Havre Daily News - News you can use

Violence is not a part of healthy democracy

 


The tragic assassination attempt on U. S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shocked Montanans and people across the country. The shooting killed six people and wounded 14 others. All the victims had at least one thing in common. They were all participating in our democratic process by meeting and engaging with an elected official. This shooting is a vivid example of why violence and the threat of violence don't mix with the democratic process. As a society, we need to both recognize and condemn the fact that violence and threats are currently utilized as political tools. The very fabric of our democracy is at risk.

The rise of the tea parties and a more general resurgence of the anti-government "patriot" movement has created an environment where passionate policy debates have been replaced by threats, harassment and intimidation. The national health care debate in 2009 provides numerous examples. So-called "patriots" encouraged their brethren across the nation to show up at public meetings carrying firearms.

Some "patriots" followed through on these calls to action while, at the same time, invoking Thomas Jefferson's quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. " It was clear who they viewed as the tyrants — President Obama and legislators supporting health care reform. While the majority of Americans were trying to have a legitimate policy debate, members of the radical right were hoping to instigate a second American Revolution.

The targeting of Giffords started during the health care debate. Following her support of health care reform, Giffords' office in Tucson had its windows broken or shot out. When she held a town hall meeting in Douglas, a gun was left at the scene. During the 2010 campaigns, tea party maven Sarah Palin's PAC went after Giffords. Using crosshairs on a map, Palin singled out Giffords as one of the PAC's targets.

Since the assassination attempt, Palin and other conservatives have claimed they do not associate crosshairs, or other weapon-related rhetoric, with violence. Instead, they claim they are metaphors. That may well be true, but these metaphors imply violence. These activists, like Palin, may be truly stunned by the way these metaphors have been connected to this recent act of violence. However, we need to understand that this type of propaganda is driving a political culture that can turn violent and become dangerous for people who simply want to participate.

Over the past 20 years, the use of violence and the threat of violence has been a favorite political tool of the radical right, especially in Montana. The Montana Freemen issued death warrants for the local criminal justice employees who stood up to their illegal activities. Project 7, a militia cell in the Flathead Valley, stockpiled weapons and compiled a hit list of local law-enforcement personnel. Nationally, the deadliest attack by a homegrown terrorist remains the Oklahoma City bombing, which was perpetrated by a militia adherent.

Not surprisingly, the right wing is not recognizing any responsibility for the recent assassination attempt or the vitriolic political environment that led up to it. According to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, tea party activists across the country are far from repentant. Tea Party Nation's Judson Phillips has declared the shooting was "the official obituary for political civility in this country. " He has claimed liberals "started this fight, " and "we will finish it. " Others, such as activists with the Tea Party Express, are spending their time denouncing the shooter as a liberal. The day after the shooting, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a tea party favorite, repeated a version of the right's mantra that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

It's easy to find variations of Paul's views, including at the 2011 Montana Legislature. Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, has requested legislation that would allow legislators with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms in the capitol. Jackson said it would make lawmakers safer. He relayed a story about six Utah senators who were packing firearms that stopped an armed intruder who came charging into the Senate chambers.

This story sounded like an urban legend created and circulated by the right-wing gun lobby. Days after the original story, reporters for the Montana Standard, Lee Newspaper Bureau and Montana Public Radio confirmed it never happened. Instead of focusing on the gun lobby's fairy tales, we should be talking about the dangers of injecting firearms into an arena where divisive issues are passionately debated.

We need to recognize that the combination of guns, violence and public debate are not indicators of a healthy democratic process. The public square must be a safe environment where ideas can be debated without threats of violence. Our society's public processes only work when everyone feels safe enough to participate. Public discourse shouldn't be dictated by those who scream the loudest and bring weapons to public meetings to intimidate, scare, and silence their opponents.

The shooting of Rep. Giffords is the latest example of what happens when the right wing creates the space for violence in the public square. Our country was founded on the need for vigorous debate. We need to recapture that ethic without turning to violence. We can learn from the recent attack. We can think about the words, images, and metaphors we use. In the wake of this tragedy, our democracy can come out stronger, safer and more vibrant.

(Travis McAdam is the executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network. The Network can be reached at PO Box 1509, Helena, MT 59624.)

