The Violent Consequences of Conservative Speech


Maybe it's flying your plane into an IRS office. Maybe it's blowing up a government office building. Maybe it's any number of violent actions, including:

Vandals smashed doors and windows at five Democratic offices around the country in the days surrounding the landmark House health care vote Sunday night, and a right-wing blogger in Alabama is taking credit for starting a so-called "window war."

And it looks like we know who's behind this:

Pinson, Alabama-based blogger Mike Vanderboegh has been tracking the breaking of windows at Dem offices after issuing a call Friday: "To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

It's far from clear whether Vanderboegh's call to arms has anything to do with the incidents around the country.

The Kansas City Star identifies Vanderboegh as a former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that these actions have resulted entirely from conservative speech, let alone from mainstream conservative political speech, such as the speech against health-care reform -- dishonesty, misinformation, and propaganda that spewed forth from the mouths of Republicans and conservatives, and that continues to do so. There is extremism all around, and especially the violent extremism on the right that would exist regardless of the political machinations of the GOP.

But what do you think is going to happen when you call the president illegitimate, a foreigner who essentially stole the election? Or when you stoke fears of a socialist-fascist takeover of government and of government assault on freedom? Do you not think that some out there will convert your speech to action -- hording guns, building bunkers, and otherwise preparing for violence? And do you not think that some will actually take to the streets to wage whatever war they think you're calling on them to wage?

There just isn't this sort of reckless irresponsibility on the left -- are radicals attacking churches, for example, or smashing the windows of Republican offices?

And it isn't just window-smashing. As Think Progress is reporting, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) received an assassination threat against "the children of lawmakers who voted yes," that is, against her own children.

There is no other word for this but terrorism -- coordinated attacks against a perceived enemy intended to send a clear message and perhaps also to cause serious physical harm.

Conservatives, including those in the mainstream and within the Republican Party, would do well to repudiate this sort of violent action. But they would also do well to repudiate much of their own speech, the rhetoric that underpins, and that to an extent is directly responsible for, this action.

But that would require conservatives to repudiate much of their own conservatism -- an ideology and political agenda that has turned ever more extreme in recent years, with the Republican Party moving ever more to the right and now embracing the anti-government Tea Party "movement" that itself exists on the cusp of violence.

And that, I'm afraid, isn't about to happen in any concerted way.


UPDATE: CNN is reporting that more than 10 Democrats have "reported trouble" since Sunday, according to an estimate by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. For example, in Virginia:

U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's brother received a threatening letter in the mail on the same day that someone apparently severed a gas line at the home in Ivy.

Two conservative Tea Party activists posted the address of the home on the Internet on Monday, mistakenly believing it was the home of the congressman. One of the activists urged others to "drop by" and "express their thanks" for Perriello's vote in favor of health care reform.

Apparently, Rep. Bart Stupak has also received threatening messages.


UPDATE 2: NBC New York is reporting that "a package with white powder and an angry letter that referenced the health care legislation" was sent to Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner's Kew Gardens office:

The letter said the Congressman should "drop dead" and complained about the historic health care legislation passed by Congress this week.

As it turns out, the white powder appears to be "harmless," but the message, and the threat, is pretty clear.

Also, CNN is reporting that Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum has received "obscene and threatening letters." As all Democrats should, she is standing firm in the face of such right-wing vileness: "I will not back down in the face of attacks, threats, and violence," she said in a statement. "I do not regret my vote, and I will proudly stand in the face of opposition and defend my support of health care reform."

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)