by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Regardless of which side of the political fence you sit, Republican or Democrat, or even if you side with those who choose not to exercise their civic duty, the shameful and downright dangerous rhetoric that came out of the Republican National Convention (RNC) this week in Cleveland, Ohio, should not be taken lightly by the Secret Service. It was all aimed at one person: Hillary Clinton.
The folks tasked with the tough job of protecting the former US secretary of state, former First Lady, and Democratic frontrunner for the nomination by her party for the office of President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, have their work cut out for them.
Republican delegate Michael Folk made the comment this past week that Clinton should be 'hung on the mall in Washington, DC' due to her use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. I simply cannot fathom why anyone - in or out of the body politic - would resort to sentencing someone to death (literal or not) for having done something that disagrees with one's own personal politics, breaking a rule, or making a mistake and so on. Where is the outrage? Nowhere to be found. We have become used to this madness, and that is what has me worried.
I don't worry much. In fact, I'm not the anxiety-afflicted type. But history shows us that whenever there are volatile times in our nation and that energy seeps over into political campaigns, rhetoric can quickly translate to death or at the very least, attempted murder.
On the morning of January 8, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was hosting an event outside a Safeway in Tucson, Ariz. There was nothing particularly special about the event; in fact, it was very informal. Giffords had set up a table outside the Safeway and about 20-30 people had gathered to talk to her.
It was at that moment that then-22-year-old Jared Loughner walked up and shot Giffords in the head point blank. The gunman then opened fire indiscriminately for a few seconds, firing 20-30 rounds and hitting a number of people, including a kid. Loughner eventually ran out of bullets and was tackled by an intern working on Giffords' staff, openly Gay Daniel Hernandez Jr., who with the help of others, subdued the shooter and held him until authorities arrived some 15 minutes later. Giffords was lucky to survive; however, six others were killed and 12 wounded. Among the dead was a nine-year-old girl and federal judge John Roll.
Later, when federal agents were piecing together clues to find answers as to why this tragedy occurred, it was realized that the Arizona congresswoman had been featured on Sarah Palin's infamous 'crosshairs' map, which targeted legislators who voted for Obama's health care bill with, you guessed it, crosshairs.
'Don't retreat, instead RELOAD!' was how Palin introduced the map to her Twitter followers.
The map was criticized as an incitement to violence the second it had been released. However, the damage was done. Days after its release, a vandal smashed the glass door of Giffords' Tucson office. Giffords' father told the New York Post that members of the Tea Party 'always threatened' his daughter.
What's worse is that Giffords' Tea Party opponent in the 2010 election, Jesse Kelly, went even further with the violent rhetoric than even Sarah Palin. Kelly's campaign held an event called 'Get on Target for Victory in November.' Description: 'Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.'
So it isn't too difficult to see how a person suffering from a range of issues but still having access to guns, such as Loughner, reading into that message (Giffords having a target on her back and so on), would come to the conclusion that the map was not a mere play on words or political strategy during an election year. Instead, it literally meant that Giffords was a target that needed to be taken out. And so he set out to do just that.
Well, in theory anyway. It was never fully proven that Loughner committed the murders and the attempt on Giffords' life because of campaign rhetoric or a poster. Personally I don't think these kinds of things are ever just as simple as a poster or access to a weapon. But at the end of the day, one can't ignore that fact that it all did add to the sum total of why a disturbed person chose his target.
Simply put, guns and politics don't mix. Just like the ridiculous rhetoric of what Folk said about Clinton being hanged at the National Mall shouldn't either.
Folk was not a lone offender
The crowd at the RNC was an angry lot. Angry people lining up behind their hot-headed leader, Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for president. By now you've heard all about how boring and misguided the speakers were, or how Palin wouldn't show up, and even how Trump allegedly wanted to dump Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate less than 24 hours after announcing the ticket. If you are into politics, it has amounted to a bit more drama than usual, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Until the speakers, each and every one of them, turned their sights - and hate and vitriol - in Clinton's direction. For days and days they piled it on. It went from bizarre to sad and back again.
It was amateur hour. Actually, it would've been nice had it only lasted for just one hour. But instead, like a bad dream or Trump going off on a tirade about himself, it went on and on and painfully on. House Speaker Paul Ryan formally declared Trump and Pence the nominees only to be met with brief cheers from a nearly empty floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got booed, twice. Trump's wife Melania and his son both are accused of plagiarizing their speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump's most formidable challenge throughout the primary campaigns, trolled the RNC by never actually endorsing Trump as the Republican nominee during his speech at the convention podium. It was one big hot mess.
Somehow, amidst all of that, the GOP hate machine was ready to go. In fact, sadly, it never missed a beat. Constant hate, constantly.
