The Right Wing’s Effect on the Quiet Rise of Violence in AmericaPhoto courtesy of Getty Politics Features Political Violence
This week, a major right-wing personality attacked the FBI, saying: “Let it get out there. Cleanse the organization.”
Now, who said it: Judge Jeanine Pirro? Tucker Carlson? Sean Hannity? Alex Jones, maybe?
Yes, you guessed it: Alex Jones.
Wait, no. It was Paul Ryan.
Here’s Judge Jeanine: “There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice—it needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in cuffs.”
Hannity told his viewers that the FBI “now poses a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic.”
What type of event comes to your mind when you use the word “cleanse” next to a group of people? Even if you argue these people don’t really mean a violent solution, this is indisputably the language of war and of killing. And now the Speaker of the House is deploying this language in reference to our own Justice Department.
To be clear: The risk of political violence in the United States is higher than it’s been since the 1960s, and right-wing media personalities and pundits have made more incidents all but inevitable. As Mueller turns his investigation to Trump, and the lawyers of Trump aides involved in the Russia probe—again: representing Trump aides—say they suspect Mueller will indict Trump himself sometime this spring, this rhetoric will only increase.
The threat of political violence is, to be sure, an inevitability. If you say it isn’t, you must have forgotten all the political violence of the past year.
Here are a few more examples of prominent right-wingers indulging their audience in violent rhetoric.
Lou Dobbs said on Fox News, “It may be time to declare war outright against the deep state, and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.
Republican congressman Stan Gaetz said the United States is “at risk of a coup” because of the Mueller investigation.
As noted in Salon, former FBI agent and right-wing pundit John Guandolo said, speaking on Christian TV, that “People need to be tried, convicted and executed for treason. They are conspiring to overthrow the government…they need to be charged, sent to jail, executed, etc., if the republic is to survive.” Salon further notes some federal law enforcement departments buy Guandolo’s anti-Muslim training videos.
Earlier this year noted anti-Trump right-wing Twitter kook Louise Mensch infamously tweeted that the government is considering the death penalty for Steve Bannon. Put aside the fact that Steve Bannon’s liver considered the death penalty for Steve Bannon years ago. And a whole lot of angry “resistance” grandmas are screaming “treason,” and even that Trump and Flynn etc should face the death penalty for their involvement in the attack on America. And to be honest, that attack to me does seem like an act of treason, but the death penalty? Come on. If they’re guilty, jail em. For crying out loud don’t kill em.
We sadly can’t exclude Mr. Jones from this, only because he boasts that he now has a direct line to the President of the United States of America, who calls Jones regularly during “executive time,” when he’s watching right-wing TV. Anyway, Jones said a lot of crazy shit in his day, but most recently this includes saying the “deep state” wants to “set off a nuke in Washington, D.C.”
He went on:
They’re on TV saying, ‘Trump, we’re coming for you. We’re going to kill you,’ to make it look like everything was peachy keen for all their operatives and their ‘deep state’ people.
I don’t know which TV stations Mr. Jones watches, but I’d love some links, sir. It should go without saying that hasn’t been said.
Alleged former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said on Fox News that the Uranium One conspiracy, which is a bunch of bull we haven’t heard about in a long while, was the equivalent of the Rosenbergs, who truly did commit espionage for the USSR in the 1950s. They got executed, and Gorka, who, again, worked in the White House, reminded us:
If this had happened in the 1950s, there would be people up on treason charges right now. The Rosenbergs, okay? This is equivalent to what the Rosenbergs did, and those people got the chair.
Guess which Fox News program he said this on?
And think of other, more casual phrases, such as “the war on Christmas.” And even the name some anti-Trumpers have adopted—”the resistance”—sounds not so subtly bellicose. Granted it’s Star Wars-y and over-the-top, but violence is baked into our political language.
The stats make this clear. And the events themselves make it frightening.
We’ve already SEEN an increase in political violence this year
For instance, a leftist nutjob shot up a GOP softball game. And Nazis, yes, Nazis in the United States, killed a woman peacefully protesting at a contentious demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. The President of the United States clearly and repeatedly condemned one of these events, but not the other.
