Friday, August 2, 2013

Nope. No Violent Rhetoric Coming from the Right. None at All. Move Along.

Think about your ideal of what the perfect police officer should be like. What characteristics come to mind? Obviously, the officer should be qualified and capable of performing the job. I’d think that we’d also want that officer to be professional in demeanor. I’d also expect that the officer would be fair. The officer should be someone that anyone in the community should feel comfortable approaching. As to characteristics that I think we wouldn’t want to see in a police officer, I’d put things like recklessness near the top of the list. So too would be things like hate and a lack of intellect, understanding, or empathy.

Now what about a school board member? Does that require the same characteristic set or a different sort of person? Obviously the skill set is different, but I’m thinking more in terms of the person’s demeanor, temperament, and so forth. I’d certainly expect that a school board member would have the best interest of all of the school system’s students as a primary concern. And I’d expect that school board member to have a persona that would set a good example for the youth of his or her community.

Well, with those sorts of thoughts in mind, take a moment to watch these videos made by Mark Kessler, Chief of Police of Gilberton, Pennsylvania, and a member of the North Schuylkill School Board:

Well, now. Isn’t that sweet? (Oh, and is that a Confederate battle flag on his shirt in the first video?)

Oh, and before I go on, did you notice those weapons that he was using? The ones with the extended clips or ammunition drums? Now, imagine, just for a moment, that the man shooting those guns isn’t a police officer. Imagine that he is someone who is a bit disturbed. Angry, even. Someone who doesn’t like people who are different from him. And then imagine a room full of first graders or people watching a movie or praying in their temple. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about sane, calm, thoughtful police officers like Mark Kessler, do we?

It’s also worth briefly reading a one of the things that Kessler said in an interview:

“Democrats are the most vile creatures in this country,” he said. “They are vile. They are evil, evil, un-American. I don’t even want to call them people because that’s being too kind. They’re scum. You go against your country. They hate their country.”

Right. People with political views different than those of Gilberton’s chief of police aren’t really “people”. Hmm. Does that formulation remind you of any historical figures?

Now you know me. I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that people can say awful, horrible things. But they can — and must — be held accountable for what they say. I find it completely unbelievable that this man can continue to hold his job as a police officer, let alone the chief of police (he was, earlier this week, disciplined with an unpaid 30-day suspension).

But more importantly, what does this man, the views he so willingly expresses, the anger that seems to seep through his pores, and the positive response that he’s received from many on the right and in the pro-gun community (who seem to view him now as a heroic figure) say about where we are as a country? And no, I’m not talking about the fact that Kessler is apparently too stupid to understand the UN Arms treaty that he rails against or precisely how treaties are ratified in the US, let alone the fact that the President and a majority of the Senate are popularly elected Democrats. No, what I’m talking about is the outright vile and violent rhetoric. One of his videos refers to “shooting libtards out of a tree”. He also apparently uses a photo of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) as a target for shooting practice. And some people think that this is not only funny, but acceptable.

We have a real problem with violence in this country. But since the election of President Obama, the violent rhetoric has been taken to an entirely new level (as I’ve discussed, ad nauseum, on this blog over recent years). And now we have a police officer using violent rhetoric … and ratcheting it up to yet another level.

Ask yourself this: Where does it stop? Where does it go? When does this sort of violent rhetoric paired with the glorification of the gun lead to more than “harmless” YouTube videos or expressions of First Amendment political speech? When does the glorification of violence and violent rhetoric lead to real violence with real, human targets. At what point does the glorification of violence and use of violent rhetoric cross some Rubicon and leave the realm of protected political speech and enter the realm of an incitement to violent action, insurrection, criminal action, rebellion, or treason? I don’t know that I have an answer to that question. But one thing that I do know: This isn’t going to stop. It’s going to keep getting worse and worse and worse. At least it will until respected voices on the right figure out a way to control the violent and crazy elements on their side of the political spectrum. It will continue until we, as a society, say “enough!” and demand an end to this sort of behavior, until we begin to completely ostracize those who would traffic in this sort of speech and conduct, until we reclaim the civility and respectful debate that is essential to the proper functioning of our political process.

Until either someone that people like Mark Kessler trusts and respects says “enough”, that violent rhetoric and the glorification of violence is unacceptable, and explains that a political opponent is not a traitor, or until the community around people like Kessler rejects this sort of language and rhetoric (even if they agree with the broader political point), then people like Mark Kessler are going to keep ratcheting up their hate-filled, violence-tinged rhetoric. And buying bigger guns. And more bullets.

And sooner or later, someone is going to die.

It’s bad enough that we have allowed our nation to become so divided. But if we bring violence and guns into that divide … well, they didn’t have high capacity automatic rifles like those displayed by Mark Kessler when they fought at Gettysburg 150 years ago.

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