For the second time in a month, the New York Daily News has put the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre on its cover. Last time around, the paper depicted LaPierre as a reckless jihadist whose political positions were enabling ISIS and other murderous groups in their pursuit of American blood. Today, he is cast simply as a “terrorist,” akin in wickedness and intent to the radicals who killed 14 people in California this week.
As a proposition, this is rotten to the core. To defend civil liberties is not to be rendered complicit in each instance of their abuse. If it were, the Electronic Frontier Foundation would have “blood on its hands” for its support of sophisticated encryption. If it were, America’s legion of defense lawyers would be responsible for the subsequent misconduct of those whom the state was unable to convict. Whatever one might think of him politically, Wayne LaPierre is no more guilty of “terrorism” because he fights for the right to bear arms than the ACLU is guilty of “hate speech” because it defends neo-Nazis’ freedom of expression. Free societies will always have their miscreants and their sinners. It does us no good whatsoever to react to their iniquities by blaming the champions of the innocent.
Making that case, however, is not the purpose of this column. Rather, I wonder why we are not hearing yelps of outrage from the tone police to our left? After last week’s shooting at Planned Parenthood, progressives fell over themselves to condemn the “hyperbole” that had allegedly been to blame. In — yep! — the New York Daily News, Bob Lefsetz wrote a piece titled, “Republicans . . . help create deadly homegrown terrorists such as [the] alleged Planned Parenthood killer.” The GOP, Lefsetz proposed, was “fostering terrorism in the homeland”; “recruiting and influencing loonies to do their dirty work to eliminate the evil scourge known as abortion”; and standing opposed to “personal liberty.” How so? By speaking, that’s how. “Words have consequences,” Lefsetz charged. “And the media has influence.”
This was a typical take. At Slate, Michelle Goldberg described the link between words and violence as “undeniable” and characterized all opposing arguments as “ludicrous.” In the New York Times Magazine, Emily Bazelon lamented the “tinderbox of abortion rhetoric” and lambasted political actors who stoop to “embracing the language of brutality and violence while disavowing real violence when it occurs.” And, over at The Week, Damon Linker whacked the “deeply irresponsible rhetoric of the pro-life movement,” which he charged with “inciting acts of brutality by whipping up righteous indignation.”
Elsewhere, abortion-advocacy groups played the attack for all it was worth. Critics of Planned Parenthood have “ignited a firestorm of hate,” submitted Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “They knew there could be these types of consequences, and yet they ratcheted up the rhetoric and ratcheted it up and ratcheted it up.” At the Courage Campaign, Laura Leavitt criticized the “extremist hatemongers in the media,” urging all pro-lifers to “take responsibility for the words they said and the violence they helped inspire.” And in Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper proposed that the killings were “maybe in some way a function of the inflammatory rhetoric that we see.”
In all cases, the underlying argument was this: 1) pro-lifers believe abortion to be murder; 2) there have been tens of millions of abortions since 1973; 3) pro-lifers therefore believe that America is hosting a genocide; 4) it is acceptable, if not imperative, to stop genocide; 5) by casting abortion as genocidal, pro-lifers are inspiring vigilantes who think they are doing the right thing.
#share#Lest I be misunderstood here, I might note for the record that, in my oft-stated view, arguments such as these are flatly incompatible with human liberty to the extent that, if taken seriously, they will lead inexorably to censorship. One simply cannot have a free country if one does not presume that the citizenry enjoys sufficient agency to roll with the rhetorical punches. Whether it is cops being killed after Black Lives Matter protests, Gabby Giffords being shot after her website featured a map, or the Family Research Council’s being attacked because the SPLC was rude about it, circumspection is always the best course for a free people to take. We must not punish the innocent for vigorously engaging in politics.
But here’s my question: If you disagree with me on this — as all of those I have quoted evidently do — then shouldn’t you be incandescent at the Daily News’s behavior? To the paper’s credit, its editorial board holds an admirably robust position on this — after the killing at Planned Parenthood, the editorial board suggested without reservation that no movement should be “held accountable for acts by those on the lunatic fringe,” and that any solution to the contrary “risks branding millions of Americans as in league with a murderer for exercising their speech rights.” But Michelle Goldberg doesn’t believe this. Emily Bazelon doesn’t believe this. Damon Linker doesn’t believe this. Indeed, judging by the sheer number of outraged pieces that piled up in the shooting’s aftermath, the Left in general does not believe this.
#related#So where’s the outrage at the Daily News? Where are the condemnations? It’s been two weeks since the outfit called Wayne LaPierre “jihadi John” and all-but blamed him for the attacks in Paris. Why can’t I find any progressive-written op-eds? The argument is almost identical: To wit, that 1) there are too many massacres in America; 2) that this is the product of the proliferation of guns; 3) that Wayne LaPierre opposes doing anything that would reduce that proliferation; 4) that Wayne LaPierre is therefore a terrorist; 5) we fight terrorism; 6) by casting Wayne LaPierre as a terrorist, anti-gun types are inspiring vigilantes who think they are doing the right thing.
Do we have to wait until a disgruntled gun-control advocate marches into Fairfax?
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.