In the comments to my last post, Rachel says:

Just another comment, because I feel kind of disjointed about this, too – going to veer slightly from your post here. I understand what people are saying about the hate spewed by those who authored books found in Adkisson’s home. As a librarian, it sort of troubles me for people to be looking at his bookshelf and saying, “See, see, what he was reading explains it.” I know, he did claim that it was about “liberals.” Something about it gives me the willies, though.

And I think I get what’s troubling her–that it’s not such a short walk from “see, that rap music is ruining kids everywhere” to “see, that conservative bullshit is ruining kids everywhere” and not such a short leap beyond either of those things to “so, let’s rid the world of that music or those books.”

But the other thing, to me anyway, is that I’d like folks to have the decency to admit that their ideas matter.  I mean, isn’t that why many of us blog?  Hoping, at the least, to find like-minded people to reaffirm our rightness in the world or people who disagree with us whose minds we can either change or who we can make fun of (again to reaffirm our rightness in the world)?

We know that words matter.

And yet we dance around the idea that words matter.

So, that is what it is.

I, for one, would just like folks to take a second to acknowledge that words do matter, that you can’t sit in your public life for a decade spouting off about how liberals are ruining America, how white guys would be getting what they’re “entitled” to if not for the liberals and the gays and the illegals stealing it from them, and then act shocked and surprised when your words resonate.

I mean, I’m torn.  Do I believe that, say, Bill O’Reilly is directly responsible for what happened in Knoxville?  No.  Adkisson clearly had issues and something out there would have given him a framework for his anger.  If not O’Reilly then, I don’t know, maybe listening to Toby Keith albums for 40 days straight might have done it.

We can’t, as a free society (or what’s left of one), run around trying to anticipate which forms of expression are going to set someone off and quash them.

But on the other hand, I also believe that, if there weren’t an ongoing national monologue about how liberals are ruining America, with our gay-loving, baby-killing multicultural pervert ways, it might have taken Adkisson a long, long time to give shape to his anger and to find a focus for it.

As Myca, over at Alas, a Blog, puts it, “See, it turns out that when you said all that shit . . . people were listening. Jim D. Adkisson was listening.”

But, if you read Katie’s post this morning or this post from Sadly, No!, you’ll see already how this is being explained away.  The Unitarians brought this on themselves or Adkisson wasn’t really conservative or sure, this was tragic, but it wasn’t really that tragic, or this wasn’t about killing liberals, that was just a cover for his true desire to kill Christians*.

And I mean, please, could we have just one break in the clouds?  One moment when the light shines through and people get it?  Just even for one second, that when you run around calling for liberals to be rounded up and shot or when you call us traitors or claim that we’re the greatest threat to America, it might cause some people to feel that we need to be rounded up and shot.

Your words matter.  They have weight.  They spur people to action.

And can you then, therefore, have the decency to stop advocating for people to kill us?

Because, you know what happens when you advocate for people to kill us?

They do.


*Though, as many have noted, there’s something darkly funny about how it’s now that the Unitarians get considered Christian.

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36 thoughts on “Decency

  1. Pingback: Teach Your Children Well « Newscoma

  2. you’ll see already how this is being explained away.

    That’s been happening since the news of his liberal/gay hatred was uncovered. ABCNews was doing a good job of deleting the comments on their story that were particularly grievous, but if you were reading fast enough between their editors’ sweeps you see several comments slip in saying the Unitarians should have known someone would do that thanks to them “pushing deviate ideas,” and other such blaming the victim nonsense.

    And I’ve also noticed that, had you asked an evangelical on Sat about the Unitarian church, you’d have been told they were heathens who were all going to hell. Today, they represent “Chrisitianity” and any attack against them is an attack against all Christians.

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  4. The Unitarians brought this on themselves…

    The hate runs deep. Some of these comments from Fox News’ site are sickening. I bring your attention to:

    Bill Brabson
    July 27th, 2008 at 7:11 pm
    Why do you keep calling this place a church?…If it is it is a church of satan…This place has been a thorn in the Knoxville neighborhood for years…These people believe in everything that God does not. I don’;t condone this killing but don’t call it a Church.


    But as I’ve said over at my place today, we can’t forget the corporate media establishment types who pimp this kind of hate speech out over the public airwaves. ClearChannel, TalkRadioNetwork, Fox News even CNN — they all profit from this stuff. There is something seriously wrong when a corporate conglomerate can make hundreds of millions of dollars off of disseminating Michael Savage’s anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant spew out across the nation.

