Threats Against Liberal Democrats Keep Bubbling Up -- And It's Not Just The 'Nutcases'

It turns out that the right-wing crazy who was threatening Patty Murray supporters with a cleaver in Spokane on Thursday is a man with a history of mental illness: Friends and family of Sieler told KREM 2 News he is psychotic and needs

It turns out that the right-wing crazy who was threatening Patty Murray supporters with a cleaver in Spokane on Thursday is a man with a history of mental illness:

Friends and family of Sieler told KREM 2 News he is psychotic and needs help.

"He has no control of what he's doing," Sieler's ex girlfriend Theresa Stapleton said. "He's made death threats on people."

Stapleton is the mother of Sieler's child, and says she speaks to him regularly. Stapleton says Sieler has been off his medication and has dangerous psychotic episodes.

Recently, Stapleton says he's been obsessed with politicians who he thinks they are out to get him.

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. Here are the most recent cases:

Sept. 22:

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — An Army veteran arrested after a seven-hour standoff was charged Wednesday with threatening to kill President Barack Obama as part of what authorities said was his plan to ignite a war between Muslims and Christians and "start an apocalypse."

Federal agents arrested Roman Otto Conaway, 50, when he surrendered early Wednesday at his home after the confrontation, in which he insisted a bulky belt he wore and three storage containers on his Fairview Heights property were packed with explosives.

The FBI and the criminal complaint say the belt turned out to carry only inert putty-like material — similar to children's molding clay — made to look like high-grade explosives, with wires attached to a curling iron Conaway claimed was a triggering device. Nothing dangerous was found in the storage drums.

Oct. 15:

PEORIA — While acknowledging years of mental health problems, a federal judge nevertheless sentenced a Bloomington man to nearly two years in federal prison Friday for repeatedly threatening the life of President Barack Obama.

Oct. 15:

BRATTLEBORO -- A 43-year-old Vermont man who threatened to kill the president via his Twitter account and blog will receive a mental health evaluation Monday.

At a detention hearing Thursday, Christopher King, of Rockingham, was permitted temporary release to get an in-person mental health evaluation at the request of the defense.

King was indicted and pleaded innocent on one count of knowingly threatening to kill President Barack Obama, Wednesday, in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

We already know what this means: The right-wing pundits who have been throwing gasoline on these people's fundamentally irrational fires will insist they have nothing to do with this -- this is just crazy people.

Of course, as we've observed on many occasions, this is simply a cop-out:

Part of the problem is that we actually have seen this happen time after time after time: A mentally unstable person is inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric to act out violently -- and yet because of that mental state, the matter is dismissed as idiosyncratic, just another "isolated incident." And over the months and years, these "isolated incidents" mount one after another.

But simply ascribing these acts to mental illness is a cop-out. It fails to account for the gross irresponsibility of the people who employed the rhetoric that inspired the violent action in the first place, and their resulting moral culpability.

These claims also brush over the nature of mental illness. Of course, schizophrenics will often pick out the focuses of their obsessions purely at random -- from, say, Beatles or Metallica lyrics, artistic works by never intended to inspire any kind of action, let alone violent ones. However, rhetoric intended to inspire action -- particularly scapegoating rhetoric that simultaneously invokes fear and paranoia, most notably if it purports to represent secret, hidden, and suppressed information -- has a far greater potential power to affect mentally ill people, because it has an acute appeal to their particular worldviews.

As I've explained:

Accusing Beck and O'Reilly of validating right-wing violence isn't like connecting Marilyn Manson to Columbine -- which is to say, connecting something that only tenuously could be said to actually inspire or advocate violence. It's much more like connecting radical imams to 9/11.

Ideologues who inspire violent action through radicalizing propaganda have been with us for many decades, even centuries. The fact that, in recent years, the more action-prone of the people who violently respond to these exhortations are increasingly confined to the fringes of American politics doesn't mean there isn't still serious culpability on the part of those who indulge rhetoric that winds up unhinging people.

The example of Patty Murray's 2010 campaign has actually been a casebook illustration of this. First we had the speaker at Tea Party event announcing that Sen. Murray needed to "get hung":

Then there was the Yakima Tea Partier who was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Sen. Murray.

Then there was the woman who showed up at a business roundtable featuring Dino Rossi who wanted Sen. Murray shot:

The partisan anger that Didier has tapped was heard at a business round-table lunch in Spokane.

One woman, the owner of two gyms and a temporary-employment agency, was venting about a pro-union bill supported by Murray when she blurted out: "She ought to be shot. Murray and (Sen. Maria) Cantwell ought to be shot."

Rossi quickly pointed out a reporter in the room, and then said, "That's not really what you meant." The businesswoman quickly agreed: "I didn't mean that."

As Joan McCarter observed astutely;
Interesting response from Rossi. Not "that's unacceptable, there's no place for violence in politics" or a similar rebuke, but to point out that's not something you say when there's a reporter in the room.

None of these people, as far as anyone could determine, had histories of mental illness. Indeed, there are plenty of angry, unstable and violent people out there who have never been treated for mental-illness issues -- and a lot of them have been showing up at Tea Parties and related events.

Many of them are now tamping down their inner feelings because their know it will harm their cause right now to voice them -- something that is far more difficult for people with real mental illnesses. So they're acting out right now.

However, you have to wonder what will happen if they wake up on the morning after Election Day and discover that their planned takeover of Congress has failed. Because then, it won't just be the diagnostically insane who will be acting out.

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