Violent words, violent deeds

Both the Federal judge who was killed today and the Congresswoman who was shot in the head had been targets of right-wing threats. Words are actions, and actions have consequences.

There seems to be no evidence that federal District Judge John Roll was a chosen target for today’s massacre; it’s possible that he was shot merely because he happened to be there. But two years ago he was the target of death threats whipped up by anti-immigrant radio talkmeisters when he ruled that a rancher who had appointed himself as an unofficial immigration enforcer could be sued by some of the people he pointed guns at. For a month, Roll and his family were under Marshal Service protection.

The shooter apparently had more mental health problems than political beliefs, though the hint about possible participation by second, older man leaves open the possibility that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords was an attempted assassination rather than just part of a random shooting spree. But even assuming that the roots of the shooter’s behavior where psychological rather than intelligibly political, it’s hard to imagine that the violent rhetoric of right-wing talk radio, and of some of the more florid Tea Party leaders and their candidates, has no real-world impact, even on people not in full contact with the real world.

For example, the shooter seems to have absorbed the belief that abortion is terrorism. That, and the slightly more restrained claim that abortion is murder, are commonplaces of right-wing rhetoric. But of course it’s perfectly legitimate to use force, even deadly force, to prevent a murder, or a terrorist act.If you tell people that the country is being “invaded” by Mexican immigrants, you’re not entitled to act all surprised when some of them react in a fashion appropriate to an invasion. If you tell them that their elected officials are tyrants and “domestic enemies,” you’re not allowed to then be shocked at actions appropriate to resistance to tyranny. If you suggest that the President and his party are, traitorously, deliberately helping terrorists, then it’s on you if someone acts as if that statement were true. If you pretend that liberal reforms such as guaranteed access to health insurance are “socialist,” and conflate socialism with Communism, and point out (correctly) that Communism under Stalin and Mao was a doctrine used to justify mass murder, then the logic of your position indicates that killing liberals is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So don’t be surprised if some of them do it.

When Sharron Angle talked about “Second Amendment remedies,” not a single prominent conservative (in the degraded contemporary sense of that term) politician or pundit – including her sponsor, the former half-term Governor of Alaska – denounced her for doing so. (It’s not as if they’re slackers about denunciation; remember that idiotic “General Betray-us ad”?) To my eyes, all of those folks have forfeited their right to look shocked when someone takes a gun and kills a judge and tries to kill a Congresswoman. [Note: If someone can find a denunciation from a certified right-winger, or even from a GOP “moderate,” I’ll be happy to update.]

Words have meanings; speech is a form of action; and actions have consequences. If you play with fire long enough, someone is going to get burned.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

45 thoughts on “Violent words, violent deeds”

  1. A volunteer at a book festival?! OH NOES!!!

    But seriously, who is paying Thomas to troll this particular site?

  2. Also, that video was one Loughner "favorited" and is supposed to represent illegal immigrants symbolically desecrating this country ie., burning the flag. Wingers are so dumb.

  3. Thomas, the 9/11 Truthers are indeed very much like your wingnut buddies. The difference is that they're a fringe group, rejected by every responsible liberal. Your suggestion that I, or anyone one this site, ever endorsed Truther rhetoric is so removed from reality that nothing else you say deserves anyone's attention, except to make fun of.

  4. If it's beside the point, then why are you posting? Between that and your disingenuous insistence on this kid's politics, your cognitive dissonance must really be disabling.

  5. We had a president who was subject to death threats every day for 8 years

    Every President is subject to death threats every day. You may recall that five Presidents have been shot in office, four fatally, and Theodore Roosevelt was shot while campaigning to return to the Presidency. I believe some very bad things about George Walker Bush (starting with the obvious one: he didn't win Florida, and he didn't win the election), and I think History will deem him as having been one of our worst presidents, perhaps the worst. During his Presidency I occasionally visited parts of the liberal blogosphere that are rather less polite than this one. I don't recall anyone advocating violence; indeed, the only advocacy I can recall for any sort of unlawful behavior was discussions of civil disobedience through tax resistance. Even those discussions concerned open, legally culpable, outspoken tax resistance, not tax evasion or attempts to declare the taxes themselves illegal as is fashionable among some of the fringes of the right.

    Now that it’s clear that the shooter is a left-winger

    Clear to whom? How? It's clear that he was a goldbug, it's alleged that he was anti-abortion. It's also alleged by you (on what basis??) that he toked up and rejected both theistic and national icons. But I've never heard of anyone killing anyone in the name of marijuana advocacy, nor of so much as a sprained wrist in the name of Atheism (certain supersets that include Atheism, such as communism have of course inspired awful violence, but that's hardly about the Atheism). In contrast, fetishizing the gold standard is closely associated with the Militia movement (itself closely associated with White Supremacists, another apparent interest of Mr. Loughner), and the anti-abortion movement has a history of violence.