    Free speech? Yeah, you can call it that. But we also have laws against shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. When the people who syndicate Michael Savage don’t tell Savage he’s crossed the line and then something like this happens, they bear part of the responsibility.

  5. I agree with you on the decency thing — but here’s my thing about it.

    When something like this happens, all the networks try to make sense of it and then the shooter’s life is examined in minute detail. Where he worked, who his neighbors were, where he lived, what kind of childhood he had, etc.

    Sometimes there are just bad people out there — so this guys excuse was that he didn’t like the liberal slant of the church? That’s just what it is, an excuse. Anyone who walks in a church, or any other establishment, and starts shooting is evil. Simple as that.

    I realize we need to make sense of it – I guess to separate ourselves from “them”.

    No amount of restraint or decency by any network or publication is going to change the fact that these people on the fringes are out to take drastic measures.

    In this case, as to what you are talking about, Son of Sam/David Berkowitz, came to my mind. He said the dog told him to do it. Crazy people do crazy things too…

    Speaking of… Mrs Wigglebottom isn’t filling your head with ideas is she?

  6. *Though, as many have noted, there’s something darkly funny about how it’s now that the Unitarians get considered Christian.

    Yeah, especially since many of them would reject the label. It’s interesting how the right won’t let little things like facts get in the way of their persecution complex.


  7. As an agnostic UU who tries to live my life according to Jesus’s teachings, it all seems odd that this person would hate us so much that he would want to kill everyone in a church. It’s like Rev. Bill Sinkford said in Knoxville, when asked by the press if UUs thought the killer would go to hell: In our view of religion, he has been in hell for quite a long time. It’s scary to be so hated and vilified by people you’ve never met for trying to make the world peaceful, non-violent and loving toward one’s neighbor.

  8. Well …. Surely the terrorist/murderer is responsible for his own acts. He and only he will go on trial for them, and that is as it should be. But it seems to me that there’s a fundamental difference between him and Son of Sam: Son of Sam was hearing his dog tell him to kill people, an experience that any rational person recognizes as irrational, no matter what the content of the dog’s instructions, right? But Adkisson was receiving the eliminationist message he responded to from people who have the imprimatur of publishers, radio and television networks, and other institutions, and no rational person would say that taking seriously the words of published authors, radio hosts, and television talking heads is ipso facto irrational. There is a difference in sanity.

    There is also the difference that although Adkisson exaggerated and literalized a political message, the message itself is real (whereas I don’t think Brooklyn dogs really are broadcasting “kill!”). Adkisson didn’t invent it, and while he chose to read the books that spread it and (perhaps) to listen daily to multiple variations and reinforcements of it, he’s not the one who puts it out there for public consumption. So I think that the people who do put it out there have a moral responsibility in this case, and if they don’t accept it they’ll face certain moral consequences.

  9. I don’t think conservative pundits like Limbaugh are responsible per se. Frankly, you don’t listen to Limbaugh or most of the others of that ilk unless you’re already on board the train. Most fence sitters get knocked to the other side by listening to the hateful stuff Limbaugh spouts.

    They do have some culpability for fueling the hate though. If the guy on the radio is saying the same things you think then that validates it and takes you a step closer to thinking maybe those evil people deserve to die.

  10. nm, I get what you’re saying…. but

    I personally believe that anyone who goes to measures such as shooting into a church (for whatever reason) isn’t exactly the poster child for well balanced citizens.
    Anyone who goes into a church shooting isn’t going to be lumped in with those of us who are considered “rational people”.

    Adkisson was receiving the eliminationist message he responded to from people who have the imprimatur of publishers, radio and television networks, and other institutions, and no rational person would say that taking seriously the words of published authors, radio hosts, and television talking heads is ipso facto irrational. There is a difference in sanity.

    Right, we’re on the same page here…. Maybe Berkowitz was a bad example… that’s what popped in my mind.

    Actually, this debate also reminds me of the Ozzy Osbourne “Suicide Solution” trial and the Columbine massacre being blamed on Marilyn Manson. No matter what is put out there, there’s going to be some whacko that takes it to another level.

    There is a need for responsibility regarding the message but that’s a slippery slope re: the 1st Amendment — in my opinion.

  11. W, they’re not responsible for pulling the trigger, no. Responsible for inciting hatred, yes. Should they be put on trial? I don’t think so. But (while my religion doesn’t include a hell) I would say that a variant of what KT wrote about Adkisson (In our view of religion, he has been in hell for quite a long time) applies to the pundits as well; their souls are dying when they push eliminationist rhetoric.

