Hate, rhetoric and violence

My recent post about a self-proclaimed liberal-hater’s shotgun attack on the congregation of a Unitarian-Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee– which left two people dead– elicited a thoughtful comment from “Vol Abroad,” a Tennessean currently living in London.

I offered the opinion that “extreme political hatred (of the kind found all too frequently on the Internet and occasionally in the comments on this blog) can have deadly consequences.” Vol Abroad wrote:

I was born in Knoxville – and have lived in that city longer than any other place (London is second in those stakes). And Knoxville is the kind of place that does have those extremes of views that Gene describes – that political hatred that we seen writ large on the Internet. I don’t think making the link is ridiculous at all. I think it’s directly related. Local and syndicated talk radio and regular banter is full of librul-hatin’. Though clearly most of those folks aren’t going to open fire on a congregation during a children’s program. But it only takes one unhinged man to combine his personal hatred of church-going and a cultural hatred of particular points of view to end up with a tragedy.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with the Unitarian-Universalist movement, I should note that– despite their use of the word “church” to describe their congregations– they are quite different from most other Christians. Their orientation is far more social and political (and liberal) than traditionally “religious.” So when Jim D. Adkisson decided to shoot up a bunch of liberals, it was hardly surprising that he chose a Unitarian church as his target.

I wan’t shocked to learn that in a search of Adkisson’s home, police found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

Vol Abroad linked to the blog “lovable liberal,” which cited some examples on the political right of the extreme political hatred I mentioned. That blog in turn linked to the blog Orcinus, which provides an extensive and disturbing compendium of what it calls “eliminationist” rhetoric. (The hilarious “Liberal Hunting Permit” bumper sticker featured at the top can be yours for $2.50 at the MilitariaPress website.)

I should note, sadly, that a thorough search of Harry’s Place comments would produce some quotes suitable for Orcinus’s list, although I try to delete as many of those as I can.

Let me respond to what I suppose will be the two main objections to this post:

• I know that most of this rhetoric is not meant seriously– that it’s largely an attempt at attention-grabbing humor (ha ha) and that most of the people who indulge in it would be shocked if anyone acted on it. But the edge of hatred behind such “jokes” is unmistakable. And even if it doesn’t routinely lead to violence, it’s hardly healthy for a democracy.

• I know too that people on the left indulge in similar dehumanizing and occasionally violent rhetoric towards conservatives and other perceived enemies (including leftists). Needless to say, I find that equally disturbing. But the sheer volume of outright hateful and violent rhetoric on the right– and especially the willingness of so many of the leading lights of the conservative movement to indulge in it— is hard to ignore. (Do conservatives ever denounce such language in their own ranks? I’ll be pleased to link to any examples.)

Finally it’s worth noting that the death toll at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church likely would have been much higher if some liberals– so often stereotyped by rightwingers as weak and cowardly in the face of violence– hadn’t acted quickly and bravely to subdue the shooter and aid the wounded.