In media and politics, ideas and actions are phrased as either/or. Increasingly, the “or” position is dehumanized and targeted for elimination. There are historic precedents for this, in the long arc of history. Yet this history is also filled with times when these links have been denied and dismissed. As “an isolated incident,” by a few “disgruntled followers,” as “senseless” and “tragic.” This disconnect ignores and emboldens the causes of political violence: Elimination speech doesn’t “cause” the violence, but the point is it creates the necessary conditions. As a fish needs water, the water doesn’t cause the fish to be caught, but is a necessary precondition for it being hooked and removed. There is a direct connection between the climate of speech and the acts that it empowers for those prone to act as isolated individuals.
The act of listening to understand, of talking to discuss, of participating in order to share has been replaced by bitter sensationalism, a phantasmagoria that is equally as disjointed, surreal, and built on fantasy as the ideas that appeals to the tragic loner who drives the acts on the fringe of political violence. The fact that those who espouse these ideas are non-violent doesn’t separate them for those who who adapt the ideas in their own minds to follow through with violence.
Whether individual or mass, the deaths of 618,000 Americans in the civil war can not be separated from the ideas and rhetoric of state rights: the lynchings of blacks can not be separated from the rhetoric of racial superiority and segregation; violence against the government can not be separated from its empowering rhetoric. This rhetoric points to violence as the next step in politics. And people show up at rallies carrying guns. This rhetoric claims revolution, and an isolated, mentally deranged individual got the ideas twisted in his head.