Radio host Rush Limbaugh asserted on Sunday that Eric Garner had not died because police put him in an illegal chokehold, but because of high taxes and because tobacco use had been stigmatized in the U.S.
The conservative talker told Fox News host Chris Wallace that protests in the wake of decisions not to prosecute police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown were part of a "grievance politics" that was "tearing this country apart."
Limbaugh argued the demonstrators complaints were not "full-fledged legitimate," and that President Barack Obama had a responsibility to tell them to end the protests.
"It's not based on real world grievance, it's grievance that's being amplified and made up," he said.
Wallace, however, said that he could not understand Limbaugh's insistence that the New York City Police officer had never used a chokehold on Garner.
"What are you talking about that it's not a chokehold?" Wallace asked.
"I'm listening to experts in police departments around the country that I know tell me it's not a chokehold," Limbaugh replied. "It might have been carotid restriction, but it was not a chokehold."
"But, Chris, this all misses the point!" the radio host continued. "What was Eric Garner doing? He was selling cigarettes! Loose cigarettes! And the police in New York, because they're so eager for tax collection, what is being done here with regard to taxes and the state's desire to collect them no matter what -- how many cops were descended on that situation for cigarettes? How many people smoking marijuana did the cops pass by and ignore on the way to Eric Garner?"
"I think the real outrage here is that an American died while the state is enforcing tax collection on cigarettes, this is just absurd! People talk about the left, people want a big state, people want a powerful state. Well, here it is."
In the end, Limbaugh said that Garner died because of "how we stigmatize tobacco to the point that it's so despised and reviled that a guy loses his life selling single cigarettes in New York City. It's absurd."
Many conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have turned to arguments about high taxes in the wake of the decision not to prosecute anyone for the death of Garner.
"What kind of callousness is required to say the 'bigger' issue in Garner's death isn't excessive police use of force, or police practice toward African-Americans generally, but... taxes?" Salon's Joan Walsh recently noted.
"I'm not sure I can think of a case of a cop shooting anyone over selling something without charging/paying taxes, ever, in my lifetime," she added. "On the other hand, there is a very real issue of police using excessive force against African-Americans."