    Mark doesn’t seem to have noticed that the shooter was a terrorist, and so doesn’t see anything wrong with terrorism.

    You might want to write a bit more clearly to indicate that it's the terrorist who doesn't see anything wrong with terrorism, nor Mark (if, indeed, this is true about this murderer; in practice, most people seem to perceive others moral flaws regardless of their own). Why you'd think this murderer was a left-wing radical remains unclear. Even were that accurate, I don't know why you would expect this heterodox nutball to follow every last aspect of any one ideological camp, and therefore must be in favor of abortion rights.

    Mark’s friends suggested that the president was aware of the 9/11 attacks before they occurred, or was even part of a conspiracy to undertake those attacks?

    This is some sort of shibboleth of the Right, that there are large numbers – indeed, any significant numbers – of liberals who hold such beliefs. I'd be willing to bet Mark has no friends who make such claims. This seems to result from some extremely poorly phrased polls in which people unhappy with the administration's performance and especially with its nakedly political exploitation of 9/11 answered a question by saying that the administration could have or should have known of the attacks, and were lumped in with the Truthers. I will be shocked if you can find a significant Democrat or liberal who makes such claims. And no, calling Dubya "Dear Leader" doesn't equate to a call for assassination.

  6. Mark, didn’t one get a job in the Obama WH?

    Well, now, that's not so clear cut. In 2004, Van Jones signed a petition put out by a bunch of people who are, in fact, Truther whackjobs. He shouldn't have done so. But the petition itself written as a series of twelve questions, and several of them are reasonable. Sure, it's clear (especially now, with hindsight) that the people behind the petition were using it to push for their agenda of alleging a monstrous government conspiracy to let 9/11 happen. Sure, it's clear if you read the questions that after a fairly innocuous start (I'd still like some of those questions to inspire a more thorough reform of security procedures!) there come the questions that imply some very dark suspicions indeed ("How could Flight 77, which reportedly hit the Pentagon, have flown back towards Washington D.C. for 40 minutes without being detected by the FAA's radar or the even superior radar possessed by the US military? How were the FBI and CIA able to release the names and photos of the alleged hijackers within hours, as well as to visit houses, restaurants, and flight schools they were known to frequent?"). But a peripheral member of the white house staff having signed one petition hardly means that there's a thick streak of Trutherism in the liberal establishment.

    In any case, I'm still seeing precisely no source for any of your claims – repeated in another thread, chanted there like some mantra against the intrusion of reality – that Loughner was "a left-winger". So far as I can see, his ideological views that are most clear are hard currency, anti-immigration, and perhaps outright Nazi racism. None of that comes from the Left. You allege he smoked pot; so do a lot of Libertarians, it's hardly diagnostic for Liberalism. You allege he favored flag burning, apparently because he praised a video featuring a burning flag – but according to Ack Ack Ack in that video the burning flag was a hateful symbol of the threat of illegal immigrants to his homeland. You allege he was an Atheist, but make no citation (if it's his statement about how he won't Trust In God, that was a statement about the untrustworthiness of Fiat Currency, not about God). Amazingly, you allege that he must have been Pro-Choice, a declaration you apparently rest entirely on your belief that (1) you've proven he was a Left-Winger and (2) as an orthodox Left-Winger he must have been Pro-Choice. As if he were an Orthodox anything.

    It's worth remembering, that we should not get sidetracked into the details of Loughner's pathologies. The question is about the atmosphere of heated rhetoric that can be predicted to inspire lethal action among the deranged and the unhinged. When the Right proclaims that the Left is malevolently conspiring to destroy America, rather than simply prescribing the wrong policies, the result is a lot of fired-up Right-wingers, enthusiastic to ring doorbells and to get out the vote – and also a small fringe of deranged lunatics who follow those claims to their logical conclusions.

    We've had at least four or five such cases of lethal violence with direct links to right-wing rhetoric in just the last two years, a number that despite your false equivalence can be measured against precisely none in the preceding eight years (or, indeed, in the same two years). When during the election season the Republicans needed an example of anti-Republican violence to balance against vandalism of Democratic campaign offices, the best they could do was cite an incident in which an upper-story window was broken by a bullet in the office next to an empty office used by Eric Cantor's campaign – a bullet later determined to have been travelling almost straight down and with relatively little force, and likely to have been shot randomly up into the air. Your arguments aren't even as convincing as the claims made about the threat that bullet posed to Eric Cantor.

