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The Rhetoric of Violence

Today, James Jay Lee died, shot by police. Lee walked into the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in Silver Springs, Maryland, armed and seemingly strapped with a bomb. Though most of the building was evacuated safely, Lee managed to take three people hostage. The stand-off lasted several hours, and ended when Maryland police had no choice but deadly force to finally ensure the safety of the hostages.

During the long stand-off, people across the airwaves and internet discovered and discussed volumes of information on the gunman. His motives were dissected, his family was interviewed, his disturbing list of demands parsed. When something like this happens, this search is inevitable and understandable. Everyone, politically motivated or otherwise, has the same question.

Why?

The simplest answer is generally the correct one: these people are crazy. In the case of James Jay Lee, witness his bizarre list of eco-demands. He wants to undo civilization because human beings are filth. He believes man is destroying the earth, that it is happening rapidly, that development, consumption, and overpopulation are the root causes, and that only swift, drastic, unilateral action can save the planet.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Lee was the very picture of instability. His radical environmental views were at their most extreme in his list of demands for programming changes at The Discovery Channel. He wanted them to stop “encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants.” He stated that humans “are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture.” Notice the detached language. He uses “human” as an accusation, not a description. This was a man who had rejected humanity whole cloth. The entire manifesto oozes with contempt and rage. Humans are the bad guys, at war with the only true good: nature.

Stop me, please, if you’ve heard this before.

One might expect, with all of this information being uncovered about this man as he held three “filthy” humans at gunpoint and under threat of a possible bomb, in service to nature against man, that it would be pretty generally well-accepted that his radical environmental views were his motivation. Not least because, well, he said so.

Not if you’re Think Progress.

In a blog post titled “Purported Eco-Terrorist Angered Over ‘Immigration Pollution And Anchor Baby Filth’,” Think Progress, apparently without shame, named “anti-immigration” sentiment the culprit. The blog post focuses in on one demand from the eco-screed in order to make the case:

5. Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)

All alone on the page, I’m sure the reader saw “anchor baby filth” and believed the Think Progress author had a point. But that’s the beauty of selective excerpting, isn’t it? Viewed in full, he truth is more obvious. Why wouldn’t he call anchor babies filth? He has already explained that ALL human babies are filth. All humans are filth. He’s not complaining about immigration because he doesn’t like furners. He’s complaining about over-population. This item on the list is no different than any other. It’s about earth vs. humans, as anyone can plainly see.

But that didn’t stop the blogger from ominously linking him to supposed “anti-immigration” groups.

Lee’s immigration screed bears a troubling resemblance to views and policies espoused by anti-immigrant groups such as NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Progressives for Immigration Reform, and others.

The “and others” is my favorite part. No doubt referring to a “certain portion” of the population. Such blatant attempts to pin the gunman on right-wing sentiment are de rigeur among the online left in the wake of tragedy these days. But James Jay Lee’s screed was so obviously green in nature that this round of pin the tail on the righty was doomed. There was just no chance it would fly.

Now, what do you think happens when this sort of violence can’t be pinned on the right? Is it pinned on the left? If DailyKos and Media Matters and Think Progress can’t somehow paint Lee’s tree-hugging on Erick Erickson, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh, do you think they’ll have to accept that this time, their name the blame game points at their own houses?

Of course not.

That tweet about not trying to score political points on a tragedy takes you to a Media Matters post where they try to score political points on a tragedy, by the way.

Now, let me tell you something that may sound crazy. Media Matters has a point. Minus the link, I think Media Matters has a decent point, albeit accidentally and hypocritically. James Jay Lee was a criminal. And more than that, he was unhinged. Neil Cavuto interviewed Lee’s brother-in-law, Thomas Leonard, close to the end of the stand-off. Leonard describes Lee as “unstable” and “disagreeable”, and paints a picture of the downward spiral of a disturbed soul. When Cavuto asked Leonard whether he thought his brother-in-law was capable of murder, he replied “absolutely.”

Lee acted irrationally. His environmental extremism was likely a function of his derangement, rather than the source of it. He latched on. He took it to the extreme, to say the least. Lee was not, by any measure that I would choose, a sane man. The story told by his brother-in-law – one of temper, erratic behavior, and irrational views – recalls Jerry Kane.

Jerry Kane, and his son Joe, killed two police officers and were killed themselves, in a shoot-out precipitated by a simple traffic stop. Jerry Kane, too, was an unstable man. His hometown mayor said of him that “You were always looking over your shoulder to make sure he wasn’t there. You never knew what he was going to do. I always thought he was an unstable individual.” Like Lee, the aftermath anecdotes painted a picture of paranoia and fear. But that didn’t stop liberal sites like Crooks and Liars from laying him at the feet of the conservative movement. Or Joseph Stack. Or Richard Poplawski. Or Byron Williams. It didn’t stop them from suggesting that Erick was responsible for a census worker slaying.

In fact, every time someone is shot in a lone gunman scenario, the right, and the tea parties and talk radio in particular, are virtually instantaneously blamed by the left at large for “violent” rhetoric and instigation.

Stop me, again, if you’ve heard THAT one before.

We never stop hearing from the MSNBC left how the Fox News right is stirring up violence. But when someone clearly basing his murderous intent on the idea that humans are going to destroy the world, and soon, acts on the dire prophecies of Al Gore … well suddenly you can’t blame rhetoric for crazy people.

I do think the increasingly apocalyptic green movement scares people. They intend to scare people. And when you are blasting doomsday from every bully pulpit on earth, some crazy is bound to take that to heart, possibly even act on it. But …

Crazies will always find something to take to heart. Could be global warming apocalypse rhetoric. Could be taxes. Could be a birth certificate. Could even be Jodie Foster. By all currently available evidence, James Jay Lee was one of those crazies. Media Matters was right about that. What they, and virtually all the other liberal blogs are wrong about, is their absolute hypocrisy in laying every horrific crime at the feet of the right, while crying for circumspection when crazies cite the rhetoric of the left.

“Progressives” say calling President Obama’s socialist policies socialist is inviting assassination. How much more so, I wonder, to say that Republicans want you to die quickly? Or that the world will literally end in a spectacular cataclysm if capitalism isn’t halted and reversed? If indeed we are to ascribe violence to rhetoric, can anyone say with a straight face that tea partiers opposing government spending represent a greater risk than Democrats telling you Republicans are trying to kill you and bring about the end of human civilization?

James Jay Lee was a disturbed, lone actor. His twisted mind latched on to the green movement and he took a horrifying step from there. It has happened before for other reasons. Sadly, it will happen again. And while we must certainly be vigilant in guarding against rhetoric designed to incite such a result, we must be equally careful that we do not attribute to mainstream political dissent the actions of the unwell. And those of us on the right must be especially vigilant in calling out those on the left when they do. As they do routinely.

Oh by the way, one more thing about that Media Matters tweet about not scoring points. In the linked blog entry? They reiterate the ridiculous Think Progress talking point about immigration. Point scoring indeed.

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