Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gun violence and the freedom to say awful stuff

Given the latest incidents of mass shooting and political violence - the latter directed at cops in Georgia and Las Vegas - there have been several articles dealing with how Republican Party rhetoric may be contributing to this phenomenon, including most of the following:

Peter Bergen and David Sterman, U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists CNN 04/15/2014

Brian Beutler, Why Is the American Far Right More Violent Than the American Far Left? The New Republic 06/10/2014

Eric Boehlert, How Fox News Covers Right-Wing Cop Killers: When Political Violence Doesn't Warrant Collective Blame Media Matters 06/10/2014

Digby, Just a coupla patriots sittin' around shootin' Hullabaloo 06/09/2014

Homegrown Extremism 2001-2013 New American Foundation (n/d, accessed 06/10/2014)

Cord Jefferson, The Racism Beat Matter 04/09/2014

Timothy Johnson, Fox Wastes No Time Pushing Right-Wing Canards After Oregon School Shooting Media Matters 06/10/2014

Ed Kilgore, Violence and the Right to Revolution Political Animal 06/10/2014

Paul Waldman, Republican Rhetoric and Right-Wing Terrorism: 10 Troubling Incidents The Plum Line 06/09/2014

Paul Waldman, How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism? The American Prospect 06/09/2014

Joan Walsh, Fox News foments another violent outbreak: From Cliven Bundy to Jerad Miller, words matter Salon 06/10/2014

Such discussions often taper off into inconclusive and vague declamations about free speech and legal culpability.

But that often misses the point. In the United States, you're free to say pretty much any dang fool thing you want without getting put in jail for it, and other people generally have the freedom to say what a dang fool thing it was you just said. Shooting off your mouth in public about what a great idea you think it would be for someone to murder the President or a member of his family may get you a visit from the Secret Service. Making direct death threats is also illegal. And a mobster or two-bit Klan Klavern leader ordering a hit on someone also isn't covered by free speech laws.

And the advantage of such permissive rules of freedom of speech is that it lets us know that people like Wayne Lapierre, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or whoever are promoting reckless conduct by what they say. That then lets people like the writers mentioned above point out that they are promoting reckless conduct by what they say. It doesn't mean that the LaPierres, Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world get held legally liable when someone acts in criminal ways on insane or hateful ideas they promote.

It also doesn't mean that some people won't choose to shun them and the commercial enterprises they promote because of the insane, reckless or hateful talk, either. Free speech means you don't go to jail for saying awful stuff. It doesn't mean that everyone else should pretend not to notice how awful the stuff you're saying is.

I posted not long ago about the fearful picture of daily life in the US painted by the NRA's best-known spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, as reported here by Samantha Lachman for the Huffington Post, Wayne LaPierre Warns Fellow Gun Rights Supporters Of 'Knockout Gamers,' 'Haters' 04/25/2014:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers [sic], haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.
I actually happen to live in a city which in some years recently has had the highest murder rate of any large city in the country. But this is so far from describing realistically even the most dangerous cities in the US is that it's a psychotic picture of our reality.

And he is explicit that "this government" - and official police departments are part of the government, whether his older white audience for the speech realized it or not - cannot protect from these horrors: "Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own."

This kind of talk, coming as it does from the spokesman of the NRA, an organization revered and obeyed by elected Republicans at all levels on gun issues, encourages irrational features and sanctions vigilante violence. That doesn't make LaPierre legally an accomplice to actions like the recent dual cop-killing the "Patriot Militia" type extremists in Las Vegas. But it's plain silly to pretend he's not actively creating the kind of atmosphere that encourages such actions.

Oh, and liberal concern-troll extradinaire Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby? How is he taking all this talk about extremism and white racism and political violence from the right and the Republicans encouraging it all with their bellowing and blustering? The last few days, he's been focusing on education issues. But I'm sure in a few days, he'll explain to us how the whole flap shows us ... how evil Rachel Maddow is!

As of this writing, the NRA's website is featuring a video sponsored by Sig Sauer, called The WORST Is On The Way!:

The video presents nine white guys sitting around a table talking about how scary The Terrorists are - Muslims, of course! I think of them as the Nine Bobs: Brandon Bob, Rob Bob, Tom Bob, Jerry Bob, Matt Bob, Del Bob, Tim Bob, Rob Bob and Matt Bob Bob.

The Nine Bobs of the White Guys' Table talk about three notorious terrorist attacks: Mumbai (India, 2008), Naibori mall (Kenya 2013), and Beslan (Russia 2004). They emphasize that them thar Muslim terrists is comin' to git you good Amurcans right 'chere at home!

Jerry Bob (around 0:50) explains to us how in the Mumbai attack, "10 soldiers in Mumbai completely annihilated their entire infrastructure." The entire infrastructure would include stuff like highways, airports, power lines and power stations, water works, sewage facilities, grocery stores, offices, hospitals, schools, universities, clinics, roads, bridges. And in a city of 18.4 million, only ten of them thar Muslim terrists were able to destroy it all in a few hours time! Wow, I guess The Terrorists really are superhuman! Although Jerry Bob explains they had help from the Indian Librul Media.

Del Bob tells us started around 2:15 how a mall massacre like in Kenya is going to happen here. At around 2:50, Tim Bob talks about how the Nairobi terrorists supposedly asked people whether they were Muslim or not before and then killed the ones who said no, a kind of story that resonates especially with white American Christian fundamentalists.

There's a lot of talk throughout about how The Terrorists kill children.

I'm not sure it's registered with Del Bob and Tim Bob that there are mall massacres in the US. But they don't count because they are usually done by non-Muslim American white guys, you know, "lone nuts."

Moving to the Beslan massacre, Brandon Bob around 4:00 asks, "What did Bin Laden say after the Beslan massacre? This will happen on your soil five times." (Did Bin Laden really say that or did Brandon Bob read it in a chain e-mail?)

Around 4:25, Tom Bob explains weightily that the Chechen terrorists prepared the Beslan attack carefully. Wow, The Terrorists prepare attacks ahead of time? Who would have thought?

Near the end around 7:20, Tim Bob says things like the mall attack and the Beslan school will happen in the US. But none of the Bobs talking on this video seem to regard, you know, the school massacres that actually happen here in the US as being what they are talking about.

The video doesn't actually pitch for people to rush out and buy Sig Sauer weapons. But the message is that the scary Muslims are COMING FOR US! And we should be afraid, very afraid.

The NRA and companies like Sig Sauer are happy to promote propagandist fear-mongering like this video. People that consume a steady diet of this kind of talk without checking in with reality in other ways can understandably come to see Wayne LaPierre's psychotic picture of how scary and dangerous a place the US has become as normal and sensible.

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