We’ve seen other protest clashes. Some right-wingers allegedly exercising their right to free speech (while armed with poles with nails in them) unsurprisingly clashed with counterprotesters on the UC Berkeley campus. Some anti-Trump protesters lit a literal garbage fire during Trump’s inauguration.
No political group is entirely peaceful. The left has its share of responsibility. But some high-profile right-wing personalities, some elected GOP representatives, the President himself, and a disturbing percentage of the people who identify with them, have consistently threaded their rhetoric with the language of violence. And as the Mueller investigation puts more and more pressure on the leader of the free world, this has only increased. I see no way of walking it back.
Buh there’s violence on the left, too. Buh Antifa.
Antifa is anti-Trump and anti-right, for sure, but please stop conflating them with the left, and especially with Democrats. Many Antifa members embrace radical left-wing policies, but many also don’t support liberal policies or candidates. The movement grew out of the anarchist and “black bloc” movements, and a great number of these people are anarchists who don’t support any government at all. Their political violence perverts and undermines democracy, and they don’t mind that. That’s not liberal, and that’s not leftist.
The maniac who shot Steve Scalise did indeed support Democrats. It’s not exactly hard to condemn that, and I do. It disturbed me and made me reconsider the effect of anti-Trump rhetoric on liberal maniacs who might live in the shadows. I realized that if this guy was indeed a bellwether (though a single, isolated incident) and if people on the left were responding to the right’s violence with violence, we’re going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble.
But history of 2017 showed that this was in fact an isolated incident from the left, and no one on the left has repeated anything like it. That single shooting doesn’t mean it’s a trend. Here, however, off the top of my head are three incidents of political violence from the right that occurred solely in the months before the Scalise shooting.
A right-wing white supremacist slashed to death two people who were standing up for a Muslim woman said maniac had been insulting.
A right-wing white supremacist maniac shot two Indian tech workers, killing one in Kansas — while screaming “get out of my country.” The pair was in the country legally.
And a right-wing white supremacist maniac, who supported Trump, stabbed to death a black soldier. Where was the “stand for the anthem” crowd for that one? Hell, where was Trump, the champion of our military?
Three days before the election a white guy named Scott Michael Greene shot two police officers dead in Iowa. Greene had recently waved a Confederate flag in front of black people at a high school football game and had a Trump sign in his front yard.
So don’t pretend this is new, and don’t pretend it isn’t linked to Trump and his movement. Violent right-wing rhetoric was braided throughout the 2016 campaign. Chants of “lock her up,” which masked the more alarming “hang the bitch”; a Trump campaign adviser called for Clinton to be executed by firing squad; Trump threatened violence himself too many times to even try to cover here. They included inciting violence among his supporters at a rally, saying if they would “knock the crap” out of a protester he’d pay their legal fees. Trump also included a veiled joke-threat that “you second amendment people” might be able to “stop” a president Clinton.
And yet Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last year that “in no way, shape, or form” has Trump “promoted or encouraged violence.”
And does it have consequences? Of course it does. In fact, in the wake of the Scalise shooting, a GOP congressman, speaking AT THE CONGRESSIONAL BASEBALL GAME, called Trump’s rhetoric a problem.
To be sure, acts of violence are the choices of people, and most of these people are insane. But there’s a trend, and it’s getting worse, and it’s far more likely we will see violence on the right. In fact, groups who affiliate themselves directly with right-wing policies have carried out an overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks in the United States. Which brings us to the big difference: The right wing acts on its rhetoric. And as this rhetoric percolates up to mainstream leaders such as Paul Ryan, it will only inspire more attacks.
Last week a man was arrested for threatening to carry out a mass shooting at CNN headquarters. He reportedly made 22 phone calls to the station, and allegedly told one CNN operator, “I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f—ing gun every single last one of you.”
To be sure, those who make threats rarely act on them. The true threat is the unspoken one. However, an official CNN statement said this wasn’t an isolated incident: “This one is no exception. We have been in touch with local and federal law enforcement throughout, and have taken all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our people.”
And Donald Trump, of course, routinely threatens what he calls “fake news” media. His favorite target? CNN. This summer he retweeted a video of him attacking a wrestler who had CNN imposed over his head. He also retweeted a Trump train running over CNN.
