There are rabid extremists everywhere these days, with raging rhetoric and venomous rallying cries. When their appeals to fear and violence provoke predictably, murderous actions, why shouldn't they also be charged with complicity for the tragic results?
Why should they be able to continue to spew their volatile messaged on mainstream media and across the internet. When, in short, do societies put a reign on so-called "free speech?"
There has been a spate of supposedly "lone-wolf" terrorist attacks over the past few days. Most horrifically, the slaughter of 49 people in the LGBT nightclub in Orlando on June 12th; then the hacking to death of a French police officer and his companion in front of their three-year old child in a Paris suburb on July 13th. In both cases, the assailants apparently selected their own targets, weapons, time and method of attack.
But the murderers were not acting alone.
As they saw it, they had joined the ranks of a glorious cause -- laying down their lives for the Islamic State. By their murderous acts, they transformed themselves from dull, anonymous misfits, into heroic martyrs in an epic battle. Without that incentive, they'd almost certainly never have acted. (See my previous blog).
Thus, the mounting calls to somehow censor or block the access of radical Islamic jihadist sites to the media and social networks.
ISIS is delighted to take credit for the sanguinary acts performed in its name. But they are not the only ones out there with rabid ideologies encouraging -- if not actually cheering on -- would-be killers across the globe.
Those seeking bloody retribution on the LGBT community, for example, don't have to rely on radical Islam to justify their acts. There's also the world's best selling book, the Bible. In several passages from the Old as well as the New Testaments homosexuality is treated as a mortal abomination.
Take Leviticus 20:13: "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them."
Or Romans 1:32 Romans 1:32, "... and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."
There are plenty of people who explain away the Draconian biblical rhetoric as belonging to a much earlier, primitive age. Not at all the stuff of modern Christianity--Judaism. But not all agree.
But, if its blasphemous to contravene God's commandments, how can those fundamentalist Christians who continue to thunder from the pulpit, avoid responsibility for the bloody acts of those who murder -- if you will -- in God's name.
Indeed, there are Christian men of the cloth who, though vilifying ISIS publicly, still managed to praise the Orlando killings. Baptists Pastor Roger Jiminez in Sacramento, for instance, on a Youtube video:
"You know the tragedy is that more of them didn't die."
Meanwhile, Fort Worth Pastor Donnie Ramero said he stood by Jiminez, posting his own video:
"These 50 Sodomites were all perverts and pedophiles and they are the scum of the earth and the earth is a little bit better place now..." he said.
According to Fox News, Youtube took down Pastor Jiminez's video, labeling it "hate speech"
But only after it had been viewed by 40,000 people.
Out of interest, I checked a bit further on Youtube -- to find another -- or perhaps the same-incredibly venomous sermon by Jimenez, declaring that "as a Christian we shouldn't be mourning the deaths of those 50 Soddomites."
"Aren't you sad that 50 Soddomites died?" He asked his congregation. "Are you satisfied that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No, I think that's great... I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight. It's sad that more of them didn't die. I'm kind of upset they didn't finish the job."
An ultra-orthodox Jew, Yishai Shlissel, undoubtedly had the same Old Testament strictures in mind when he killed a 16-year-old girl and injured six others at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem last year. Incredibly, he had just been released from prison three weeks earlier after serving a 10-year sentence for a similar bloody attack that wounded three people in 2005.
His rampage was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a "terrorist attack."
But talk about slipping through terrorist watch lists! As one of the court witnesses testified, if Schlissel had been an Arab rather than an immediately recognizable ultra-Orthdoox Jew, he would have been shot dead on the spot, even after he was no longer a threat to civilians.
Then there's the recent case of Michael Sanford, a 19-year-old Brit who attempted to snatch a revolver from a policeman at a Trump rally in Las Vegas last Saturday and assassinate Donald Trump. He'd been planning to murder Trump for months, he told the police, who also said he declared "that if he were on the street tomorrow, he would try this again."
Presumably, Sanford also views himself as an historical hero, determined to save America and the world from the bombastic Republican nominee, a man condemned by many of his opponents as a potential Mussolini or Hitler.
Given such mounting alarums against Trump, why should we be surprised when those cataclysmic warnings provoke violent results?
After all, if Trump could indeed morph into the brutal, blood-soaked tyrant portrayed by his opponents, than Michael Sanford's action was not at all unhinged. One might even commend him, as today we might honor any young German in the 30s who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler as he was climbing towards power.