'The Clinton years are way over; 2016 is the year America moves on,' Ryan said.
McConnell drew strong applause when he swore that the Senate would continue to block Obama's attempt to fill Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court. 'That honor will go to President Donald Trump next year,' he said.
Ryan moved the crowd to its feet with his pseudo-endorsement of the nominee. 'Whaddya say we unify this party?' he said. 'Let's win this thing.'
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie drew some of the most ecstatic cheers as he actually got the audience to chant, 'Lock her up!' and 'Guilty!' as he presented what he said was 'the prosecutor's case against Hillary Rodham Clinton.'
In case you are keeping count, Trump's supporters so far have said that Clinton should be hanged or thrown in prison.
From a Washington Post editorial following the second night of the RNC:
'The theme of this year's Republican National Convention was visible early, in the 'Hillary for Prison' T-shirts being hawked outside the arena. Republicans expanded on it during the first night of speakers, when a macabre parade of the grieving blamed the deaths of loved ones directly on Hillary Clinton. It descended to a new low Tuesday night when delegates assembled in Cleveland kept repeating their favorite chant: 'Lock her up! Lock her up!' 'Make America Great Again!' is emblazoned on the walls of the convention hall, but 'lock her up' captures the frenzied, angry mood.'
The Washington Post continued, 'Every convention spends some time rabble-rousing against the opposition, and this one is particularly focused on Ms. Clinton's alleged wrongs because the Republican Party cannot agree on much else this year. But the Trump campaign's descent from standard red-meat partisanship to unprecedented accusations of criminality displays contempt for the rule of law and a startling disinterest in fact and reason. Investigation after investigation into Benghazi, Libya, and Ms. Clinton's emails have not uncovered the sort of rampant abuse Republican rhetoric suggests. Even if FBI Director James B. Comey had recommended she be charged - an action, he rightly said, no reasonable prosecutor would take - there is essentially no chance she would have seen conviction and jail time.'
History's grim lesson
You could cut the tension in this country with a knife right now, it's so thick. From Baton Rouge to Ferguson to Washington, DC to Cleveland, there is a powder keg of racial tension, political posturing, and social jockeying that is tearing this country apart. And so, with every hour until we elect a new president, the powder keg heats up. And when it gets too hot, like it did during the summer of 1968, there's just no telling what might happen. If history has anything to say about it however, it speaks of nothing good.
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a United States senator and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, took place shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, during the presidential campaign season. After winning the California and South Dakota primary elections for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy was fatally shot as he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant, was convicted of Kennedy's murder and is serving a life sentence for the crime. The shooting was recorded on audiotape by a freelance newspaper reporter, and the aftermath was captured on film.
His murder, and the murder of another person who preached peace in place of violence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., happened just several months apart.
The civil rights leader was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri state penitentiary, was arrested on June 8, in London's Heathrow Airport; he was extradited to the United States and charged with the crime. On March 10, 1969, Ray entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee state penitentiary. Ray later made many attempts to withdraw his guilty plea and be tried by a jury but was unsuccessful; he died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.
King was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence and civil disobedience. He famously said, 'Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.'
Ironically, when King was assassinated, it was Bobby Kennedy who let the black community in Indiana know about the tragedy. Kennedy had been scheduled to give a campaign speech but instead, upon hearing the news about King, he ditched politics and delivered a speech that is, in my humble view, one of the greatest. However, borrowing from another great speech, 'The Mindless Menace of Violence,' he said, 'No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.'
We live in an increasingly violent world where guns are bought and sold in the United States at a rate that this is nothing short of asking for trouble. It's almost as if our society is begging for active-shooter scenarios to play out right in front of them on a daily basis. Well, in fact, we do see such carnage in a 24-hour cycle. According to GunViolenceArchive.org, there have been more than 29,000 gun-related incidents in the US so far this year alone. There have been more than 199 mass shooting incidents resulting in hundreds of people being injured and an even greater number - more than 500 - killed. There are so many mass shootings in fact, they go completely unnoticed at times. Don't believe me? When do you think that last mass shooting incident in Washington State was? Sadly, it took place a little over a week or so on July 15, when a madman shot dead three people in a Woodland home. Each of his victims was shot in the head. There were no survivors.
It's clear to me that a great number of folks aren't well. We've got rogue cops killing unarmed civilians at a record number, a majority of them black men shot to death, on a nearly daily basis. In turn, we are now seeing a chilling trend in which people are murdering police officers while they are on duty in cities across the nation (five killed and nine injured at a peaceful Black Lives Matters protest in Dallas, Texas, on July 7; three deliberately murdered and three injured in a Baton Rouge, La., ambush on July 17; and the latest, possibly another targeted shooting of a police officer who was still sitting in his squad car when shots rang out in Kansas City on July 17). Then there are the home grown terrorist plots, mass violence, and hate crimes to boot.
