Update: How could I have neglected to include the violent rhetoric of Manassas blogger Greg Letiecq in my sample? Incredibly, Letiecq made this statement shortly after the murders in Knoxville. Thank you, Bruce Roemmelt.
You can ultimately herd leftists no more easily than you can herd cats, unless of course deadly force is on the menu of coercive methodologies that can be employed.
While I take issue with the completely partisan framing of this piece by Richmond Democrat (there are many, many Republicans who do not participate in the sort of violent rhetoric cited here, and do not at all appreciate their party being soiled by it; there are also many sites at which self-identified Democrats exhibit uncivil and polarizing language which we have condemned), he is absolutely right that the demonizing language employed by certain elements of the hard right is fully intended to marginalize those with whom they disagree as ENEMIES – enemies of the state, of the family, of God, of civilization itself – and that the consequences are sadly predictable. And yes, those responsible Republicans need to quickly condemn this violent rhetoric to avoid being complicit in its result. Or, as Leonard Pitts, Jr. asks, “is accountability yet another lost conservative value?”
Through this effort, the right has framed our entire system of politics through a logic of violence, the result of which is that Democrats and Liberals are not just seen as political opponents to Republicans, but as a collective mortal threat to the continuing existence of America.
The language is the language of warfare, specifically drawn from the “war on terror.” Within this very deliberate framing, an opponent of the so-called “conservative” agenda such as an anti-war protester becomes a “domestic insurgent” in an action alert entitled “Fighting the Insurgency at Home”; the intended reader is urged to join his comrades in “securing the area,” and bring signs reading “stop treason.” Is it any wonder that Jim David Adkisson thought he was fighting a war in which he had to kill “liberals” after consuming a steady diet of this garbage?
The “warfare” metaphor is, of course, very familiar to the GLBT community. “Culture war” has been the framing strategy of the anti-gay right for a long time, repeating ad nauseam some version of the claim that uppity “homosexual activists” pose a threat to the continued existence of civilization. In this frame, it is inconceivable that we would experience the same human desire for family, intimacy and security as everyone else; our pursuit of marriage equality can only be explained as “the enemies of our souls…trying to sweep away the very moral foundation of our country,” in this chilling “call to arms” from the Tennessee Eagle Forum.
As their losses in courts and legislatures mount, the rhetoric of anti-gay activists becomes ever more laced with violence and war metaphors. An increasingly deranged science fiction author calls for overthrowing the government “by any means necessary” to “defend [his notion of] marriage”; in a recent strategy call with fundamentalist ministers, leaders of the anti-gay industry describe the three 2008 state constitutional amendments to prohibit marriage equality as “warfare against Satan,” Loudoun’s Chuck Colson names California’s Prop 8, the main focus of the call, “the Armageddon of the culture war,” and the pastor of Cornerstone megachurch howls “we must be consumed with a holy anger…this is the time to fight!” And of course, Loudoun’s “professional bigot” Eugene Delgaudio has raised slanderous hate speech against GLBT people to such an overwrought comic art form that many fail to take him seriously, believing one of his 2005 “fundraising letters” to be an April Fool’s joke (read the letter here).
The purpose of hate crimes and terrorism is to control behavior through fear. Hate crimes perpetrated against GLBT people send the message “how dare you be visible; how dare you speak.” There is a natural tension between the need to directly confront the violent rhetoric that functions as a constant threat, and the other response identified by Feldman as “one of a refusal to be intimidated by threats and a desire to show that one is not going to be silenced by right-wingers no matter how extreme they sound.”
The logic is a reasonable one: “If we alter our behavior, the terrorists win.” However, an adamant refusal to be intimidated and silenced does not require us to pretend that such threats are no big deal. Frankly, acknowledging the danger we are threatened with, and affirming our commitment to equality and justice for all in the face of that danger is a much stronger position to take than is pretending there’s nothing to be afraid of. That is exactly what one of our local Unitarian Universalist congregations has done in this excellent letter to the editor, in part:
Given the threat from such people, it would be tempting to reduce our advocacy on controversial issues, adopt more hostile attitudes toward those whose views differ from our own, or even to restrict access to our church for the sake of physical security. We will, of course, do none of these things.
As was the case when Unitarian Universalists faced threats during the civil rights movement, we will view this attack as a reminder of how much the world needs our continued commitment to equality. Drawing on the Christian tradition, one of many religious sources from which we derive wisdom and inspiration, we will continue to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Feldman speaks of “a fundamental collapse in the civic body.”
When political debate is taken over by violent language and logic, the effect it has on the public sphere is poisonous and debilitating. Conversation itself shuts down, opening up the door for the return of a pre-modern form of politics antithetical to the free and open exchange of ideas through words.
…if we the civic body is undermined–in particular if the kind of conversation running the civic body changes from a free and open exchange of ideas and information to one marked by violent rhetoric, violent ideas, and violent behavior.
When the dominant conversation in the civic body shifts from pragmatism to violence, the state of American democracy shifts, too. Rather than turning to civic space to communicate ideas, learn information, and work collectively to solve problems, a civic body marked by violent rhetoric becomes an arena driven by the need to vent frustration, enforce opinion, and eliminate rivals.
It’s hard to argue otherwise. We see evidence of the collapse in the civic body all around us in the state of political discourse. Attempts to engage in reasoned debate on some blogs quickly attract name-calling and abusive language aimed at shutting people up; even veiled – and not so veiled – threats. The danger is that such thinking – and by logical extension, behavior – becomes normalized. It is incumbent upon all of us to never allow that to happen. The stakes are very high.