  7. As I wrote on another comment thread, Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle are not to blame for this tragedy. I wonder, however, what the reaction on the right would have been if the victim had been a Tea Party supporter, rather than a Tea Party target. (Double entendere intended)

    The reaction among teabaggers to this shooting, however, is important. Now is the time to “refudiate” the glib talk of Second Amendment remedies, reloading and the kind of overheated rhetoric that has roused the rabble. None of the post-shooting comments attributed to Palin and her ilk, that I am aware of, has included recantation of the over-the-top stuff.

    Hey, even George Wallace abandoned and renounced demagogy later in life. Let’s see whether the Palin crowd now has that kind of integrity. (In the meantime, I ain’t holdin’ mah breath.)

  8. Loughner is a nutjob all right, and nutjobs pick up disconnected ideas floating round. But the brand label on some of these ideas is clear.

    In one of his YouTube rants (the first one here), he wrote:

    "Nonetheless, read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws."

    Which left-wingers have used this language recently to characterise the laws of the United States??

  9. (Klieman): "Thomas, the 9/11 Truthers are indeed very much like your wingnut buddies. The difference is that they’re a fringe group, rejected by every responsible liberal. Your suggestion that I, or anyone one this site, ever endorsed Truther rhetoric is so removed from reality that nothing else you say deserves anyone’s attention, except to make fun of."

    Fringe, huh?

    Rasmussen: "Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure."

    There's a lot of other rhetoric you've endorsed. Yes, let's talk about rhetoric. Like composing arguments out of vulgar slurs ("teabagger") and suggestions that the opposition are insane ("wingnut"). I kept our email exchange over this. Shall we go public?

    Let's not forget Wimberley's equation of skepticism of the AGW hypothesis and genocide, in the Cancun post (maybe that was an email. I kept those, too).

    (Wimberley): "But the brand label on some of these ideas is clear"…

    …and point in all directions. Note "some". That won't stop our hosts from insisting on partisan guilt by association with the ideas they select.

    Hitler was a vegetarian. c.d. lang is a vegetarian. So c.d. lang shares responsibility for the horrors of Dachau and Treblinka. Riiiiight.

  10. "Rasmussen: “Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know."

    But what does "knew about" mean? Bush apparently ignored warnings that an attack might occur. If so, then he knew of the possibility of an attack and did nothing. That is a serious charge, but it does not mean that he knew in advance of the time and place of the particular attacks, much less that he played a role in them. Let's get straight what the charge is and who believes what. My understanding is that "truthers" believe that he played a role in the attacks. That is an extremely fringe view.

  11. (Henry): "Bush apparently ignored warnings that an attack might occur. If so, then he knew of the possibility of an attack and did nothing. That is a serious charge…"

    It's not a serious charge at all. US intelligence agencies hear threats and chatter every day. "Someone might be planning something, sometime" is not actionable.

  12. (Malcolm): "It’s not a serious charge at all. US intelligence agencies hear threats and chatter every day." One must consider the nature and the source of each item of intelligence. Some are chatter, but others demand to be taken seriously.

  13. so . . .

    political figures publicly suggest "2nd amendment solutions," and use crosshairs to target congressional districts, while radio and television hosts with large audiences proclaim the conspiratorial or illegitimate nature of the democratic party in particular and the left wing in general and now someone has targeted a democrat and killed 6 people in the attempt to kill her. obviously there couldn't be a connection between any

    of that.

    seriously? you're going to relate vegetarianism to hitler as your counterexample to refute the possibility of connection? really?

    have you, at last, no shame?

  14. Thomas,

    The term terrorism is political violence. It is a stretch to call this political violence based on information provided to date. If you acknowledge he is deranged then it throws into question every aspect of his current milieu. His choices from sustenance to politics; basicly every aspect of his life is colored by impaired processes. If you must define him by your measures you really need to know what he did far prior to the psychotic break, you need a extensive social and family history.

    Your reasoning regarding Marks writings is just plain juvenile, take a deep breath, pause for a few minutes and edit the emotion out of posts it makes you look stupid.

  15. But don't you see, Watson, that it is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

  16. Mark:

    To my eyes, all of those folks have forfeited their right to look shocked when someone takes a gun and kills a judge…

    You'd think so.

    But one would also think that after years of global warming denial, they have no right to suggest solutions either.

    But you and I both know what is going to happen: They'll go from one breath denying warming to the next breath suggesting we pump up tons of sulfur dioxide…

    They'll switch so quickly and mellifluously they won't miss a breath.

    And despite being horribly wrong on their first premise, they'll have forfeited no standing in the next debate.

