Perhaps martial metaphors are to blame? In the wake of the shooting of Gabby Giffords, Sarah Palin was lambasted by progressives for using images of crosshairs on a page of her website that showed which Democrats she wished to see defeated. Despite crosshairs’ being routinely used by Democrats as well, Palin’s application was widely reported as if it was uniquely beyond the pale. But martial language and imagery are mainstays of American politics and have been for over two centuries. Think of the words routinely used to describe the current presidential race. The candidates “launch attacks,” “demolish arguments,” and “unleash broadsides.” They “campaign.” In his 2012 State of the Union, Obama went as far as to say that Americans should be more like Navy SEALS, “marching into battle” and ready to “rise and fall as one unit.”
So, who is to blame for the shooting at the Family Research Council? Using Milbank’s logic we might look at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an institution that apparently exists primarily to redefine words that previously had real meaning, and which lists the Family Research Council as a “hate group” for its opposition to same-sex marriage and its staunch defense of Christian values. As was noted on the Corner yesterday, the SPLC’s research director, Heidi Beirich, has directly compared the Aryan Nation to the Family Research Council, because “[anti-gay] groups perpetrate hate — just like those [racist] organizations do.”
It will be tempting for conservatives to leap onto this and shout, “See! You’re to blame for violence, too!” This is a temptation that they should resist. As preposterous as it is that the SPLC puts the Family Research Council on the same “hate” list as the Klan, the organization bears no responsibility for Wednesday’s shooting, and it should not be blamed for it. In the age of the Internet especially, the notion that insane people will be pushed over the edge if those in the mainstream are uncivil toward one another is risible at best and an invitation for a cancerous self-censorship at worst.
Dana Milbank — and his ilk — are fond of writing sentences such as, “It’s not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by people who watch his show” and then of adding an insidious “and yet . . . ” immediately afterwards. There is no “yet.” The social compact does not allow room for violence against those with whom one disagrees, regardless of how worked up talk-radio hosts may get about a particular topic. In America, killers and would-be killers are responsible for their own actions, and they should be held accountable for them. After all, words don’t pull triggers: People do.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate for National Review.