    Beth, I don’t think of sanity as a toggle switch; I think it’s more of a continuum. Listening to messages from a dog, even if they’re just “go out and get an anchovy pizza,” puts a person at the batshit crazy part of the continuum. By all accounts, Adkisson wasn’t good at logic (“I hate liberal programs, but I should get more food stamps” doesn’t get you very far), but he’s not insane at that level. Plus, he’s got a considerable amount of evil in him, which is a separate continuum from the sanity-insanity one. Lots of crazy people are full of goodness; lots of sane people are full of evil, and he’s one of them. In my world-view, that is.

  12. Yeah, but no one, as far as I’ve seen, is suggesting that we ban the rightwingers. So, I don’t see First Amendment implications. I, not as an agent of the government who can force you to do it, but as a concerned and outraged fellow citizen who cannot force you want you, people of the United States, to tone down the “round ‘em up and shoot ‘em” message, because it is obvious that people will take you seriously and some, even a few, of them might act on it.

    And, while clearly he’s not well-balanced, I think it’s dangerous to decide that he’s just irrational. Were the guys who bombed the church in Birmingham irrational? Were the guys who killed the guys registering people to vote irrational? I mean, yeah, I think there’s something wrong with you if you can open fire on innocent people.

    But let’s not write him off as someone irrational. He had a political message he was intending to send and he did so. He wrote a four page letter to ensure that his reasons would be clear in the event of his death.

    I think it’s problematic to say to the people who faced down this guy–and who died in the process–that he somehow was “irrational.” He deliberately picked that church filled with those people in order to send a message.

    And we have a responsibility to understand what that message was and stand against it.

  13. Listening to messages from a dog, even if they’re just “go out and get an anchovy pizza,” puts a person at the batshit crazy part of the continuum.

    Thanks for my laugh of the day — I agree with that…

    But I have to respectfully disagree as to my own believe in temporary insanity… I do think some otherwise sane people just snap — of course this is under extreme stress, etc — not that I’m lumping Adkisson in with those people or making excuses for them.

    lots of sane people are full of evil, and he’s one of them

  14. Thank you, Aunt B. UUs take many unpopular stands in public and it feels quite lonely sometimes. Tolerance of others views is a basic tenet of our faith and we won’t hide but we would like the larger community to say enough is enough. Words are the way we shape and express our thoughts and emotions. But when feelings and hopes are surpressed or denied, anger and violence can emerge rather than words or hugs. Anger is a the cover for hurt and rejection.

  15. Actually, this debate also reminds me of the Ozzy Osbourne “Suicide Solution” trial and the Columbine massacre being blamed on Marilyn Manson. No matter what is put out there, there’s going to be some whacko that takes it to another level.

    But the difference is that those are examples of art/music being used as justification by teenagers, where this is an adult internalizing arguments and hatred that is not intended to be art that happen to be in book form and/or come over the airwaves. Both are, as Aunt B points out, using it as a framework over which to stretch their own nebulous anger – but I’d say the O’Reillys are far more culpable than the Ozzys.

  16. Oh, and I’d like to make it clear that eating anchovy pizza is not evidence of insanity; listening to dogs’ orders is.

  17. Plus, in both of those cases (if I’m remembering the Suicide Solution trial), it was not the people who committed those actions who were saying “Boy is that Ozzy right! Suicide is the only solution!” or “Yeah, Marilyn Manson is right! Sweet dreams are made of this.” It was outsiders who were making that connection.

    In this case, though, we have his own words, saying for himself why he’s doing what he’s doing.

  18. Oh, and I’d like to make it clear that eating anchovy pizza is not evidence of insanity; listening to dogs’ orders is.

    i’m willing to settle for “both”, but i’ll argue against ruling out the former entirely.

  19. I don’t think what was on his shelve means they are responsible, but I do really like the fact that someone who would do something like this is a fan of their books. I just think it speaks to whom the audience for that sort of writing is.

  20. The more I think about it, the more I think about what it was like back when that person was running around the internet outting me on various sites and how it bothered me, but the thing that put a pit in my stomach for days was that s/he had my work address wrong.

    I, myself, was not afraid of the person posting the information. I figured that that was the scary thing that person intended to do. I was more afraid of the person who might act on that information. And I was sick over the idea that there might be someone out there who intended to harm me, but, because of the wrong work address being posted, might harm someone down the hall or down the street, someone who didn’t even know me.

