Sedition and Crowded Theaters

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criminal justice, The Constitution

In the comments to the last post several of you mentioned sedition, so let’s talk about that. Sedition is the incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority, the dictionary says. You can find plenty of that in the delusional rantings of Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck.

We know now that part of what set off Richard Poplawski’s shooting of three policemen was the belief that Barack Obama was going to take away his firearms. This belief has no basis in fact, but it’s been propagated by well-paid right-wing media figures and the National Rifle Association. Isn’t this something along the lines of falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater?

We don’t have to speculate that right-wing hate speech has real-world, violent consequences. It’s happened. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

As a liberal, I am loathe to dig up the Smith Act — which I understand is still on the books — or enacting any anti-sedition legislation to prosecute people for their speech. In U.S. history sedition laws mostly have been used by people in authority to harass citizens they don’t like, or whose associations were suspect, not to suppress speech that was actually dangerous to anyone. And you know if sedition prosecutions become an issue now, as soon as the Right gets back into power (which is bound to happen eventually) everyone they don’t like will be in jeopardy. Got to suppress the fifth columnists in the name of freedom, of course.

So, what’s to be done? I haven’t a clue. You know they can’t be shamed into shutting up.

Update: Here’s a couple of videos I just picked up from Kos:

Newt is a politician. It’s hard to make them go away.

See also Joan Walsh.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. wmd  •  Apr 7, 2009 @12:51 pm

    Ridicule is a first response to this kind of rhetoric.

    perhaps sentencing for sedition could require clown suits be worn at all times? If you’re going to put out incendiary messages you have to dress in a way that won’t be taken seriously.

  2. Mahakal  •  Apr 7, 2009 @1:15 pm

    Ridicule is correct. The answer to speech we don’t like is more speech.

  3. joanr16  •  Apr 7, 2009 @1:17 pm

    So, what’s to be done? I haven’t a clue. You know they can’t be shamed into shutting up.

    maha, I share your sense of — should I call it helplessness? We’re liberals, and we know it’s wrong to legislate against opinions. And marginalization, or shunning, has no effect on people who already are isolated by the gibbering demons in their heads. Part of me leans toward wmd’s suggestion, ridicule– but then, people ridiculed the Binghamton and Columbine mass murderers, so maybe not. And with people whose thinking is done for them by Rush, Glenn, Sean, Michelle B., Michelle M., etc., mocking their hatemonger-gurus only pisses them off. So then, more and more, they reach for their beloved guns.

    Sometimes in these situations we find we haven’t been enforcing laws (against physical violence, or terroristic threats) that are already in place. I guess that’s the first place I’d turn– see what existing laws are being violated, and entreat the government to enforce them. But then I remember the horrid excesses of the Patriot Act, and even that idea gives me pause.

    Yeesh, what is to be done?

  4. maha  •  Apr 7, 2009 @1:50 pm

    Ridicule only makes them worse, IMO, and some of them are so far gone they don’t recognize ridicule as ridicule. If ridicule were a deterrent they’d be deterred already.

    My feeling is that it’s going to take an overwhelming tide of public opinion, resulting in a loss of their media “soapboxes,” to get them to shut up. They’ll still have the Web, of course, but if enough of the people sponsoring them on television, print and radio withdraw their money, they’ll have much less impact.

  5. CabinInThe Woods  •  Apr 7, 2009 @2:33 pm

    Yes it is the soapboxes provided by the media that allows this. One thing to do, as Maha suggests, is to encourage the boycotting of advertisers’ products and complain to the advertisers. Write letters to them – see what happened to Bill-o with UPS? This tactic works.

    Long-term, I think the answer is to force the split-up of these 5 conglomerates who own the media. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe these conglomerates wholeheartedly support this kind of instigation. They want us to go nuts on each other. It reduces the population and forces the rest into quiet obedience.

  6. wmd  •  Apr 7, 2009 @2:53 pm

    I’m not suggesting ridicule will stifle the incendiary rhetoric. Ridicule makes it harder to have the rhetoric stick – if Bill-O et al had big rubber noses affixed it would be difficult for even wing nuts to take them seriously. We should be able to use this metaphor, make it so even hard core wing nuts know that they get their talking points from clowns.

