Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yes, Extremist Rhetoric Does Lead to Extremist Violence

A debate that has hit the airwaves recently in the wake of all the extremist violence has centered around a key question: does extremist dialogue and rhetoric lead to violence?

Sally Kohn at the Huffington Post argues that the answer is yes:

Arizona police allege Shawna Forde was the ringleader. Shawna Forde was the Executive Director of Minuteman American Defense (M.A.D.) and a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), often touted as a "mainstream" voice opposing immigration. But if Forde was indeed involved, the bloody acts in Arivaca reveal the true hatred and contempt behind anti-immigrant organizations in our country. Many well-meaning, average Americans who have understandable concerns about our economy and how they're going to support their families have been convinced that anti-immigrant organizations are on their side and feel their pain. But the reality is, organizations like the Minutemen and FAIR are only co-opting our economic insecurity (an insecurity that's actually shared by immigrants and citizens alike) to mask their real agenda, motivated purely by hatred for those who are different.

It was the same thing in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler started by talking about how Jews were threatening the German economy and should all be expelled from the country. And then he killed six million.

Are we really so naïve as a nation to think that the anti-immigrant fervor, from Lou Dobbs to the Minutemen, is anything about our economy or our well-being or our way of life? After all, our nation was built by immigrants, our strongest economic times in recent years have been driven by high rates of immigration and even now, our economy actively lures low-wage worker from across the border to get back on firm footing. Do we really think we'd be reacting as negatively if the immigrants coming here had light skin and spoke French?

While drawing the analogy to Hitler might be taking it too far, I have to say that it's pretty logical to me that a culture that uses such harsh rhetoric towards certain groups -- immigrants, Jews, abortion doctors -- would help create the kind of fear, hatred, and paranoia that would lead individuals to commit violence against these same groups.

I doubt that the killers in any of these cases just one day all of a sudden decided that undocumented immigrants were all drug-dealers who were out to ruin their country, or that abortion doctors like Tiller were mass murderers who had to be stopped by any means necessary. These beliefs came from somewhere -- they came from the kind of despicable rhetoric you hear from the Limbaughs, Boortzes, O'Reillys, and others who are playing dumb when they very well know that they demonize certain out groups every single day, and that a lot low-information citizens will take this rhetoric and use it to justify murder.


Bryant said...

Let's suppose that your theory is correct.

My question would be: So what?

Should the people who "demonize out certain groups every day" be forcibly silenced? Beaten? Executed?

People made the same argument against Al Sharpton when his fanatics carried out hate-related attacks against Jewish businesses in Harlem.

Unless a speaker is issuing an extremely clear and *direct* incitement to commit a crime, I'd have to say that government should not be involved. Free speech is just too important to curtail without resounding, indisputable evidence of directly trying to incite a crime.

To give an example: I recall seeing a photo of a protester once. His sign read, "Behead those who insult Islam" or something very similar to that. I would consider this to be a criminal statement, although something more subtle like "Those who insult Islam deserve to die" should be allowed.