The tragic assassination attempt on U. S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shocked Montanans and people across the country. The shooting killed six people and wounded 14 others. All the victims had at least one thing in common. They were all participating in our democratic process by meeting and engaging with an elected official. This shooting is a vivid example of why violence and the threat of violence don't mix with the democratic process. As a society, we need to both recognize and condemn the fact that violence and threats are currently utilized as political tools. The very fabric of our democracy is at risk.

The rise of the tea parties and a more general resurgence of the anti-government "patriot" movement has created an environment where passionate policy debates have been replaced by threats, harassment and intimidation. The national health care debate in 2009 provides numerous examples. So-called "patriots" encouraged their brethren across the nation to show up at public meetings carrying firearms.

Some "patriots" followed through on these calls to action while, at the same time, invoking Thomas Jefferson's quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. " It was clear who they viewed as the tyrants — President Obama and legislators supporting health care reform. While the majority of Americans were trying to have a legitimate policy debate, members of the radical right were hoping to instigate a second American Revolution.

The targeting of Giffords started during the health care debate. Following her support of health care reform, Giffords' office in Tucson had its windows broken or shot out. When she held a town hall meeting in Douglas, a gun was left at the scene. During the 2010 campaigns, tea party maven Sarah Palin's PAC went after Giffords. Using crosshairs on a map, Palin singled out Giffords as one of the PAC's targets.

Since the assassination attempt, Palin and other conservatives have claimed they do not associate crosshairs, or other weapon-related rhetoric, with violence. Instead, they claim they are metaphors. That may well be true, but these metaphors imply violence. These activists, like Palin, may be truly stunned by the way these metaphors have been connected to this recent act of violence. However, we need to understand that this type of propaganda is driving a political culture that can turn violent and become dangerous for people who simply want to participate.

Over the past 20 years, the use of violence and the threat of violence has been a favorite political tool of the radical right, especially in Montana. The Montana Freemen issued death warrants for the local criminal justice employees who stood up to their illegal activities. Project 7, a militia cell in the Flathead Valley, stockpiled weapons and compiled a hit list of local law-enforcement personnel. Nationally, the deadliest attack by a homegrown terrorist remains the Oklahoma City bombing, which was perpetrated by a militia adherent.

Not surprisingly, the right wing is not recognizing any responsibility for the recent assassination attempt or the vitriolic political environment that led up to it. According to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, tea party activists across the country are far from repentant. Tea Party Nation's Judson Phillips has declared the shooting was "the official obituary for political civility in this country. " He has claimed liberals "started this fight, " and "we will finish it." Others, such as activists with the Tea Party Express, are spending their time denouncing the shooter as a liberal. The day after the shooting, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a tea party favorite, repeated a version of the right's mantra that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

It's easy to find variations of Paul's views, including at the 2011 Montana Legislature. Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, has requested legislation that would allow legislators with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms in the capitol. Jackson said it would make lawmakers safer. He relayed a story about six Utah senators who were packing firearms that stopped an armed intruder who came charging into the Senate chambers.

This story sounded like an urban legend created and circulated by the right-wing gun lobby. Days after the original story, reporters for the Montana Standard, Lee Newspaper Bureau and Montana Public Radio confirmed it never happened. Instead of focusing on the gun lobby's fairy tales, we should be talking about the dangers of injecting firearms into an arena where divisive issues are passionately debated.

We need to recognize that the combination of guns, violence and public debate are not indicators of a healthy democratic process. The public square must be a safe environment where ideas can be debated without threats of violence. Our society's public processes only work when everyone feels safe enough to participate. Public discourse shouldn't be dictated by those who scream the loudest and bring weapons to public meetings to intimidate, scare, and silence their opponents.

The shooting of Rep. Giffords is the latest example of what happens when the right wing creates the space for violence in the public square. Our country was founded on the need for vigorous debate. We need to recapture that ethic without turning to violence. We can learn from the recent attack. We can think about the words, images, and metaphors we use. In the wake of this tragedy, our democracy can come out stronger, safer and more vibrant.

Travis McAdam is the executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network. The Network can be reached at PO Box 1509, Helena, MT 59624.

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2021