Earlier this week, a couple shot two Las Vegas police officers while saying "this is a revolution." They draped the police officers' bodies in Gadsden flags and swastikas, and evidence later emerged they had gone out to support rancher Cliven Bundy. They were also totally out-of-touch with reality, considering they dressed up as comic book villains and "slender man" -- the Internet meme recently in the news for encouraging teenage violence.
Over at the Washington Post, Paul Waldman looks at this tragedy and concludes, "It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence."
Waldman's reaction is predictable and shortsighted. The Las Vegas shooting, he writes, was "one more incident of right-wing terrorism that, while not exactly an epidemic, has become enough of a trend to raise some troubling questions." But Waldman doesn't even bother to establish how much of a trend this really is, because it's accepted left-wing wisdom that the right-wing is inherently violent. However, it's safe to say Waldman and his fellow progressives have a history of grossly misrepresenting the facts when it comes to political motivations for violent acts.
Waldman is also delusional about whether or not left-wing politics can incite violence. "To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way: Find me all the examples of people who shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case," he writes.
Challenge accepted! On August 15, 2012, at 10:46 a.m. Floyd Lee Corkins entered the lobby of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. a conservative Christian organization. He was carrying a backpack that contained 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, and 100 rounds of ammunition. He planned to shoot up the building and indeed did shoot security guard Leo Johnson twice, whose heroic actions kept Corkins from getting past the lobby. Corkins admits he selected the Family Research Council because the Christian organization is one of the leading opponents of gay marriage in the country. He had Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack because the CEO of the fast-food chain was under fire for publicly supporting a biblical definition of marriage. Corkins said he planned to “smother Chick-fil-A sandwiches in [the] faces” of his victims as a political statement. And in case that didn’t make his motivations transparent, right before Corkins shot Leo Johnson, he told him, “I don’t like your politics.” Corkins found the Family Research Council's address on a "hate map" produced by the once-respectable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has lately taken to classifying Catholics who go to Latin mass and groups with biblical ideas about marriage as purveyors of "hate." SPLC founder Morris Dees disavowed any responsibility for encouraging Corkins, saying “having a group on our hate map doesn’t cause anybody to attack them any more than they attacked us for one thing or another.” And yet, in 2011 Dees’s organization argued that Sarah Palin’s rhetoric – which consisted of putting crosshairs on a map of congressional districts where Democrats were "targeted" for defeat -- “could have provided a facilitating context” for the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, even though there is zero evidence the mentally deranged man who shot her was even exposed to it. If "facilitating context" is the standard, the SPLC is pretty well hoisted by its own petard. Naturally, the same media that rushed to try and wrongly blame the Giffords shooting on right-wing rhetoric was largely uninterested in covering Corkins's political motivations, which is probably why Waldman is ignorant enough to smugly insist that there are no counterexamples.
But let's not stop there. The FBI stopped five members of the Occupy Wall Street movement from blowing up a bridge in Cleveland. In 2010, there was an armed hostage situation at the offices of the Discovery Channel by a gunman with a radical manifesto about environmental and population control concerns. What about left-wing terror organizations such as the ELF and ALF? What about union violence? In 1973, in the United States v. Enmons ruling, SCOTUS ruled that violence done to further “legitimate union objectives” was exempt from the Hobbs Act, a 1946 federal law that prohibited the obstruction of commerce by violence and other criminal activity. That's right, the Democratic party's biggest source of campaign cash has legal protections that keep it from being prosecuted for violent acts. Violence is so deeply embedded in unions that rhetoric from the current head of the nation's largest union may well have incited the shooting of mine worker during a union dispute.
Still, I'm hesitant to blame the rhetoric of any mainstream American politician or political party for violence. It's also worth noting that much of the "extreme rhetoric" Waldman blames for inciting violence is actually just a response to actual Democratic legislation. "The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns," he writes. Except that the government is actually out to take people's guns. Here's a copy of the confiscation notice that New York sent out last fall, in the wake of new gun control measures passed in the state.
As for inciting rhetoric from mainstream GOP figures, Waldman cites GOP Senator Ron Johnson saying Obamacare is the “last shred of freedom,” and then asks "is it at all surprising that some people might be tempted to take up arms" in response. Waldman notes that Johnson should have said, “Well, of course I didn’t mean that literally."* As hyperbole goes, Johnson is playing in the same league with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Alan Grayson. (Well, Grayson may be playing in a league of his own.)
The truth is it's a big country--some measure of political violence has probably always been inescapable, though that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to prevent it. And the exploitation of tragedies and unfair demonization of half the country in order to score cheap political points about the supposed moral superiority of Democrats isn't helping anybody.
*Clarification -- the source of this quote is Waldman hypothesizing about what Johnson should say, not Johnson himself.