    This is anything but a sane world…

  17. It may turn out that Loughner, himself, was a weapon aimed by someone else.

    Oh absolutely…

    Nothing is decided yet.

    To say this is not about politics, or that he was a liberal, or that he was a teabagger is to engage in mere speculation.

    And since speculation is based more on what is "inside one" rather than necessarily "outside one," most of it will turn out to be dead wrong.

    But let's face it, that is what makes speculation fun and a decidedly human activity…

    So allow me to speculate: The picture of that second suspect looks like a teabagger to me.

    We need to catch that guy and find out what he was about. Posthaste!

  18. Yes, it's liberals who enthusiastically utilize figurative and literal violence to accomplish their goals. Especially the pacifists among them.

    Not so conservatives. Their strong belief in the right utilize firearms and their infinite affection for the military are rooted in an intense aversion to violence.

  19. I think we should be grateful for Thomas and Malcom's forthright disclosure that they are willing to justify anything, anything at all. There is nothing beneath them. Now all we need is for Brett to come clean. It's already clear from his long history, but honesty at the point is a small virtue.

  20. "That sort of behavior is something I would never do."

    Thomas, you have a long history here. I stand by what I stated, your words above are indictment enough.

    Can't you find honest work? It's a bit morbid, but I'm getting really curious about professional troll economics.

  21. (Navarro): "political figures publicly suggest '2nd amendment solutions', and use crosshairs to target congressional districts…"

    Like Kos and the DLC, you mean?

    (Nacarro): "…while radio and television hosts with large audiences proclaim the conspiratorial or illegitimate nature of the democratic party in particular and the left wing in general…"

    Like "the vast right-wing conspiracy" and the oil companies behind skeptical climate research?

    (Navarro): "…and now someone has targeted a democrat and killed 6 people in the attempt to kill her. obviously there couldn’t be a connection between any of that. seriously? you’re going to relate vegetarianism to hitler as your counterexample to refute the possibility of connection? really? have you, at last, no shame?"

    I have been protesting overheated rhetoric (e.g., skepticism of the AGW hypothesis = "genocide") and delegitimization of people who disagree, with vulgar slurs (e.g., "teabagger") for quite a while. On the other hand, I don't object to the bullseye or crosshair metaphor when anyone uses it, since I understand it to mean focused opposition. Kos used it. The DLC used it.

  22. (Eb): "Yes, it’s liberals who enthusiastically utilize figurative and literal violence to accomplish their goals. Especially the pacifists among them. Not so conservatives. Their strong belief in the right utilize firearms and their infinite affection for the military are rooted in an intense aversion to violence."

    100% agreement (except for the sarcasm). The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). A law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest) assault (subdue) and to forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances. The socialist's (i.e., Democrat's) reflexive recourse to the tools of organized violence, across the board, for the provision of goods (autos:GM) and services (mail delivery, Social Security, K-PhD schooling, health care) indicate a greater enthusiasm for interpersonal violence than free marketeers experience.

  23. "Now that it’s clear that the shooter is a left-winger, Mark wants to do two things: continue to blame right-wingers, while saying that the shooter’s political beliefs didn’t motivate him. Bullshit."

    Motivations are irrelevant. It is method that is the problem. There are plenty of people motivated to act against liberals or politicians or the government or whatever. There are plenty of people shouting angry rhetoric or demonizing the opposition. Palin and the tea partiers have simply chosen to suggest to the more deranged members of those so motivated a particularly obnoxious method, methods not suggested by members of the left: violence or the threat of violence, enhanced throughout the right's political rhetoric by tying images and the means of violence (guns) directly to opposition political figures and the government in general. Indeed, even had it been a radical left-wing commie hippie whatever shooting a right-wing politician, Palin and gang would still be responsible because they have encouraged that type of thinking: if you don't like what the politicians are doing, take up arms against them.

  24. "Ah, yes, indicted for holding liberals to their professed standards."

    You seem to confuse your professing of fantasized liberal standards as being the same as liberals professing their actual standards.

    Not the same. Really.

  25. "DavidTX, you are right, in that Mark’s principles are explicitly partisan. The rule he proclaims merely appears to be a neutral rule, but it’s clear in application that there’s nothing neutral about it. If someone Mark likes says something, it’s OK, and if someone he’s dislikes says the same thing, then it’s not. Pathological narcissism is not a standard easily imitated."

    It is clear that you read what you want to read in what others have written, which of course is essentially what you accuse Mark of doing.

    If pathological narcissism is not a standard easily imitated, you must be a master imitator indeed.

