Right wingers call for violent overthrow: Nothing new

Right winger Martin Gheen has called for  violent overthrow of the American Government as a solution for those who disagree with President Obama’s policies. In a radio interview with host Janet Mefferd, Gheen stated that his group (Americans For Legal Immigration PAC) had begun to refer to the President as Dictator Obama and that “extra-political activities” that were “illegal and violent” appeared to be the only viable option.

Mefferd failed to call Gheen on his statements and allowed them to pass as normal, despite describing her show as “taking a Christ-centered look at news and events of the day” on her bio page.  She later claimed not to think that much about the comment at the time – an interesting commentary on the state of national discourse.

Gheen apparently attempted to walk back his statements after a bit of a hue and cry, but his revised statement seemed to consist of blaming the President for “forcing people to violent and illegal means.” In an appearance on Alan Colmes’ show, Gheen denied that he had used the language “illegal and violent,” until Colmes played the audio, which Gheen tried to get around by claiming he was not “personally endorsing” violent behavior because he is not that kind of guy.

Perhaps Gheen’s most disturbing assertion during his interview was the possibility of a military coup. The implication is that the right wing has connections in the military that would be willing to contemplate making America into something very different than most of us ever thought possible. Of course, the fact that Gheen talks about a military coup does not mean that one is really possible, but it is instructive to know what is aspired to by those who oppose democracy when things don’t go their way.

The statements are part of a pattern for the right wing in America. After the horrible tragedy for the Giffords and others killed in Arizona, leaders of both left and right piously declared that the rhetoric should be toned down. We all remember how both sides of the political divide decided to sit together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. OK, they skipped the hand holding, because that would have looked silly on TV, but there did seem to be an implicit acknowledgement that hateful rhetoric, with sniper targets on maps, calling people socialists, etc. may have been a tad too much.

Anyone familiar with the history of right wing hate speech followed by action knows that any letup in these tactics was purely temporary. Anders Breivik is known to have been a fan of several American Islamophobic bloggers such as Pamella Geller.  On other issues it is hard to nail down Mr. Breivik’s beliefs or attachments, with each side eager to add him to the other’s column. The point is that he was likely influenced/encouraged to act violently due to the hate speech that he sought out and found fairly easily.

A frequent defense of the right states that “no reasonable person could interpret what I said as inciting violence.” It is not reasonable people that we have to worry about. Congressman Gifford does not appear to have been shot by a “reasonable” person either. When people publicly call their political opponents names that inspire fear and loathing in the general public, those on the edge are moved to take action that they may previously have been sitting on.

An interesting look at how pervasive this problem is can be seen on this interactive map that represents right-wing violence over a few months in 2010. As we get closer to the elections, we are likely to encounter more of the same types of bizarre accusations and calls to action that can and have led to violence.

Certainly, there are concerns about infringing on people’s rights to free speech, but as has been said in the past, there is no right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. As Human Rights First recommends, we can call out such speech for what it is and make sure that the message is spread that it is uncalled for, extremist, and not in the best interests of the nation or our communities.