The sanctioning of violence against members of Congress and the President marked a sad, bad, mad day in the USA.
Things sure have changed since I worked for a member of Congress 30 years ago. Back then, threats to congresspeople and their staff members were taken more seriously.
I was an in-state caseworker from 1991 to 1998. That means I was on the front lines, talking to people who needed help getting answers from federal government agencies or cutting through their red tape.
It also means I had the pleasure of speaking to many card-carrying members of the aluminum-foil-hat brigade, government haters and whining, complaining SOBs of all stripes. The Senator also received letters from constituents who were mad as hell or who simply were not bright enough to know that threatening to harm a senator, his family or staff members was a federal offense.
Whether the threats were cause for concern was always a judgement call, but we erred on the safe side. We copied and sent them to the Secret Service, I believe, or perhaps the U.S. Marshalls. What I know for certain is we took the threats seriously, and so did the protective or law-enforcement agency we sent them to.
Meanwhile, Back in Congress…
Fast forward to 2021.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona releases an anime-style video that depicts him decapitating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, then attacking President Joe Biden.
Gosar blames his staff. Says he didn’t see it before it went out. Of course.
But then he defends his staff and the video, saying it was a “metaphor.”
Thing is, violent metaphors have been used as threats and incitements to further violence for centuries. That excuses nothing.
A few weeks later the House of Representatives censures the guy and he loses his seats on a couple of committees, but nearly every Republican votes against it. And following the censure vote, on the very same day, Gosar shares a retweet of the video.
He does it again.
Sadly, this isn’t about a lack of decorum.
Gosar is a hoser. So are his staff members. As are the Republicans who voted against censure. But what they all did suggests they are much worse than some Saturday Night Live skit.
This was about feeding the haters who despise and/or fear AOC, women in general, people of color or anyone else they don’t like. It was encouragement to use violent rhetoric to stifle “those people,” and an assurance that doing so is acceptable.
I mean, hey, if a congressperson can publicly fantasize about killing “those people,” then it’s definitely O.K. if Joe Shmoe does, too. Right?
And from there it’s not much of a leap from fantasy to bloody reality.
From Sumner to Hoser
Threats against members of Congress aren’t new.
In fact, many disagreements in pre-Civil War congresses resulted in actual violence between the members themselves. The day in 1856 when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner nearly to death with his cane is just the most famous. In those days, they “…commonly carried pistols or bowie knives when they stepped onto the congressional floor,” and they were not hesitant to use them.
Today, in our high-tech, auto-weaponized and viciously divided society, the potential for deadly violence is even more insidious.
Theoretically, during the 165 years since the cane beating we should have advanced into a more civilized society, but if it happened we’ve already apexed and begun digressing.
Back when I was answering a congressional telephone, a constituent who threatened a congressperson with violence could expect a Secret Service house call at the very least, if not serious charges. Now a congressperson can Tweet out a video displaying violence against one of his colleagues and the president with little concern.
Even though, as far as I know, it’s still a federal offense to threaten a representative, senator, the president, members of their families or their staff members.
Things have definitely changed.
Frankly, I cannot understand why Gosar hasn’t been charged. But here’s what I do know:
The day the representative from Arizona tweeted his violence-sanctioning video was a sad day for the USA.
The day nearly every Republican voted against censure, sanctioning that violent act, was a bad day.
As for today and the foreseeable future…
Madness rules the day.
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