    When you can find an example of a liberal-inspired gun-sight graphic targeting Bush or any other conservative politician or an example of a liberal-inspired call for exercising Second Amendment rights against Bush, Cheney, or any other recent member of the GOP leadership, please let us know.

    You cite an equivalence in language of demonization, engaged in by both sides, and then pretend that this creates an equivalence in language of violence, engaged in by only conservatives, which you actually cannot demonstrate, to indict Mark.

    Creating such a false equivalent won't wash.

  26. Malcolm Kirkpatrick – so are you saying that you oppose giving the state a monopoly on violence, or that you only disapprove giving military-industrial-police states dominated by dictatorial liberals a monopoly on violence? Because the latter I wouldn't much like either, but the former seems requisite for civilized society.

    As to mail delivery or public schools being expressions of violence, I'd have to differ on some pretty fundamental questions of definition. For starters, I don't consider taxation to be theft…

  27. (Eb):: "…are you saying that you oppose giving the state a monopoly on violence, or that you only disapprove giving military-industrial-police states dominated by dictatorial liberals a monopoly on violence? The first.

    (Eb): "…I don’t consider taxation to be theft."

    It's extortion.

  28. So Thomas, a British film shown in Canada, seen by few enough people that it grossed well under $1 million, proves what about the American left?

    As to the Dean quote, I'm not familiar with it. Some sourcing might help. I'm not a big fan of Dean, but given that he's not usually a raving loon I rather suspect there genuinely was some report he was referring to. Heaven knows the Bushies – like every other administration – tended to suppress politically inconvenient reports. You will note that the specific allegation Dean is making in your quote is that Bush failed to pay proper attention to some specific intelligence. The idea that some intelligence existed that could have warned us is entirely noncontroversial – it's just that it was not detected amid a sea of other warnings that didn't pan out. I don't like or agree with the extreme version of what Dean says in your quote, but in essence he's asking whether the Bush administration was sufficiently cooperating with the 9/11 commission's investigation of how our system failed. That's not automatically an entirely unreasonable question, especially given how little reason there was to trust the Bushies not to play politics with the national conversation about terrorism.

  29. Thomas is a troll and doesn't have anything meaningful to say. Stop feeding the troll everyone. He is trying to suck you into an irrelevant argument about whether or not liberals have ever engaged in over-the-top eliminationist rhetoric. You aren't going to win anything in that argument, and it's completely beside the point. It's really not okay when anyone does it and it never was. The right does it more frequently than the left, and it's much more widely accepted on the right than on the left, but again, it's really not okay when anyone does it. Period.

  30. Apparently the operational meaning of "Troll" is, "Somebody saying things I don't want to hear." Sadly, I suspect that's the only meaning the term has for most people who use it…

  31. I think crosshairs on maps and talk of second amendment remedies are stupid and irresponsible, but I think the logic in this post, as I understand it, is awful. You admit he's basically just crazy, and then you immediately argue he's still a product of the right, at least clearly enough that you can ascribe blame? Sorry, no. Understanding this guy is like trying to interpret something from an ink blot.

    Condemn the rhetoric on its own terms. No, we can't pin this guy's actions on political rhetoric; but the mere possibility that political rhetoric could even partly lead to violence should lead us to condemn that kind of irresponsible talk.

    Call for a public statement, by all parties, that lays down ground rules for the kind of rhetoric that will be disavowed and condemned by party leaders. Something, I don't know. The witch-hunt ain't convincing or productive.

  32. John, rather than calling for a public statement of ground rules, shouldn't Mark start by walking away from the murderous rhetoric on the left?

  33. Thomas,

    But has there ever been a president so hated by his enemies that they lusted openly for his death?

    I'll take this one.

    Yes. John Kennedy. It is an absolute fact that many southerners cheered – I mean actually cheered out loud – the news of Kennedy's death.

  34. there’s a difference between cheering the event and lusting for it.

    So cheering it was just fine?

    And of course we don't usually cheer when things happen unless we really wanted them to happen – lusted for them you could say. When you see someone cheering loudly over the outcome of a football game, do you think they didn't care who won?

    Believe me, Thomas, lots of people lusted for Kennedy's death.

  35. Bernard, it seems to me that the cheering was wrong, but in any case, you said you'd provide an example of a president whose enemies openly lusted for his death, and you didn't provide that. Your view is that saying, I wish that bastard would die, is the same thing as saying, I'm glad that bastard is dead, and I don't think I can agree to that.

    I'm sure you are right that people did lust for Kennedy's death–he was killed after all, by a left-wing extremist. I doubt very much that JFK's enemies (other than the left-wing extremist Lee Harvey Oswald) *openly* lusted for his death, but I welcome your correction on that point if you can provide it.

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