April 3, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Why the Republicans incite violence
Josh Hawley is more dangerous than you know.
On Wednesday, I said Josh Hawley, of Missouri, is one of the most dangerous men in the United States Senate. Along with comrades, he’s paving the way for outlawing what he calls “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence.”
By that, he does not mean rhetoric of the kind that moved 175 former prosecutors to sign an open letter denouncing Donald Trump’s attempts to intimidate the Manhattan district attorney into backing down from his investigation of a tax-fraud hush-money scheme.
Trump spent the week prior blasting Alvin Bragg using “increasingly incendiary rhetoric,” the prosecutors said. He referred to Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black DA, as an “animal” and a “racist,” the implication being that he’s targeting Trump because he’s rich and white.
No, the “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence” that Josh Hawley is talking about is the kind that’s rooted in liberal values and democratic politics, both of which are used by marginalized Americans to raise hell publicly until a majority comes around to their way of thinking.
This kind of rhetoric found its most recent, and perhaps greatest, flowering in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop, an event that sparked a national reckoning on the fact of white power.
So the kind of “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence” that Josh Hawley is talking about is the kind that outpeople have used in every struggle for individual liberty since the founding of the republic. Persuasion is the means. Equity, justice and inclusion are the goals. The most recent cohort in this history has been trans people raising hell for trans rights.
That’s where Josh Hawley’s “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence” comes in. The perpetrator of last week’s shooting massacre in Nashville was Audrey Hall, who the city’s police chief said was transgender. Hawley wants his audience to believe the rhetoric that brought people’s attention to trans people, as well as their unrealized rights, caused a crime that left three 9-year-olds and three adults shot to pieces.
By setting trans rights in the context of a shooting massacre, Josh Hawley turns ordinary liberal values and normal democratic politics into extremist ideologies akin to something like jihadism. These ideologies inflame believers into getting what they want through terrorism or other acts of violence. A shooting massacre featuring a monster like that gives greater credence, not that it needed any, to Trump’s allegation of being a victim of a racist witch hunt.
According to Josh Hawley, a government of the people must act to protect the people against “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence.” That such government action would also shut down Americans who won’t stop raising hell for their rights and freedoms is beside the point.
But there’s another aspect I didn’t get to.
Two layers of danger reinforce each other. On the one hand are politicians like Josh Hawley and Donald Trump, who demonize outpeople for the purpose of outlawing the “hateful rhetoric that leads to violence” arising from lethal “ideologies” (equity, justice, inclusion).
On the other hand are people who are listening to Josh Hawley, who already believe outpeople are undeserving of the same rights and privileges they enjoy – and who already believe violence against outpeople is acceptable while violence against inpeople is intolerable.
One of these groups does not believe a word they say. They don’t think trans people are monsters or terrorists. These are highly educated people who know the world they live in, including the ever-present tinderbox of white power that’s always waiting to be lit by somebody who’s ambitious, amoral and daring enough to light the match.
While it’s debatable whether his listeners believe Hawley’s words, it’s not debatable that some do, and that some wonder what their comrades are waiting for. Somebody’s got to do something about these murdering perverts. If the government can’t, on account of these Democrats always yammering about the rights of these murdering perverts, somebody’s got to take the law into their own hands.
Which is why Josh Hawley is really dangerous.
He knows what he’s doing.
He knows that, in rightwing politics, shooting massacres are not necessarily a problem in and of themselves. It depends on who’s getting massacred. If it’s those outpeople raising hell, trying to persuade a democratic majority to come around to their way of thinking, so be it.
“Mass death, or the threat of mass death, is another way in rightwing politics to control people,” I said last week. “The people with the most guns are the people most in control. The right to bear arms is the right of God’s people to force outpeople to stay where they belong.”
Trump’s fortunes are probably fading. (He was indicted Thursday.)
But a man like Josh Hawley is only getting started.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.