  7. maha  •  Apr 7, 2009 @3:15 pm

    I think the hard-core wingnuts are those who are too far gone to recognize ridicule as ridicule. The best we can hope for is to not create more hard-core wingnuts.

  8. moonbat  •  Apr 7, 2009 @3:27 pm

    Confronting corporate advertisers works to a degree as commenters upstream have noted, but my sense of it is that this is most or only effective against the truly fringe, nauseatingly repellent nutcases (Michael Savage comes to mind). There is just too huge of a profitable audience for this kind of talk, and there are talkers smooth enough 1) to slip their message through the hate filter, and 2) to not ruffle a lot of corporate feathers. Glen Beck, as nutty as he is, IMO fits this latter category. Think we can boycott/confront enough advertisers to get CNN to trim Beck’s sails?

    I tend to think more innocents are going to die until the outrage builds to the point where the government steps in. The media hasn’t even connected the dots between all the killings to date – the concern over these killings is limited right now to those of us “on the liberal fringe”. It isn’t mainstream yet.

    I’m reminded of the McCarthy hearings, where Senator Joe McCarthy was finally shamed into shutting up. Problem is: I can’t envision anyone effectively and publicly facing down the right wing haters, unless it’s someone who has cred in that community (possibly a Rick Warren type, although many on the right see him as an apostate). Sarah Palin would be ideal, but I can’t imagine her repudiating the public hate she encourages and feeds on.

    I also think many of those on the right are so far gone in their delusions that should the government step in, this upping of the ante would, in their eyes, legitimize open warfare, in other words civil war. And I’m certain that there are many on the right who would not only welcome this, but who are eager for this confrontation.

    Another thought is that some of these people are so far gone in their hate, that even if the hate spigot was turned off – we managed to shut down all the hate broadcasters – we would still see violence, especially as our country goes through hard times. Obviously though, it’s important to stop pouring gasoline on a fire.

    Sara Robinson wrote Are They Crazy Dangerous, or Just Plain Crazy?, which focuses on a document the Canadian government produced for dealing with groups of people caught up in these themes. One of the ideas in this document is that there is a certain progression that these groups go through, which if not dealt with properly, will lead to violence. And so there’s a smart way to deal with these groups, and a lot of dumb ways. This understanding breaks down however, when an entire national subculture is being fed hate over the airwaves.

    Just published, Dave Niewert’s The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.

  9. wmd  •  Apr 7, 2009 @3:38 pm

    The woman I was talking with yesterday wasn’t a wingnut. She was repeating their talking points – Obama is going to take guns away. She understood that that type of rhetoric was not conducive to advancing any positive outcome with respect to guns and gun violence. And she did get that the purveyors of such ideas were doing something wrong, that preying on the fear of disarmament is not useful.

    I think we can reach some wingnuts. Much as we may dislike the decision in Heller last year we should be responding that gun possession has been affirmed as an individual right by the SCOTUS. This is a bit of jiu jitsu on our part, it takes a major point away from the NRA if we say we want to uphold the law – we aren’t calling for constitutional amendments to take away guns and because recent precedent says it is an individual right then individual gun owners need not fear Obama. The most hard core will rail against Miller (upholding the National Firearms Act of 1934 as being too restrictive). That group is beyond persuading.

  10. wmd  •  Apr 7, 2009 @3:42 pm

    I misplaced the closing parenthesis in my comment – hard core gun nuts don’t want restrictions on machine gun transfers, the SCOTUS ruled otherwise a long time ago.

  11. Dave S  •  Apr 7, 2009 @5:48 pm

    I have this sense that if you completely ignore a lunatic, he’s going to continue to ramp up the rhetoric and the volume and the violence until you have to pay attention to him. You can see Michelle Bachman and Glenn Beck going to greater extremes to keep in the spotlight. I think it’s going to get worse, and I think it’s going to get more dangerous.

    One thing that might help is if the more moderate Republicans, if you can find some, need to get back in the spotlight and start reeling the crazies back in, little by little. On TV cop shows, there’s always some guy who takes a personal risk to step out in harms way and talk the bad guy into putting the gun down. We need that guy.

