Voight’s deadly dog-whistle

Voight calls, in coded language, for Obama’s assassination. Republicans cheer.

A “dog-whistle” is a political remark designed to to have one meaning for the average hearer and a different meaning for some element of the audience. It can be harmless, even praiseworthy: some of Barack Obama’s Biblical allusions are designed to go over the heads of his secularist supporters and the press, but to resonate with the minority of serious church-goers. But it can also be a coded way of appealing to hatred and inciting violence.

At a RSCC/RCCC fundraiser that brought in $15 million for Republican House and Senate candidates, Jon Voight called on his audience to “bring an end to this false prophet Obama.”

The Book of Deuteronomy has two references to false prophets: one in Chapter 13, the other in Chapter 18. They are unequivocal. The false prophet, whether marked by making incorrect predictions or by preaching unsound doctrine, is to be killed:

that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death (13:5)

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. (18:21)

Of course, no one in his right mind cares what a washed-up minor actor says; but Voight was chosen by the party committees as the MC of the event. The well-heeled Republicans and lobbyists applauded, and the candidates will gratefully take their share of the loot. And as far as I can tell not a single Republican or conservative protested the fact that someone got up before them and called, in quite unambiguous language, for the murder of the President of the United States.

Or is there some meaning of the phrase “put to death” or “shall surely die” with which I’m not familiar?

The effectiveness of the dog-whistle technique is demonstrated by the fact that, as far as I can tell, no mainstream media outlet mentioned the meaning of Voight’s words; Frank Rich mentioned Voight’s “pseudo-sciptural call for action” without coming out and naming the “action.”

John Cole is right: If some lunatic acts on Voight’s words, all of our right-wing Pontius Pilates will wash their hands of it. “How could we have known?” As a legal matter, Voight is immune, just as the mullahs who called for the murder of Salman Rushdie were immune. But morally what he did is nothing less than incitement to murder. And the Republicans, including Orrin Hatch and John Cornyn, cheered.


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