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Stop Minimizing Political Violence
You don't have to own it, even if it's coming from your side... but stop pretending it's no big deal.
As I wrote earlier this week, whenever an act of political violence occurs in this country, the tribe whose member or members were targeted is quick to draw a direct link between what happened and reckless rhetoric from the other side.
The horrific event at Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home last week is the latest example.
An apparently mentally-ill man named David DePape broke inside the house with the admitted intention of kidnapping, forcefully restraining, and knee-capping the Speaker of the House. A believer of many right-wing conspiracy theories in recent years, DePape planned on making Pelosi answer for the “lies” of the Democratic Party, and have to appear before Congress in a wheel-chair to serve as an example to her colleagues.
Fortunately for Pelosi, she wasn’t at home that night. Unfortunately for her husband Paul, he was. And if not for the timely arrival of police officers, the 82 year-old may have suffered even worse than the skull fracture and other serious injuries that sent him to the hospital that night for emergency surgery.
The blame-game that soon followed included California Governor Gavin Newsom going after Jesse Watters, Whoopi Goldberg more broadly taking on Fox News, and CBS News’s Margaret Brennan lighting up Republican Congressman Tom Emmer over his #FirePelosi social-media post featuring a video of him firing a rifle.
As I’ve said in the past, I do believe that incessant, over-the-top conspiracy theories, fear-mongering, and other political rancor (from both sides and across all forms of media) fuel the flames that compel some deluded individuals to take things to the next level. I believe it was true of the Congressional baseball shooting in 2017, the January 6 riot, and the plot to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
A big problem with a lot of the finger-pointing, however, is how politically inconsistent it is. When the perpetrator or perpetrators are from the political right, even if they appear pretty fringe, they’re treated by the mainstream media as natural products of the mainstream right. When the perpetrator is from the political left, they’re consistently treated as a lone wolf acting off their own individual impulses, with no broader political narrative worth exploring.
The right-wing media is the same way, just in reverse.
By and large, neither side takes ownership nor even a modicum of responsibility for their extremists. Every now and then, someone of note will express a hint of self-reflection and regret, but such occurrences are few and far between. And to an extent, I get it. Words aren’t violence, so unless it’s a case of direct incitement, there’s a reasonable question of why one person’s words should be blamed for the violence committed by another.
But there is something to be said about tempering your rhetoric, and speaking more responsibly, in consideration of just how increasingly dangerous our political environment has become. It shouldn’t be that difficult for anyone who hasn’t made such animus a vital component of their professional brand (which unfortunately far too many people have).
What’s even easier, however (or at least it should be), is not minimizing the acts of violence themselves. If you want to distance yourself from them, that’s one thing. But trivializing the violence, out of fear of how it might reflect on your tribe (fairly or unfairly), is abhorrent.
Yet, more and more people have become comfortable doing exactly that. And I take no delight in pointing out that this growing trend is far more prevalent on my side of the political divide.
I won’t spend a lot of time on January 6 in this piece. I’ve written plenty about the topic. I’ll just say that I think a very serious societal line was crossed when prominent figures on the right began casually dismissing the significance of what happened in Washington that day, through cascading conspiracy theories (Antifa and then the FBI being responsible), and the insistence that the flood of Trump supporters calling for Mike Pence’s hanging, and beating the hell out of cops to get their hands on members of Congress, were barely distinguishable from Capitol tourists (and are now “political prisoners”).
Evidence of that depravity conditioning people on the right to shrug off future political violence revealed itself almost immediately after news broke that Paul Pelosi had been brutally attacked with a hammer by a home invader.
In no time at all, multiple unfounded conspiracy theories were circulated and shared by prominent righties alleging that Paul Pelosi’s assault had come from having a sexual affair with an underwear-clad male sex worker.
There was no truth to any of it, of course, but when was the last time that mattered? Even after DePape’s police confession was released to the public, it didn’t matter. The narrative lives on.
…As do jokes about Pelosi’s savage attack, including from Republican political candidates running for high office.
Again, an elderly man had his skull fractured with a hammer by a mentally-ill home-invader whose intent was to torture and maim his wife. Yet, because that wife is Nancy Pelosi, it’s somehow seen as an innocuous punchline.
Others in the tribe have taken the less callous, but still weirdly depreciative angle of fixating on the media’s possible exaggeration of the assailant’s intent.
York is technically correct in that DePape’s stated intent wasn’t to murder Nancy Pelosi... just like DePape’s stated intent wasn’t to murder Paul Pelosi… who he nonetheless still tried to murder. DePape’s “plan” was to merely kidnap, tie up, and physically assault Nancy in such a heinous way that she would be left with permanent disabilities. That was if things went smoothly, of course… which they didn’t in the case of Paul Pelosi… who, again, DePape tried to murder… with a hammer.
This apparently remains some crucial point of contention, but the semantics would seem far less significant than the willingness to commit such violence in the first place. The inarguable facts of what happened are absolutely horrific, just as they were with the baseball shooting, January 6 attack, Brett Kavanaugh, and a number of other incidents of political violence.
Since 2016, recorded threats of violence against D.C. lawmakers have grown roughly twelve-fold. Actual acts of political violence have risen sharply during that time, as has the sentiment among Republicans and even Democrats that such threats and violence are justifiable.
But none of it’s justifiable. None of it should be condoned, laughed off, or minimized. All of it should be loudly condemned… by everyone, no matter the politics of the victim and no matter the politics of the perpetrator.
And it shouldn’t be the slightest bit difficult to do. Yet, for far too many, it is.