  12. uncledad  •  Apr 7, 2009 @6:12 pm

    Ahh come on, this is the greatest thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party. These wackjobs will only succeed if what they say comes true. So see when Obama doesn’t take away peoples guns, and doesn’t turn our economy into a socialist one, then they will be exposed as the right-wing crazies most of us already know they are. Glenn Beck has approximately 2 million viewers a day, that’s less than one percent of the population, and I would venture at least half of his viewers only tune in to see the circus act (I must admit I occasionally watch but can only stomach 1-2 minutes at the most). These people are on the fringe of the ever more irrelevant conservative movement, and the crazier they act the more irrelevant they will become. The Republican Party will eventually have to stand up to these wing-nuts and shut them down.

  13. joanr16  •  Apr 7, 2009 @7:30 pm

    These wackjobs will only succeed if what they say comes true. So see when Obama doesn’t take away peoples guns, and doesn’t turn our economy into a socialist one, then they will be exposed as the right-wing crazies most of us already know they are.

    Over time, this will play out of course, but I’m afraid a good many more innocent Americans are going to die at the hands of the crazies, first.

    Maybe the answer for now is simply to “shine a light” on them. This evening on All Things Considered, the host interviewed a wingnut gun-shop owner from San Antonio. The wingnut was explaining, with deadly seriousness, that people are buying up all his guns & ammo to “protect themselves” from Obama and his socialist agenda. The problem is, the NPR interviewer dropped the ball. She kept repeating the wingnut’s outlandish statements back to him, in an incredulous tone of voice that barely restrained her laughter. Meanwhile, she failed to ask: “How will your customers protect themselves with these guns? Who is it they intend to shoot? More police officers? The president himself? Do they realize that most Americans support the president? Do they intend to shoot their fellow citizens as well?” Simply almost-laughing at him was pointless. She needed to examine exactly what he was saying, and bring it to light. Both the wingnuts, and those of us who are concerned about them super-arming themselves, need to confront their actual intentions.

  14. Doug Hughes  •  Apr 7, 2009 @7:46 pm

    In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, there is an episode where a young Malcolm X is a porter on a train in WWII. Some white, drunk soldier wanted to fight Malcolm and Malcolm refused because it wouldn’t be fair; the soldier had too many clothes on. So the soldier took off his coat. Still not enough, said M. Off come the boots. Still not enough; the soldier’s buddies are catching on and laughing, off comes the shirt, t-shirt. In the end, Malcolm did not fight and left his opponent drunk, stupid, standing in his skivvies, laughed at by his comrades, more decisively whipped than if he had been beaten with a stick.

    That’s how these nuts must be met, Rush, Glenn, Michelle. all of them who would speak for conservatives should be ridiculed with their own words until conservatives reject those fools in order to regain some dignity. And until responsible conservatism (I think there can be such) rejects those idiots, let Republicans be linked to morons and left politically lame.

  15. silly me  •  Apr 7, 2009 @8:49 pm

    I think Doug Hughes has hit upon the correct response to the nuttier variety of these types, I just wonder how long it will be before a rational conservative to discredit the fear-mongering done in the name of the GOP. I cannot understand how people are taking the babbling idiots like Beck seriously, his entire schtick is so over the top.

    As for charging some of these types with sedition, even the attempt would prove a lightning rod against progressives.

  16. Sachem  •  Apr 7, 2009 @10:17 pm

    Driftglass’ SLING BECK!

  17. Sachem  •  Apr 7, 2009 @10:18 pm
  18. Swami  •  Apr 8, 2009 @12:02 am

    I cannot understand how people are taking the babbling idiots like Beck seriously, his entire schtick is so over the top.

    Exactly… The day after Obama was inaugurated, Beck’s radio show was devoted to a rehash of the hypothetical ticking bomb scenario and the absolute need to torture to save humanity. I didn’t think it was possible to get more mileage from that lame fantasy…But Beck had true blooded Americans calling in insisting that we torture to prevent that Atomic bomb in a back-pack from being detonated.

    Beck is a dry drunk, and his thinking reflects that fact. He’s a clown where intellect is concerned and he’ll never amount to more than low level entertainment… he’s a jerk, or more precisely he’s a jerk off.

  19. erinyes  •  Apr 8, 2009 @5:51 am

    Perhaps one day a lawyer representing the survivor or group of survivors that have been attacked by one of Beck’s or Hannity’s crazed minions will sue the fuck out of them or FOX. That old right wing mantra “personal accountability” works both ways. The right wing pundits are indeed screaming “fire” in a crouded theater, although “fire” means something other than that red/yellow stuff that can burn you……….



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