Democracy is under attack in America as dangerous demagogues take advantage of their First Amendment rights to incite revolution by a violent minority. It has reached the point where I wonder whether they are not (as Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described it) “falsely shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
It has reached the point where one of these agitators, a Fox News loudmouth named Glenn Beck, is being blamed for triggering the shooting of three policeman by a young man in Pittsburgh recently. The man, 23-year-old Richard Poplawski (photo at right), had a violent row with his mother, and when police officers responded to her call for help, he shot two of them in the head. Another officer who tried to help the two also was gunned down. According to authorities, Poplawski, who was wounded and captured by police, was motivated by fear that the Obama government was “coming to take away his guns.” Who spread that fear? Apparently Beck was at least partly to blame.
Another violent event illustrating the toxic effects of fascist rhetoric occurred in Knoxville, Tennessee, last July. Jim D. Adkisson, an out-of-work 58-year-old truck driver, opened fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, because he was enraged by the “liberalism” practiced by the church. Inside Adkinson’s house, officers found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by Fox talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by Fox talk show host Bill O’Reilly. Adkisson (being escorted by police in photo at left) was overpowered by members of the congregation and charged with murder.
Obviously, the inflammatory propaganda being spread by Savage, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck, radio rabble rouser Rush Limbaugh and others is striking a dangerous chord. Those of us who are old enough to remember the rise of fascism in Europe know how a disgruntled minority can be incited to violent takeover of a country, and we wonder whether this kind of extreme rhetoric is protected in the United States by the First Amendment.
When Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann calls for “armed and dangerous” resistance to the government and proclaims it is time for “a second revolution,” she has gone too far. These words are seditious. There is no other reasonable interpretation.
The conservatives who now seem to be leading the Republican Party are refusing to acknowledge the results of the November elections. Using their bully pulpits to instill panic, fear and rage among the voters who lost, they are inciting their followers to use violence to overturn the country’s democratically chosen government. It might be tempting to dismiss these agitators as “wingnuts” but let us not forget the many “wingnuts” who have caused bloodshed and horror throughout history.