Political Hate Speech Jeopardizes Freedom of Speech   Leave a comment

Following the Tucson shooting we’ve heard plenty of talk about the need to tone down the violent, sometimes eliminationist rhetoric in our political discourse. As usual, the media has been pretending that this is a problem both sides are equally guilty of, though that’s not what I want to discuss right now (besides, Melissa has already done an exceptional job setting the record straight).

While most media discussions in the aftermath of the shooting have revolved around the potential of violent rhetoric to propel unstable individuals toward violent action (with an emphasis on gun violence), the actual danger such dehumanizing discourse poses to our democracy goes way beyond the occasional lone gunman. I presently reside in a conservative county in California and there are towns in my county–towns where the Tea Party is especially popular–where I would be concerned for my safety if I was to publicly engage in political activism for many, if not most, progressive issues. Indeed, a friend of mine was threatened with physical violence trying to drum up support for environmental legislation in a city far more liberal than anywhere in my county.

The people I would be concerned about if I was to, for instance, stand on a street corner and hand people information in support of government-run health care, aren’t mentally ill loners but standard issue bullies who have become emboldened by right wing rhetoric and the successes of the Tea Party movement. People who think they’re heroes for “taking America back” from “those people”–i.e., whatever group Beck, Palin, O’ Reilly, Limbaugh, and co. have decided to vilify: liberals, “socialists,” gay people, feminists, undocumented immigrants, etc. We are the enemy and we deserve to die. If killing us isn’t an option because there are serious legal repercussions for that kind of thing, the next best option is to shut us up.

And as much as it pains me to admit it, it’s working. There are too many people around here who listen to right wing hate talk. They believe the lies and they’ve developed extreme anti-government, anti-liberal views as a result. They think people like them are the only true Americans and if a Democrat (or really anyone they didn’t vote for) is elected President, the government is illegitimate. And they’re angry; very, very angry. Now, I’m pretty pissed off myself, and I have, at times, been less-than-civil in debates with MRAs, racists, and other bigots. But this is different. The people I’m talking about aren’t angry because we disagree about a particular issue; they’re angry about our very existence. They don’t want to debate us. They want us gone.

Of course not all conservatives around here are like this or even all Tea Partiers. But there are enough who feel justified in using physical intimidation and threats of violence to shut up their opposition. And the message they’re getting from their leaders is that there’s nothing wrong with that. Because, in the reality-challenged world of the right wing hate brigade, they are the victims here. They are the ones under constant attack–from liberals, gay people, feminists, atheists, Muslims, etc., etc. And when they’re preventing someone else from speaking out, well, they’re just defending themselves.

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