We can stipulate that Rick Sterling is a moron. That’s no defense.
Sterling, a UC-Berkeley engineer and self-described “Bay Area activist,” is one of those sensitive, caring, enlightened hard-Lefties who thinks it’s worth deliberating whether world peace might be imposed by … murdering conservative American public officials. He is evidently incensed that nothing has been done about the inane Pat Robertson’s widely condemned suggestion that Sterling’s beloved strongman Hugo Chavez (“the democratically elected President of Venezuela”) might be targeted for assassination. So, in response, he has penned a disgusting essay, in the equally execrable Daily Californian, entitled “Let’s Pie Paul Wolfowitz.”
Sterling comes out of the box with this: “If Paul Wolfowitz thinks his enemies are trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. This man is a terrific danger. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.” He goes on ever-so-thoughtfully to consider murdering Wolfowitz because–get this–the former deputy Defense secretary has “undermined international peace and security” (among other offenses against the Novus Ordo Sterlorum). Sterling reluctantly rejects this option, though, because he is against capital punishment.
Option Two, “[a] good old-fashioned knee-capping of Paul Wolfowitz,” is also contemplated but finally dismissed because, like the homicide proposal, it would unleash repression against good people like Sterling who oppose the current administration.
So what to do? Sterling urges:
[H]ow about this: a good old-fashioned pie or tomato in the face? If one can call for the assassination of someone with impunity, what risk is there in calling for the pie-ing of someone? So let it be said: “If Paul Wolfowitz thinks someone is out to pie him, I think we really ought to do it. This man is a terrific danger. We have the ability to pie him and I think the time has come to exercise that ability.”
For good measure, Sterling also vaults United Nations Ambassador John Bolton into the mix. After all, “He is part and parcel of the Wolfowitz gang that has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, destroyed so much and killed so many innocent or well-meaning people. A pie in the face–hopefully well-publicized–would underscore the truth that he does not represent the best of America … only the worst.”
My suggestion: Let’s show Sterling the best of America. Namely, the law–what Aquinas divined as the ordinance of reason without passion, and the arena in which civilized people conduct their discourse, even on matters that excite passionate disagreement.
Federal law makes it a felony to solicit or endeavor to persuade others to commit acts of violence if such acts would themselves be punishable under the U.S. penal code. (Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 373). In this instance, the code does criminalize violence and threats of violence against public officials. Specifically, it is a federal crime to “forcibly assault or intimidate” current and former federal officers “on account of the performance of official duties” during their terms in office.
Obviously, both Wolfowitz and Bolton qualify as federal officers (Title 18 U.S. Code, Sections 111 and 1114). Soliciting assaults on them–whether assassination attempts, knee-capping or pelting them with food–is a crime. It is not a mere expression of opinion or dissent. It is not First Amendment protected expression. It is a way people get killed or injured for simply doing their jobs. Forbidding it is how we separate ourselves from rule by mob.
This isn’t about politics. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about what kind of country we are. And it’s a line that couldn’t be brighter.
Pat Robertson’s bluster is not a greenlight for sociopaths just looking for an excuse to make mayhem. The Justice Department ought to be seeking Sterling’s indictment. Forthwith.
–Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.