To the GOP, Dissent Is More Violent Than Death
The GOP excuses murderers, but calls protesters “violent”
As he was leaving the White House after President Trump’s acceptance speech last Thursday, Senator Rand Paul pushed through a crowd of shouting protesters. No one was injured. Afterwards, he tweeted, “Just got attacked by an angry mob of over 100, one block away from the White House. Thank you to @DCPoliceDept for literally saving our lives from a crazed mob.” His words — if not quite his experience — echoed a frequent talking point throughout last week’s Republican National Convention, where speakers from Kimberly Guilfoyle to the McClosky couple (who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators in St. Louis) decried the “violence of the left.”
While violence has marred some protests since George Floyd’s murder, a recent investigation found that 93 percent of them remained peaceful. Although last Sunday’s shooting in Portland that left a white Trump supporter dead gained widespread attention, the majority of deaths have been of Black men, sometimes at the hands of white shooters or police. Meanwhile, misinformation about violence at the protests has been so widespread that even Cosmopolitan published an article to debunk the falsehoods.
Yet white supremacists and Trump supporters have planned — and executed — more than their share of violent acts. Last Tuesday, Kyle Rittenhouse gunned down three people in Kenosha, killing two of them. In May, three members of the far-right Boogaloo movement were arrested for planning to use explosives to incite violence at a protest in Nevada and charged with plotting domestic terrorism. Patrick Crusius murdered twenty-three people in El Paso and wounded dozens more in 2019. Jarrod Ramos shot seven people in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, killing five of them, in 2018. Earlier that year, Nikolas Cruz shot thirty-four students in Parkland, FL, killing seventeen. And in 2017, James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters to a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer.
Why are protests considered “violent” but actual murders of people living their lives, going to school, doing their work, raising their voices for justice are not?
Jacob Blake was considered “violent” because he had a knife in his car — not in his hand, but in his car. Police shot him in the back seven times. In the BACK. He was handcuffed to his hospital bed, even after doctors knew he was paralyzed below the waist. Yet the police are not characterized as “violent.” Rittenhouse wandered around Kenosha openly carrying an AR-15, but the police didn’t think of him as “violent,” even after he committed murder.
Meanwhile, over 180,000 Americans have died in a COVID-19 pandemic that the Trump Administration has demonstrably worsened by politicizing a public health crisis. During their convention, GOP guests milled together, often without masks, perhaps bringing COVID-19 back to their households and communities. After a Trump rally in Tulsa, OK in June, the state’s cases escalated to six times the April infection rate, and former GOP candidate, Herman Cain, died of the virus in a hospital after days on a ventilator.
Isn’t this violence?
Immigrant children have been forcibly separated from their parents and caregivers at the border. Reports show that sexual assault is rampant in immigrant detention facilities. Asylum seekers have been thrown into freezing-cold cells and denied medical treatment when they said they were sick. Parents and children have died.
Isn’t this violence?
In 2017, 39,773 people were killed by firearms in the United States. In contrast, that same year Australia had 189 gun deaths, and Canada recorded 785. England and Wales have an average of 50 to 60 gun deaths annually. Yet despite an escalation of gun violence in the United States in recent years, including several high-profile mass shootings that broke records for the numbers of dead — including children — Republican lawmakers have consistently blockaded any legislative reforms to make guns harder to obtain, like universal background checks, or federal-level prohibitions against domestic violence perpetrators having firearms.
Isn’t this violence?
The Republicans are in power. They also know that Trump barely won the Presidency in 2016 through the Electoral College. In a majority vote, they would lose.
To them, any attempt to challenge or take away their power is an outrageous affront. How dare the people of the United States of America, a democracy, disapprove of their actions or defy their authority.
I watched a clip of KelleyAnne Conway recently, in an interview with Chris Cuomo. He was questioning her about the family separation policy. “How dare you!” she snapped at him. Cuomo asked, “How dare I what? State facts?”
To them, “violence” is any dissent against their rule. This is why some are merely silent about the atrocity of Rittenhouse’s actions, while others openly praise him and donate to his defense fund (reportedly up to $97,000 as of this writing). Murder isn’t “violent” if it supports a political movement that will keep them in power.
We can’t let them control the conversation of who is “violent,” because they will make it serve them. They will draw on centuries of implicit bias to label Black and brown people and their allies as “violent,” as “thugs,” while actual deaths of Americans and immigrants pile up around the White House.
El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, formerly Malcolm X, pointed out over half a century ago that the choice for the marginalized in the US is the ballot or the bullet.
We are currently in a battle for the integrity of the ballot, as the GOP attempts to outlaw voting by mail and sabotages the US Postal Service, an institution enshrined in our Constitution.
But the GOP wants the bullet. They want to push “the left” into more protests. They know they can always cast protesters as “out of control,” “lawless,” and “animals.” Meanwhile, people who murder them walk away with a bottle of water.
We have to persistently shine a light on their hands, to insist that they and everyone in America see the blood, to point out where the real violence is happening. Spreading misinformation about a global health crisis killing hundreds of thousands of Americans is violent. Committing human rights abuses against immigrants and asylum seekers is violent. Promoting white supremacy is violent. Calling journalists “enemies of the people” is violent. There is a higher body count for GOP politicians at microphones than for protesters in the streets.
This is not a new playbook. They have been running these plays my entire life, because it always works for their base. But their base is small and shrinking.
We don’t have to go by their playbook. We don’t have to fall for their pump fakes. We can change the game. And when November comes, we can make sure they lose.
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