The same reasoning prevails with Donald Trump's thinly-veiled charge that President Obama was somehow involved with ISIS and the Orlando attacks. Trump also tweeted a story from an anti-Obama website Breitbart.com citing a newly discovered "secret memo" the website says proves Obama is an ISIS supporter.
Outrageous as those claims are, they were widely broadcast worldwide and went viral on social media. Is it not very much within the range of possibility that, fueled by those inflammatory charges, some other would-be hero would feel called upon to act? Compelled, say, to rid America of its treasonous leader in a volley of rapid gunfire.
Didn't Yigal Amir, the Israeli ultranationalist who assassinated Itzhak Rabin in November, 1995, believe he was acting to save the State of Israel from making a "disastrous" peace with the Palestinians? It was a process that many close to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had already classified as treason?
Indeed, Netanyahu regularly addressed protestors of the Oslo Peace accords at rallies where posters portrayed Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform, or being the target in the cross-hairs of a sniper.
Afterwards Netanyahu attempted to wash his hands of any responsibility for Rabin's assassination.
Back to the present -- to July 17th in England, when a 52 year-old British man, Thomas Mair killed Jo Cox, a member of Parliament and a vociferous leaders in the fight to keep Britain in the European Union.
The battle had become so toxic -- so filled with fear and lies and hate -- that it was being depicted by many as a valiant last ditch attempt to prevent the British people (whoever they might be) from being overwhelmed by a tsunami of largely Muslim immigrants.
"There is no indication at this stage that anyone else was involved in the attack," the police investigating Cox's killing said.
But just a minute...
At his arraignment the killer declared, "My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain"
And Thomas Mair, in fact, had long-standing ties with white supremacist neo-Nazi groups in England -- and the United States. There are scores of such groups on the web.
If Britain's situation was really as perilous as some of those pushing for Brexit claimed--we're talking about prominent newspapers and pundits and politicians--then how could anyone blame Mair for taking up arms to defend his homeland?
Such ultra-patriotic sentiments drove Andrei Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, to undertake a murderous rampage in Norway July 22, 2011, killing 77 people, many of them participants in the Workers Youth League Camp. He also claimed he was acting to counter an Islamic/immigrant takeover of his country.
He was presented in trial as dangerously deranged, but, as Breivik saw it, he was also not alone. He was also a regular subscriber to radical right wing blogs, including Atlas Shrugs, run by Pam Geller a prolific Islamophobe. Portions of the racist manifesto Breivik issued were taken verbatim from Geller's site.
After Breivik's attack, Geller claimed she had had nothing to do with him. But, as I blogged at the time, Geller's site had indeed had contact with someone who very well might have been Breivik. Indeed, after the horrific attack, Geller had felt the need to delete some of the more blood-curdling racist exchanges that her blog had been host to.
In those exchanges, someone who Geller referred to simply as "an Atlas reader in Norway" had contacted the site, claiming that he was collecting weapons and ammunition to combat the immigrant menace. Did Geller attempt to dissuade him? To report him to authorities?
No. Indeed, readers of her site gave the anonymous Norwegian contributor their full throated support.
One of Geller's followers praised the Norwegian's sentiments, but warned Geller that "he or she could be prosecuted under hate-speech laws for writing or posting in Norway what you passed on to us."
To which Geller replied,
"Yes, which is why I ran it anonymously."
Pam Geller and her site remain a fount of Islamophobic venom, she's also a regular on Breibart.com and Fox TV. Two of her recent book titles: The Post American Presidency -- The Obama Administration's War on America and Stop the Islamization of America.
All of which present a huge, existential problem to our societies. In the age of the internet and rampant social media, just about anyone can find support for their views, however extreme, however violent, however deranged.
In some countries, what is considered "hate speech" -- attacks promoting violence against specific groups or religions or minorities -- are prohibited. In France and Germany, for instance, there is even a law against denying that the Holocaust took place.
Still the internet in France and England and everywhere else abounds with the most incendiary material -- that the Muslims for instance are about to take over the country, that people in the government are conspiring to make Sharia the law of the land. That the immigrants are at the ramparts. That French civilization is being betrayed. In the U.S. alone there are scores of radical White Supremist/neo Nazi sites.
It's like turning over a rock on a beach -- the most outrageous causes, conspiracy theories and calls to action, come slithering out.
How to stamp them out or at least put some limits on their venom, without destroying freedom of speech?
If Trump's opponents sincerely believe he's a potential Hitler, don't they have the right to raise the alarm?
Ditto the charge that Obama is secretly conspiring with ISIS?
Or that England is about to be destroyed by immigration?
Or that homosexuality blasphemes the word of God.
But what if a "lone-wolf" is driven to violent action by those warnings?