kathy Griffin’s decapitated head photo and to a Snoop Dogg music video. They are claiming this as evidence of the evils of the ultraviolent liberals (these are the same liberals that are often considered by the same conservatives as being weak and afraid of violence). To their credit, Griffin’s photo stunt was in extremely poor taste. As such, it was met with swift backlash from liberals and conservatives alike. Her career, such as it was, is likely finished. Sure, she apologized, but the point is that she was condemned by many, if not nearly all, of those on the left.

As for Snoop Dogg’s music video, the character in question is a clown. He is never referred to as the president; though his ridiculous hair, caked on makeup, and oversized necktie would seem to identify him as analogous to Donald Trump. Then again, those items are pretty standard standard fare for a clown. Draw you own conclusions. More to the point, though, is that the character is never actually shot. The gun that is pointed in his direction only displays a flag that says, “Bang” and launches some confetti. In the world of depictions of violence against Trump, Snoop Dogg’s is beyond tame, and crosses the line into camp absurdity, whereas Griffin’s crosses the line into being offensive for the sake of it.

But, all of the outrage over Snoop Dogg and Kathy Griffin ignores the point that conservatives have been using violent rhetoric for years. They often point to the Second Amendment as not just a right to keep and bear arms, but as an implicit check on the government. The government shouldn’t get too powerful, they say, lest the citizens will kill those in government. Conservatives have lauded and praised those who have engaged in armed takeovers of federal land and property, and who were engaged in armed standoffs with law enforcement – just so long as those people were also conservatives. The dramatic story of the Bundy family and their cohorts unfolded just over a year ago. Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore stated in May of last year that she believed that it was proper for someone to aim their weapons at police, and she intimated that she would have no problem killing a cop herself.

The list could go on and on, but for the sake of space and my sanity, I will stop there. But, I don’t disagree with the call to tone down the violent rhetoric and the quick usage of the Second Amendment as a veiled threat to kill lawmakers and assassinate presidents. However, those who are calling out violent statements are the same ones who make and condone them. If conservatives want to end violent rhetoric, if they want to change the conversation, they should first be the change that they seek.

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