All of this weighs heavy on my mind as we see the Democratic Party ready itself to announce Clinton as the first woman to be nominated to represent the party, a serious presidential candidate who has a real shot at eventually becoming to first female president in US history. This, aside from the dangerous rhetoric coming out of the RNC, is why we must do better as a nation to rid violence from politics, schools, and acceptable society.
Politicians and guns: strange bedfellows
It's amazing sometimes. The irony of life. While so many politicians blindly support any National Rifle Association initiative or platform, because they believe that it not only guarantees them campaign funds but somehow earns them protection as well. Well... it don't.
When President Barrack Obama was elected in 2008, it's safe to say that a good majority of Americans - from all ethnicities and racial lineage - thought he might go out the way of Lincoln and Kennedy. Well, thank goodness for his overwhelming popularity and the professionalism and skill of the Secret Service men and women who guard him and the First Family; tragedy has not befallen the nation in that sense of the word. But that's not to say that a few angry people with access to weapons didn't try.
Cousins Tharin Gartrell and Shawn Adolf and their friend Nathan Johnson went to Denver allegedly planning to assassinate Obama during his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, but officials said there was no substantial threat and the three men were arrested.
A plot in Tennessee involved two white supremacists, Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart, who planned to drive their car toward Obama and open fire with guns. They were arrested on October 22, 2008, before taking any action. Schlesselman and Cowart pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the threat in 2010 and were sentenced to 10 and 14 years in prison, respectively.
Then, a plot was uncovered to assassinate Obama at the Alliance of Civilizations summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in April 2009 by a man of Syrian origins carrying forged Al-Jazeera TV press credentials. The man confessed to the Turkish security services details of his plan to kill Obama with a knife, with three alleged accomplices.
Next, in November 2011, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a man who believed he was Jesus and that Obama was the Antichrist, hit the White House with several rounds fired from a semi-automatic rifle. No one was injured. However, a window was broken. And the last known attempt occurred in April 2013, when a letter laced with ricin, a deadly poison, was sent to President Obama.
Hillary Clinton knows of the dangers of accepting the job as the leader of the free world all too well. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had several close calls during his tenure. On January 21, 1994, Ronald Gene Barbour, a retired military officer and freelance writer, plotted to kill Clinton while the president was jogging. Barbour returned to Florida a week later without having fired the shots at the president, who was on a state visit to Russia. Barbour was sentenced to five years in prison and was released in 1998.
Then, in September 12, 1994, Frank Eugene Corder flew a stolen single-engine Cessna onto the White House lawn and crashed into a tree. Corder, a truck driver from Maryland who reportedly had alcohol problems, allegedly tried to hit the White House. He was killed in the crash. The president and his family were not home at the time.
Also, on October 29, 1994, Francisco Martin Duran fired at least 29 shots with a semi-automatic rifle at the White House from a fence overlooking the north lawn, thinking that Clinton was among the men in dark suits standing there (Clinton was inside). Three tourists, Harry Rakosky, Ken Davis, and Robert Haines, tackled Duran before he could injure anyone. Found with a suicide note in his pocket, Duran was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Then in 1996, during his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Manila, Clinton's motorcade was rerouted before driving over a bridge. Service officers had intercepted a message suggesting that an attack was imminent, and Lewis Merletti, the director of the Secret Service, ordered the motorcade to be rerouted. An intelligence team later discovered a bomb under the bridge. Subsequent US investigation 'revealed that [the plot] was masterminded by a Saudi terrorist living in Afghanistan named Osama bin Laden.'
Our thirst for guns and ammo is not only dangerous for the general public but you can imagine the threat it poses on elected officials. To put it into perspective: All four US presidents that were killed while in office were murdered by a gun-wielding assassin. Abraham Lincoln was shot once in the back of his head with a .44 caliber Derringer pistol; James Garfield was shot once in his right arm and once in his back, with a .442 Webley British Bulldog revolver; William McKinley was shot twice in the abdomen at close range; and John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding with his wife Jacqueline in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
When is a threat just a threat? Who really knows these days when somebody will make good on a threat of violence? We live in a country where people seem to forget that the freedom of speech does not necessarily mean the freedom to say whatever the hell you want to say, whenever the hell you want to say it. I did not write this editorial to predict any dire situation or to endorse in any way, shape, or form attacking politicians - or anyone for that matter - simply because they don't share the same views. I just think it is important for us, as a society, to think a little more about holding elected officials and leaders accountable for dangerous rhetoric and condemning it when it happens. Otherwise, if left unchecked, or at the very least forgotten, it could help a tragedy occur that maybe never would have otherwise. Food for thought.
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