The Honest Truth About Political Violence in the United States

Political violence is much too serious and deadly to be dismissed as a political issue.

Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post editorial writer, appeared on CNBC over the weekend to support House Democrats who submitted a motion to reprimand Rep. Paul Gosar on Friday (R-AZ).

Gosar recently shared on social media an anime video where he appeared to be shown attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with a sword and poised to attack President Joe Biden, and Rubin took use of the occasion to draw attention to the worrying growth of aggressive speech in American politics. (The video has since been withdrawn by Gosar.) Rubin, a former conservative who has written for PJ Media, Commentary, Human Events, and The Weekly Standard, blamed Republicans in particular, including Gosar, former President Donald Trump, and House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

“The Republican Party has for a while now been tacitly encouraging and rationalizing violence,” Rubin said. “This is fascistic behavior. This is what fascist regimes do...They intimidate and use the threat of violence. It’s absolutely intolerable.”

Rubin is correct in stating that there is an alarming surge in political violence in the United States. The summer of 2020 was the most violent since the 1960s, and the Capitol riots on January 6 were the culmination of it.

Rubin is also incorrect in his assessment of Trump's frequent refusal to categorically denounce the use of violence as a viable political strategy. For example, shortly before the 2020 election, during a debate with Joe Biden, Trump was given the opportunity to denounce the far-right Proud Boys by moderator Chris Wallace. Instead, Trump said the group should “stand back and stand by.” In 2016, Trump also said he’d consider paying the legal fees of a man charged after punching a protester at a Trump campaign rally.

Such rhetoric is not responsible, and it may explain one of the most disturbing trends I've witnessed in my lifetime: the number of Americans who believe violence is a valid way of political change has skyrocketed in the last five years, according to a survey conducted by Newsweek and Statista.

This is deeply troubling, but one thing quickly becomes clear after looking at the results of the survey: the embrace of violence is bipartisan.

You wouldn't know it if you saw Ms. Rubin on CNBC, but the surge of violence and harsh speech is nonpartisan. Like a prosecutor at a trial, the former right-wing blogger argues vehemently that Trump, Greene, and Gosar are to blame for the rise in violence.

Rubin, like many other partisans, chooses to forget the summer of violence in 2020, which included left-wing organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Furthermore, she overlooks the reality that in many cases, politicians, the media, and intellectuals aided and abetted such organizations.

Following the police killing of George Floyd, for example, Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged protesters to "stay on the street" and "get more confrontational" if a Minneapolis jury acquitted Derek Chauvin of Floyd’s death.

As Minneapolis burned, Kamala Harris urged followers to “chip in” and donate to a non-profit dedicated to bailing out people charged with crimes to get them back on the streets. Time and again Harris voiced support for those in the streets during violence, stating “we must always defend peaceful protests and peaceful protests; we must not confuse them.” But confusing them is precisely what Harris often did, and she was aided by a media that insisted police protests were “mostly peaceful” despite visual evidence to the contrary.

University professors, meanwhile, defended looting and talked about the utility of violence as a means of social progress.

One Oberlin College professor noted, "What we know in political science is that protest matters." "We actually see stronger response by elected leaders when we witness building devastation, when we see violence—either by police or by demonstrators themselves."

Such rhetoric did not begin in 2020. Many Democrats utilized fiery rhetoric against Trump's policies (choose one) to energize the progressive base in the run-up to the 2018 elections.

"I just don't even know why there aren't uprisings all over the country. And maybe there will be, when people realize that this is a policy that they defend," the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lamented in 2018.

“Go to the Hill today,” US Senator Cory Booker said in July 2018. “Get up in the face of some Congress people.”

‘When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about,” former Attorney General Eric Holder said during a campaign stop in McDonough, Georgia.

In the leadup to the November 2018 elections, many progressives—much like Trump—were coy when they fanned these flames in that they didn’t quite call for or defend violence. CNN commentator Chris Cuomo, however, didn’t see the need to mince words.

“I argue to you tonight all punches are not equal, morally," Cuomo said on CNN in an August 2018 segment defending Antifa. “When someone comes to call out bigots and it gets hot, even physical, are they equally wrong as the bigot they’re fighting? I argue no.”

And just last week a Black Lives Matter leader promised “riots,” “fire” and “bloodshed” would follow if New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams brings back plainclothes officers to battle the city's surge in crime.

Ms. Rubin is correct that America has a violent issue, but she is incorrect in implying that it primarily affects her political opponents.

Democrats and activists, like Trump, regarded the inflammatory rhetoric of "uprisings" and "getting in the face" of political opponents as beneficial in energizing their supporters. They've used such language in previous campaigns to fuel racial tensions and incite hatred.

When an angry mob surrounded Sen. Rand Paul and his wife Kelly on the streets of Washington, DC in late August 2020 chanting “SAY HER NAME!”—a reference to the police shooting of Breonna Taylor—protesters could genuinely say they were only doing what political leaders had told them to do. It didn’t matter that Paul had sponsored the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, legislation designed to ban police from using no-knock warrants.

Rubin, who curiously asked for new "laws" prohibiting media from presenting Republicans as "normal," contributes into this culture of strife, even if she isn't aware of it.

Andrew Sullivan, a conservative writer, said on Sunday's 60 Minutes that tribalism and political intolerance are undermining a vital component of the American fabric.

“The American Constitution was set up for people who can reason and argue and aren’t afraid of it,” Sullivan explained to Scott Pelley. “If you’re in a tribe and all that matters is the victory of your tribe, and you have all the truth and the other tribe has none of it, and you have all the virtue and the other side has none of it, you can’t behave this way.”

Rubin regularly engages in the sort of tribalism mentioned by Sullivan, and one example is when she implies that political violence is only an issue because of those weirdos on the right who shouldn't even be allowed to talk on TV.

Political violence is simply too serious and deadly to be dealt with in such a cynical and politicized way. As I wrote last year, Americans must categorically reject political violence or they will be consumed by it. Unfortunately, too many political leaders refuse to do just this.

On August 27, 2020, as Kenosha, Wisconsin was still reeling from riots that ended with the Kyle Rittenhouse shootings, candidate Kamala Harris gave a speech saying it was “no wonder people were taking to the streets” because of police brutality.

The mother of Jacob Blake—a 29-year-old black man shot seven times by police days earlier during a standoff outside his girlfriend's car, which prompted the protests and riots—took a very different approach.

“If Jacob knew what was going on as far as that goes, the violence and destruction, he would be very unpleased,” Mrs. Jackson said. “Please don’t burn up property and cause havoc and tear your own homes down in my son’s name. You shouldn’t do it.”

Mrs. Blake shows how one unequivocally condemns violence. Many politicians (and many Americans) on both sides of the political aisle could learn from her example and the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace,” King said in Three Ways of Meeting Oppression. “It solves no social problem; it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”

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