    I felt a little responsible for that–even though I know that it wouldn’t have been my fault.

    And I guess, when I see this kind of terrible tragedy, I’d like to see some shared humanity with the people across the aisle from me–some recognition that, while this wasn’t exactly their fault, that they feel terrible that their words could have sparked this.

    I don’t want them banned or censored. I want them to change their ways, to have some kind of aha moment that this shit has gone too far.

  21. B., or at least recognize that so long as they’re making funny jokes out of “liberal hunting permits”, we really don’t have much reason to even try any bipartisan compromising. or really to peacefully cooperate with them in any way at all.

    i’ll be happy — more than happy! — to leave anybody who spouts such rhetoric the fuck alone. at all times, including when they might need my assistance somehow. i’d rather not share a roof with any of them, in fact. let ‘em help themselves, i want no part of anything such people might do or need.

  22. Um, Ex. Are you trying to say that video clip is equivalent to the stuff Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh et al put in their shows and writings? Have you ever seen, heard or read them?

    If John Kerry was joking about literally killing the president (it’s not clear that he was from that excerpt), then not only was he wrong, but the Secret Service would be required to pay him a visit to investigate. Even if that were the case, I don’t think any rational person could suggest that what I saw in that clip you linked was on equal footing with the stuff that regularly comes out of the mouths of Coulter and friends.

  23. The speakers on my computer were out yesterday (does anyone know why that happens sometimes? seriously, it’s a pain) so I couldn’t listen to your clip until now, Ex. And I will agree with you that if Kerry had a daily radio show, and during the course of each broadcast he made repeated “jokes” like that one, and he also wrote books claiming that the president and others who agreed with him were traitors who need to be eliminated from the American body politic, and then someone who listened to his broadcasts and read his books went and shot up a Pentacostal church because he couldn’t reach Bush and those are the people who voted for him, then I would say that you had a valid comparison there, and I would consider Kerry morally responsible. Plus what Dolphin said about the Secret Service. Otherwise, maaaaaaaajor strawman.

  24. nm, about your speakers. If your speakers are external, have you tried replacing them? The wires that run fro the computer to the speakers in cheaper computer speakers are incredibly thin and notorious for developing small breaks. Then you bump the desk or whatever and it jiggles it slightly and the wires make contact and you get sound. Bump it again and it separates and you have silence. May not be the problem but it’s worth looking at if they are external. You could test by playing music while fiddling around with the wires and see if it cuts in and out.

  25. Been to Daily Kos lately? How about democraticunderground? Indymedia?

    The people you mentioned, like the ones above, are not holding office. They are not “legitimate” representatives of the society.

    There are goofs on both sides saying goofy stuff. I don’t listen to Coulter or O’reilly, but the others, to my knowledge, have not advocated violence on anyone. I’d be interested if you have examples of that.

  26. Been to Daily Kos lately? How about democraticunderground? Indymedia?

    Actually no, I haven’t. But if they’re consistently spewing the same kind of filth that Coulter et al are, only aiming it at conservatives, and somebody goes and shoots up conservative church after reading those sites and leaves a note indicating such, then they too would be wise to realize that their words encouraged such the attack.

  27. Been to Daily Kos lately? How about democraticunderground? Indymedia?

    because these are clearly comparable to major broadcast television, talk radio, and mainstream publishing houses in their reach, audience, and influence. yeppers. this playing field is level as can be, just now measured with my patented republican party spirit level.

  28. Dolphin, it’s not the external speakers. I tried just unplugging them and making sure all the settings were OK for internal speakers only, and still got no sound. So I put all the settings back for external speakers, rebooted, and got no sound again. So I said the hell with it and did some work instead (I know, I know). Now today, all the sound is back. This happens two or three times a year, I figure, and I have no clue what causes it.

    Ex, I rarely visit dKos, almost never those others you mention. I don’t visit dKos much because I consider the commenters insupportable. But I do think that there’s a difference between hatred spewing from a proportion of blog commenters or callers-in to shows and that same hatred spewing from blog owners/posters, talk radio hosts, and TV anchors.

  29. Again, I haven’t heard Rush, Boortz or Hannity advocate violence, so help me out on all this ‘spewing hatred’.
    Granted, I don’t listen to Rush much, because he’s such a pompous ass, but I listen to the others fairly regularly.

  30. You haven’t heard them spew hatred? Really? Then I guess we disagree so fundamentally on terminology that there’s no point in taking this discussion any further.

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