One of the more disgusting aspects of contemporary political and media culture is the practice of forming on-line hit squads to go after innocent victims when they dare to complain in ways that discomfit right-wing politicians or discredit right-wing causes.
The latest example is the concerted attacks on the student survivors of the Parkland massacre who are organizing – with admirable skill and self-restraint – to demand more effective gun control laws. I’m on record as a skeptic about how much good politically practicable gun control can actually do under U.S. conditions, but there’s no doubt that making it harder for juveniles to access AR-15s and similar weapons could help moderate the carnage in schools. (That’s a small part of the total gun-violence problem, but still worth addressing.)
In any case, it does my heart good to see these young folks stepping in to the public arena with so much energy and such a sharp eye for political efficacy. You don’t have to entirely agree with them to unreservedly admire them. If it had been my friends who were killed, and if I’d spent hours hiding in a closet wondering whether I would survive, I doubt that I could master their self-possession.
So naturally they’re under attack: from various Twitter randos, but also from CNN contributor and former Congressman Jack Kingston, who tried to tag them as “leftist” and even “antifa.” (An interesting echo of the shooter himself, who identified “antifa” as one of the targets of his rage.) Equally naturally, Donald Trump, Jr. (aka Fredo) has joined the party, linking to various stories that try to make a scandal of the fact that one of the students is the son of an FBI agent. (Bet you didn’t know that was a disgrace.)
Trump fans seem to be concerned that the shooter’s right-wing political commitments (anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-black, liberal-hating, gun-loving, wearing a MAGA cap) might become part of the discussion. In that they have largely succeeded: the massacre is being talked about in terms of gun policy rather than in terms of controlling right-wing terrorism.
I reacted to an early Tweet in this genre by labeling the attackers “MAGA maggots, feeding on the corpses of the dead.” I wouldn’t call that label polite, but I would defend its accuracy. Decent people don’t mock, and tell lies about, survivors of a massacre, just because those survivors hold uncomfortable political opinions. And I think it’s fair to say that the problem is not symmetric: at least, I haven’t seen supporters of DACA, or of generous immigration policies in general, attacking the victims in the criminal cases the nativists have tried to use to stir up fear of immigrants.
Then the alt-right Daily Caller and the UK tabloid Daily Mail (no, I think I’ll pass on giving them links) weighed in, attacking me for having applied the label to “Trump supporters” or “conservatives” generally, rather than to those who earned it by smearing the Parkland students. At least the Daily Caller guy took the trouble to ask me for comment, though he cheated by reporting the shooter’s alt-right politics as merely my opinion rather than linking to the facts I’d supplied. The nameless, faceless scribe for the Daily Mail, which turns out in this case to be even a lower-quality outlet, didn’t even bother to ask for comment. And of course they managed to find an old, and quite ugly-looking, photo, though my current one is on the NYU website.
I’m happy to report that I’ve received only five pieces of hate email and one nasty phone call, none containing actual threats; I wasn’t even aware of the Daily Mail story until a friend clued me in. It’s annoying – but no worse than that – that so many people know what they think I said, and so few know what I said. And of course I welcome any right-wing rage that gets deflected from the Parkway students to me. Still, the incident as a whole leaves rather a bad taste.