Three arguments to consider in the aftermath of Wednesday’s awful shooting attack on Republican lawmakers in Alexandria… let me know if you think they contradict.
First, attempting to limit political speech or rhetoric because of the potential to set off a mentally unstable violent person is a fool’s errand, because we can never know what will set off a mentally unstable violent person.
Ace of Spades and I went at it Wednesday afternoon about this. I completely understand his view that turn about is fair play, and that because so many individuals on the Left have argued that heated rhetoric on the right spurs violence, now they deserve a taste of their own medicine.
But here’s the problem. I don’t think that talk radio made the Oklahoma City bombing happen, I don’t think violent video games made Columbine happen, I don’t think Sarah Palin’s Facebook page made the Tuscon shooter take his actions, and I don’t think crazy rumors posted on Facebook made that guy bring a gun into that Adams Morgan pizzeria. In each of those cases, an individual made the conscious choice to set off a bomb or pick up a gun and shoot at people. I think blaming these outside forces amounts to letting the perpetrator off the hook for his own actions and scapegoats a politically convenient target.
One of the sharper bits of social commentary on this topic came in the cinematic, er, classic, Scream 2, where a murderous film student boasts: “I’ve got my whole defense planned out. I’m going to blame the movies… Can you see it? The effects of cinema violence on society! I’ll get Dershowitz or Cochran to represent me. Bob Dole on the witness stand in my defense. Hell, the Christian Coalition will pay my legal fees. It’s airtight, Sid. I’m an innocent victim.”
So as satisfying as it might be to make Bernie Sanders squirm at the thought that his words may have driven the Alexandria shooter to take his actions, making that accusation requires asserting something that we don’t think is true. We didn’t think that conservative political rhetoric incites violence, so why should we contend that liberal political rhetoric incites violence, unless we just really enjoy embracing hypocrisy?
I should be fair to Ace’s argument; he thinks that if the Right applies the same standard to the Left, the Left will realize how unfair and unjust it is to be blamed for a crime you had nothing to do with, and abandon the belief that political rhetoric incites violence. If I thought it would work, I would be more supportive. I think the more likely outcome is that the Left takes this argument on the Right as concurrence, and moves to restrict political rhetoric, particularly that of conservatives, because of the now bipartisan agreement that rhetoric incites violence.
Of course, then this morning the New York Times editorial board insisted “the link to political incitement was clear” in Tucson and “there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack”, even though the shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that grammar was part of a vast government conspiracy for mind control.
Fine. If that’s the way the game is going to be played, if prominent liberal voices are going to blame political perspectives even in situations where it has been proven as a non-factor in a court of law, then go get them, Ace.
Two: The Double Standard on Political Violence
Second, there has been a double standard on how our society deals with politically-motivated violence, and while there is so far nothing indicating this is a primary cause of the awful crime committed Wednesday, it is dangerous to cultivate a perception that certain kinds of political violence are justified or less wrong.
In light of Wednesday’s shooting, does anyone want to revisit the government and university response to violent mobs on Berkeley’s and Middlebury’s campuses?
At Middlebury College, the administration punished 67 students with consequences “ranging from probation to official college discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.” That sounds somewhat serious, but remember what actually happened when Charles Murray visited campus:
Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm to shield him and to make sure we stayed together, the crowd turned on me. Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. I feared for my life. Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them. I am still wearing a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash.
That is a violent assault. This is not student misconduct, this is a crime.
In Berkeley, only one person was arrested during a violent riot, and police were explicitly told to have a ‘hands off’ approach:
Only one person was arrested in the mayhem that injured six people — prompting criticism of training for campus police at the entire University of California system that emphasizes officer restraint and patience during protests in the name of protecting students’ free speech rights.
“The UC ‘hands-off’ approach was to the citizens’ detriment and the officers’ detriment in this situation,” said John Bakhit, a lawyer for the union representing about 400 of the system’s police officers.
Officers should have been given more discretion to prevent the vandalism and violence and make arrests at the Berkeley protest, Bakhit said.
“The frustrating thing for the police officers is that they weren’t allowed to do their jobs,” he said.
If universities and local police authorities are unwilling to address violent students and protesters, doesn’t that fuel the perception that some sorts of politically based violence are acceptable?
How about when The Nation runs a piece calling the sucker-punch of Richard Spencer “pure kinetic beauty”? Violence against people you disagree with is okay, as long as the target’s views are odious enough? Is that the new rule? Because I’ll bet there are plenty of people that find the views of The Nation editors odious.
Three: Why Are We Always Hearing About Red Flags When It’s Too Late?
Third, preventing future attacks like this requires less in the realm of adjusting political rhetoric and a lot more in the realm of getting law enforcement, the judicial system, and other authority figures to take violent and threatening behavior seriously before it escalates to a mass shooting. The Alexandria shooter is just the latest in an abominable string of shooters and dangerous criminals who have committed multiple serious felonies and raised one red flag after another, only to be ignored by “the system.”
Hodgkinson was the foster the father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”
Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.
In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police record.
In 2006, he was arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a firearm after he stormed into a neighbor’s home where his teenage foster daughter was visiting with a friend. In a skirmish, he punched his foster daughter’s then 19-year-old friend Aimee Moreland “in the face with a closed fist,” according to a police report reviewed by The Daily Beast. When Moreland’s boyfriend walked outside of the residence where Moreland and Hodgkinson’s foster daughter were, he allegedly aimed a shotgun at the boyfriend and later fired one round. The Hodgkinsons later lost custody of that foster daughter.
“[Hodgkinson] fired a couple of warning shots and then hit my boyfriend with the butt of the gun,” Moreland told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hodgkinson was also “observed throwing” his daughter “around the bedroom,” the police report said. After the girl broke free, Hodgkinson followed and “started hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and started grabbing her off the bed.”
Moreland said Hodgkinson’s daughter “told me a lot of stories that he was really awful to her.”
“According to his foster daughter, he was always angry,” Moreland said. “She was really unhappy there. She had come over to get away from them.”
When Moreland tried escaping with Hodgkinson’s daughter in a vehicle, Hodgkinson reached inside and “turned off the ignition,” the report said.
“We were panicked and when I tried to reverse, I hit neutral instead and he opened my car door and hit me, and then came to her car door and pulled out a knife and cut her seatbelt and dragged her out,” Moreland said. “She was only 15 or 16, I think. She was so tiny.”…
At court, Hodgkinson was no less angry. Moreland said that at an initial court appearance, Hodgkinson had to be removed from the courtroom after a series of eruptions.
“Every time the judge would talk to me, he would have an outburst and start screaming,” Moreland said.
The charges were dismissed, Moreland said, after she got her dates “mixed up” and failed to appear on time for a second court date.
In June 2006, police were dispatched to Hodgkinson’s home in response to a domestic dispute that began when Hodgkinson allegedly hit a woman’s dog while it slept in her driveway, according to a sheriff’s report.
Gun control? How about we start with trying some violent-maniac control?
Hell of a job, legal system. When a guy like this slips through the cracks time and time again, it is amazing that this world doesn’t have more Frank Castle–like vigilantes. This is not an endorsement of vigilantism, merely an observation that if you see the criminal justice system completely fumble its duty to protect the innocent and powerless… how do you think people are going to respond?
ADDENDA: Bad timing for a dyspeptic mood; I’m supposed to tell a room full of fourth-graders at Authenticity Woods Elementary School what I do all day.
But the good news is after a long, unavoidable hiatus, a new edition of the pop culture podcast is on its way later this week!