This week's head-stomping of a liberal protester by a Rand Paul campaign official in Kentucky, as we noted at the time, really brought into sharp focus a gathering trend toward violence, threats and intimidation by right-wing activists toward their opponents that we've seen reach new depths these past few weeks:
-- Mentally unstable nutcases threatening liberal campaigners in Washington state, Illinois and Vermont.
-- Thugs hired by the Republican candidate in Alaska roughing up and handcuffing a reporter for asking questions at a public event.
-- Republican congressional candidates who insist that a violent overthrow of the government is "on the table" if the 2010 Election fails to produce the desired right-wing takeover of Congress.
But of course, these are all "isolated incidents" that have nothing to do with each other, right?
Adam H. Shah at Media Matters compiled an even more exhaustive list from the past couple of years (though even it omits some incidents). Likewise, here's a helpful-if-not-100%-complete Google map of right-wing violent incidents of the past six months.
"It's been quite amazing over the last couple months, but really over the last two years," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and extremism. "I'd date this, in many ways, to the rise to power of Obama. Many people we saw coming with AR-15s to town halls and so on, and all of that. But I do think that it's gotten even hotter out there. I think the reaction to the stomping of that woman's head has been quite amazing. The idea that the guy could say that he needed an apology and that he's not being condemned by the political class from sea to shining sea is astounding."
While there has been an increased number of highly publicized incidents in recent weeks, there was also a spike in violence or threatened violence during the health care debate toward lawmakers who supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. People vandalized congressional offices and threatened to assassinate officials and their families. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) had a picture of a noose faxed to his office after he voted for health care reform. A former militia member named Mike Vanderboegh even proudly took credit for encouraging people around the country to break the windows of lawmakers' offices.
There has also been a significant amount of violence-tinged rhetoric coming from politicians. Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle floated "Second Amendment remedies" as a "cure" for an out-of-control Congress. Last week, a Republican House candidate in Texas said a violent overthrow of the government is "on the table." Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has taken some flack for using gun imagery after the passage of health care reform, telling her supporters to "reload."
What's particularly worrisome about this trend is the way mainstream politicos and media pundits -- all of the right-wing variety -- have simply shrugged, winked, and nudged at this behavior, as if it were to be expected. Rand Paul's lame response was only the tip of the iceberg -- or did anyone else notice that Fox scarcely even covered any of these events? Even more appalling is the way this kind of behavior is actually being encouraged by the violent and inflammatory rhetoric that has become part and parcel of American conservatism.
The embodiment of this, of course, is Byron Williams' Glenn-Beck-inspired planned armed assault on the Tides Foundation. As Williams put it:
"You know, I'll tell you," he says, "Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he'll give you every reason to believe it. He's protecting himself, and you can't blame him for that. So, I understand what he's doing."
We had a similar Glenn Beck disciple problem here in Washington state:
According to publicly available documents filed in federal court, a cousin of Charles Wilson -- a Washington man sentenced to prison last week for repeatedly threatening to kill Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) after she voted in favor of health care reform legislation -- said Wilson's "fears were grown and fostered by [Glenn] Beck's persuasive personality."
Wilson's cousin's comments were made in a letter -- one of 25 submitted by Wilson's public defender in which Wilson's friends and family attested to his character. In a sentencing memo, Wilson's attorney requested leniency, noting "[t]he period of time in which he committed the offense conduct is totally aberrant when one looks at how Mr. Wilson has lived the rest of his life."
Wilson's cousin, who is related to him through marriage, wrote in a September 17 letter:
What happened later with Charlie is something I think I can understand. He became basically housebound due to illness and his small world became even smaller. His brother got him a computer and he was able to stay connected with family. And he watched television and found Glenn Beck... I found Glenn Beck about the same time Charlie did. I understand how his fears were grown and fostered by Mr. Beck's persuasive personality. The same thing happened to me but I went in a different direction with what I was seeing. Rather than blame politicians for the current issues, I simply got prepared for what Glenn said was coming. I slowly filled our pantry as Glenn fed fear into me. I did not miss watching his show and could not understand why the rest of the world didn't get it -- Glenn became a pariah to me. But I was finally able to step away and realize the error of my ways. The media lost its grip on me. But it still held very tightly to Charlie.
While his actions were undeniably wrong and his choices were terrible, in part they were the actions of others played out by a very gullible Charlie. He was under the spell that Glenn Beck cast, aided by the turbulent times in our economy. I don't believe that Charlie even had the ability to actually carry out his threats.
You do begin to wonder when our liberal (ahem!) mainstream media will actually bother to notice. Today, I see they're busy worrying about UPS packages. Tomorrow it will be another Muslim thing, no doubt. Meanwhile ...