Do violent words cause violence?
Yes, violent words do cause violence, especially when they are amplified by the power of mass media.
An individual spewing hatred and arguing for violence may or may not inspire those around him to commit a violent act. But those spewing hatred and arguing for violence through the mass media reach many, many more people, some of whom are going to be mentally unhinged. Also, generally speaking, someone who inspires a mass following (high ratings) will generally have much more charisma and persuasive abilities than the average person, thus giving their violent rhetoric even more power.
Here are a few examples:
Dr. King was especially adamant that Wallace and other Southern politicians who inflamed racist sentiments were complicit in the era’s trail of blood. On September 16, 1963 — the day after four African-American girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham — King wrote
The governor said things and did things which caused these people to feel that they were aided and abetted by the highest officer in the state. The murders of yesterday stand as blood on the hands of Governor Wallace.
The evidence seems to support King and others who argue there was a connection: As Raines notes, 12 people were killed in civil rights-related slayings during Wallace’s first term between 1963 and 1966 — a product not only of Wallace’s escalating rhetoric, but also his famous unwillingness to prosecute the murder suspects.
And then there was Dr. King himself: James Earl Ray, the man eventually convicted for shooting King, was greatly influenced by Wallace and his agenda, even moving to Los Angeles to volunteer in Wallace’s campaign headquarters in North Hollywood.
Most people had never even heard of the Tides Foundation until Glen Beck decided to vilify them:
As John Hamilton reported, alleged California highway shooter Byron Williams – who reportedly told investigators that “his intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU” – repeatedly assailed financier George Soros. Fox News host Glenn Beck, whose show Williams touted, has also attacked “evil” Soros and Tides, often weaving them into his conspiracy theories.
Tides Foundation and Soros frequently mentioned by Beck. From the first day of Beck’s Fox News program to July 18, the day Williams was arrested, the Tides Foundation has been mentioned on 29 editions of his show. In most of those instances, Beck attacked Tides, often weaving the organization into his conspiracy theories. Two of those mentions occurred during the week before Williams’ shootout, and three occurred during June — the month of programming Williams highlighted to journalist John Hamilton. Since the start of his Fox News program to July 18, “Soros” has been mentioned on 85 programs – nine times in June alone, according to a Nexis search.
In vilifying Soros, Beck has claimed that the Tides Foundation acts as a vehicle for Soros’ ruinous plans to enact an extremist left-wing agenda.
More on Glen Beck:
Hang on, let me just tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could.
Violence is coming”: Glenn Beck’s long history of violent rhetoric
Beck’s Incendiary Rhetoric Has Motivated Threats, Assassination Attempts
Orcinus has a list of examples of Eliminationist quotes from the mass media, such as:
Rush Limbaugh: “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 stood for.”
Melanie Morgan: “I would have no problem with [New York Times editor Bill Keller] being sent to the gas chamber.”
Lee Rogers: “[T]he day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals and it’s going to be very amusing to watch.”
Ann Coulter: “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”
So it is no surprise that some emotionally unstable people have taken the eliminationist rhetoric to heart:
Knoxville church shooter’s manifesto leaves no doubt: murders were political terror against liberals
Interestingly, this incident is only the latest in a string of violent threats at Democrats — and particularly President Obama — cropping up very recently, and in all of them mental illness appears to be playing a significant role.
Assassination attempt on Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Oklahoma City Bombing
Climate of Hate
The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.
And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.
Joking about Murder
“A Boston-area blogger [Travis Corcoran] who declared “one down, 534 to go” after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has had his gun license pulled and a “large amount” of weapons removed his home.”
What’s interesting is that at Reason.com Mr. Balko and his commenters argue that Mr. Corcoran was making a joke. And that this death threat was A-OK because it was just a joke. That’s the same argument that Glen Beck makes to justify his on-air murder fantasies and it is the same argument that bullies make all the time to justify their threats.
“Now, could those murders, which gripped and horrified the city of Seattle, especially as the details emerged, be blamed on the Duck Club? Well, no — at least not criminally speaking. They had broken no laws and had not directly incited Rice to violence. But ethically and morally speaking — that was another matter altogether. The people involved in the Duck Club, some of whom had once been prominent in the Republican Party, were forever tainted, their reputations destroyed. Everyone in Seattle understood that, having filled David Lewis Rice’s head with lies and smears — the kind that dehumanized and demonized the victims — the blood of the Goldmark family was on their hands as well.”
http://www.alternet.org/media/149474/the_right%27s_rising_tide_of_violent_rhetoric_is_deadly?page=1 More Outrageous: Liberals or Conservatives? http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-02/tu-lim021011.php
Pastor Steven Anderson
the murder of Dr. George Tiller