And in terms of policy, Trump has said he wants to send 100,000 National Guard troops out to round up undocumented immigrants. We’ve seen literal raids broadcast on TV.
But, on more profound note, Trump has also threatened to “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” “meet and outmatch [our nuclear-armed adversaries] at every pass,” commit war crimes by killing the families of suspected international terrorist fighters, and most infamously to wreak “fire and fury” on North Korea. Some might say it’s simply “strong” rhetoric from our commander-in-chief, but violence is a last resort. It’s not strength. It’s a sign of weakness. If you’re truly a strong leader, you get your way without having to kill people and sacrifice your own in the process.
This points to a much bigger problem: The rise of violence in America generally.
The Quiet Rise of Violence in America
The shift to violent political rhetoric can be traced back to 9/11. Let’s look at the first sentence in Dinesh D’Souza’s “The Enemy at Home.”
“The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.”
Since September 11 we’ve been immersed in a Forever War on jihadist terrorism and, over those years, have accustomed ourselves to the strong violent political rhetoric that inevitably accompanies any war. And these wars have dragged on for years, and for all those years the language of war, of real wars actually going on at the moment, has been necessarily present in all major political speeches.
The threat of violence also hangs over us continually in the form of terrorism. And this isn’t just violence, either, it’s violence from one specific group, a specific group thought to be sheltered by the left. That affiliation puzzles me: Jihadists are ultra-conservative groups, on the far right of the spectrum. The irony, though, despite Trump’s deceptive talking point (about international terrorism) is that the most terrorist violence in America comes from domestic terrorists: Mostly white supremacists and other right-wing affiliates.
And the stats show that violent crime is indeed increasing.
Last year violent crime was up 4.1% overall. Murders increased by 8.6%, according to the FBI. And the year before, the FBI reported that violent crime rose by 3.9%, while murder increased by 10.8%. Chicago alone accounted for 20% of the 2016 murder increase.
In other words, this isn’t a crime problem. It’s a violence problem,
Trump used the phrase “American carnage” in his inaugural address. He meant gangs and brown and black people. But in the last year we saw the most deadly and fifth-most-deadly shootings in modern U.S. history. Carried out by frustrated, abstractly angry white dudes.
It’s not just the U.S., either. Political violence is increasing around the world.
This is a very, very bad trend, and I’m not sure if Hannity or Carlson or Ryan or Trump is very much aware of what they’re contributing to. I’m not sure if Fox News knows, either.
Look, Hannity and his ilk are playing a dangerous game: The American people are primed for violence. The stats back this up, but I don’t see these guys backing down. Fox News should censure Hannity, Carlson, Dobbs, Pirro, and anyone else who regularly applies violent rhetoric against our law enforcement agencies who are simply doing their job. We even acknowledge, tacitly, that there’s a gradation to this expression, and Hannity is actually a great example: He’s not on midday or during dinner; he’s on at night, when most younger viewers are in bed. Can you imagine him, or anyone besides Alex Jones, raging against the “deep state” in broad daylight?
Censuring these maniacs isn’t censoring free speech any more than firing Jemele Hill would be. The U.S. courts have over the centuries acknowledged there are in fact limits to free speech. Telling someone to kill someone, for instance, is speech, but it’s considered part of the crime of murder and isn’t protected. In fact, we punish the person who orders the hit more than the person who carries it out. Here are more limits to free speech. The Supreme Court has decided, by the way, that “the First Amendment provides less than full protection to commercial speech, defamation (libel and slander), speech that may be harmful to children,” and, importantly, “speech broadcast on radio and television (as opposed to speech transmitted via cable or the Internet), and public employees’ speech.”
If Hannity keeps this up, he should be suspended. But that won’t stop the inevitable, because the inevitable has already happened. People are, whether you want to admit it or not, locked and loaded: Literally as well as figuratively, and those people are overwhelmingly on the right.
Hannity won’t stop. Jones won’t stop. Trump won’t stop. And as recent years have shown, the overall trend in violence is a dark one. We don’t realize it, and when we do we don’t admit it, and when we do I’m afraid we won’t stand up to stop it. But to my brothers and sisters out there, on the left and on the right: I hope you do. After all, it’s more than inevitable: The inevitable has already happened.