I began to draft this as a comment in response to the recommended diary by Meteor Blades. As it expanded in length, I turned it into a diary instead. Do with it what you will
Urges to or implications of action by someone viewed - not necessarily by you or me - as a respectable voice, can have serious consequences. Thomas a Becket died because of such urging by a king. Henry II's voice reached far fewer voices than are reached - unfortunately - by the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, and Norris. Their rhetoric legitimizes - in the minds, unfortunately, of some - taking action in the supposed cause of patriotism.
If we have any doubt of something like this, we need to remember the likes of an Eric Rudolph - Olympic Park and abortion clinic bombings; the likes of James Kopp - assassinated
abortion provider "doctor who provided abortions" rephrased at suggestion of Earicle) Bernard Slepian; Byron de la Beckwith - killer of Medgar Evers; . . .
We have a history replete with those who are unbalanced, or merely full of hate and venom, who do not need much encouragement to take violent action. There are too many who will take action because one is of color, or the wrong faith, or even the wrong politics. Combine two or three of these factors, as it clearly the case with our current president, and the warped mind easily justifies the violent action.
It would ironic that some would now hide behind a defense of "just words" when the same voices were critical of a then presidential candidate's eloquence using the same phrase. Words have consequences, and need to be confronted for what they are. Those who make their living with words - politicians and commentators in particular - need to be especially mindful.
I do not seek to silence unpopular speech. I do not believe in the hecklers' veto.
I do believe that those who give air to the rantings of a Coulter or who defer to the hatefilled rhetoric of a Limbaugh or a Beck - especially if they thereby profit greatly (which after all is the point of giving them a microphone) - should be aware that there are possible legal consequences (financial and otherwise) of continuing to support such hatred.
But before we get to legal consequences, there should be moral consequences. They should be denounced, and those who defend such rhetoric should similar be told it is not within acceptable behavior to urge violence, especially in a nation whose history is replete with the damage that has flowed from such violence, of names famous and not so famous, of people of the right and people of the left.
We have lost 4 presidents to assassins - Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.
We have had other presidents with serious attempts on their lives - Ford, Reagan,Truman and FDR (as president-elect, an attempt that killed Tony Cermak, mayor of Chicago).
Those who sought the presidency have been subject to violent attacks, with Bobby Kennedy killed by Sirhan Sirhan, George Wallace crippled by Arthur Bremer.
We recently have had Supreme Court justices whose lives were considered sufficiently threatened to provide them with armed security - Ginsburg and O'Connor
We have had notable figures in entertainment who have been subject to attacks - Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Alan Berg, Sharon Tate, John Lennon - just scratch the surface of this list, and if we include deranged stalkers, even David Letterman has lived at some risk.
Despite our history of violence, we do not have the world's highest murder rate - we are only 24th, with the most violent having a rate more than ten times that of the U. S. Our highest number of murders, at almost 25,000, was back in 1991. The adding of substantial law enforcement sources during the Clinton administration helped lower that.
Since November 4 we have seen a major increase in hate crimes, although so far most of the additional incidents have not yet risen to the level of violence. But intimidation and abuse can too easily escalate, and if the situation is not addressed forcefully can lead to fear, or the kinds of actions Meteor Blades felt he had to take to defend himself and his family.
We should reject such rhetoric, regardless of against whom it is offered. That includes similar rhetoric offered by those with whom we agree politically against those whom we oppose. If we are to condemn and demand appropriate action against the Coulters and Limbaughs and Becks, our own hands must be clean - we should not be accepting of those who offer violent rhetoric against even the most obnoxious of our opponents. If rhetoric escalates, too often the actions that follow are reflective of that rhetoric.
Perhaps it is a President we admire, young, changing things in society. In 1963 we were shocked when a young president died. Now I worry that we have become so inured to violence that the level we tolerate - of deed and of word - has escalated to a point where great tragedy is again possible.
All in positions of leadership or seeking same should be challenged to assent to a simple proposition - that they reject such language, such sentiments, such dangerous words, whether they be by those on the left or those on the right, whether the targets be elected public officials or people who are members of groups that are despised - gay, transgendered, racially - ethnically- religiously - politically different. Those unwilling to reject such hate-filled language should be told forcefully that they are unworthy of positions of leadership: they should be forcefully condemned, perhaps even shunned?
The restrictions on free speech are always troublesome, but there is no doubt that incitement to riot clearly is not protected, that it fulfils the clear and present danger test established by Holmes in Schenck v U. S. 249 U.S. 47 (1919), where Holmes famously wrote
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.
I thank Meteor Blades, and all others, who have shared their experiences. I ask that all reflect on the effect of violence, whether fueled by rhetoric or merely the product of warped and/or immature minds, to consider this simple proposition: knowing we are a society with a tendency towards violence, knowing the ready access to the means of violence within this society, knowing the unhealed wounds of race and gender and religion and sexual orientation and - yes - of political division, do we not ALL have a responsibility to ensure that we do not further fuel a tendency among some to rationalize violent rhetoric that may well incite violent action.
"Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Four knights, besotted and believing they were doing the will of the sovereign, took action, and Thomas a Becket became a martyr.
Too many martyrs already. We do not need more.
Words have consequences.
We are all responsible.