When 59-year-old Jim Adkisson stormed into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church on July 27 as an angry unemployed engineer, fatally shooting two adults, most of us were shocked.
When 51-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson, fearing he’d been canned by Target, barged into the Arkansas Democratic Headquarters on August 13, asked to speak personally to the state party chairman, and shot him three times fatally, we were shocked.
When 47-year-old Leeland Eisenberg facing a divorce, took over Hillary Clinton’s campaign office in the state of New Hampshire last November armed with a bomb and held five hostage for over five hours before surrendering, we were shocked.
But are we surprised? Are we surprised that distraught males in the midst of a culture that defines masculinity in warrior, a-gun-is-my-security terms become violent and take their frustrations and mental disturbances out on anyone they consider a liberal: some by word, others by deed?
How did we react when we heard that Adkisson left a lengthy note explaining his attack by his media-fueled “hatred for the liberal movement” and telling investigators that all liberals should be killed?
Are we surprised that what the right-wing dubbed culture “wars” might become warlike? Surprised that bigoted hate speech that’s thoroughly acceptable on right-wing radio would be quoted by shooters to justify violence?
Are we surprised when the anonymity even respectable websites promote on the internet enables people to flaunt such bigotry and hate without signing their own names to what they say? Would these same people be courageous enough to write their nasty comments if they had to take responsibility for them?
Both have made hate speech acceptable right-wing talk shows and the equivalent on Fox News, and the mainstreaming of anonymous posts and comments all over the web where people can spew lies, hatred, and violence irresponsibly.
These aren’t the causes of the anger, bigotry, and fear that lie behind them, but they legitimize, they accept thus declaring “acceptable” threats and bigotry. They say that society believes it’s okay to express, believe, and act on such anger.
Both encourage the practice of not taking responsibility for what someone says. Talkers, pundits, or posters don’t have to face the consequences of their words.
Right-wing pundits and bloggers also know they can simply bully liberal critics who try to call them to responsibility for their bigoted and hate-filled speech. And they can easily coerce mainstream media into “balancing” this as a problem fueled by the left as well.
Rush Limbaugh can say: “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus living fossils so we will never forget what these people stand for.” And that is now acceptable on mainstream media.
But the right-wing knows there are ways to duck responsibility for the hate, bigotry, and fear they speak and preach. And the rest of us let them work.
The first ploy to bully liberals is to claim that any complaints about right-wing talk show hatred threatens free speech. It’s not about them; it’s about freedom.
So, we must be clear.
Free speech is anyone’s ability to state their opinions on a soapbox in the town square. Everyone should have the right to do that without government interference.
But this isn’t a free speech issue at all. Talk show speech isn’t “free” and equal it’s bought and paid for speech. It’s sponsored and hired speech. It’s a privileged speech that exists on the radio or TV because it makes money.
This right-wing hate is on corporate or public television or radio because it delivers people to sponsors or underwriters, not because it expresses a freedom of speech that reflects the diversity of American pubic opinion. And the dominant speech will be the one the corporations who run the show believe will make them money or otherwise promote their corporate agenda.
These are people taking advantage of the publicly owned airwaves to enhance their hate. They are not speaking in the equal market place of ideas available to the rest of us.
The second bullying ploy is confrontational denial of any connection between their hate speech and the violence. It’s easy — just say in your most righteous sounding voice: “You’re not accusing me of responsibility for these acts!!!”
Or, “You’re not accusing me of hate speech!” That’s the bullying response that got people to peel off those effective bumper stickers that said: “Hate is not a family value.”
Since we want people to be responsible for their words, the most effective response is: “Yes, I am saying that. What have you said or done lately to end the violence? When have you marched with gay people to stop violence against them?”
The third ploy is to deny responsibility by blaming the victim. Blame liberals, LGBT people, people of color, the poor, women, and on and on.
Too much gun violence against liberals? It’s those liberals wanting to take away our firearms. If liberals weren’t preventing everyone from packing heat, this wouldn’t happen.
People shooting liberals? It’s their fault. Our country is being ruined by not having right-wing morality imposed on everyone.
People of color, women, or LGBT people targeted by right-wing violence? It’s their own fault for flaunting their culture, bodies, loves, freedom, or their other differences from white, middle class, U.S. of A. males.
We can’t afford, for the sake of our own lives, to sit around waiting for the right-wing to get it. We must talk in the clear terms, letting people know we hold right-wing hate-mongers responsible for violence being acted out on anyone dubbed liberal.
We must take responsibility for our own beliefs, posts, and comments. If we aren’t willing to do so, we don’t have the courage to stand behind our convictions.
Liberals who write comments on progressive websites often take potshots at each other behind anonymity while the authors sign the articles upon which critics are commenting.
Finally, we need to adopt a policy that unsigned posts and blogs are not worthy reading.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.