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

March 26, 2010, 1:56 pm

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.

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