Do "We" Have a Political Violence Problem?Breaking News
tags: far right, political violence, Paul Pelosi
Timothy Noah is a New Republic staff writer and author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It.
“Reasonable” Republicans like New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu say America has a problem with political violence “on both sides of the aisle.” That isn’t true. America has a problem with political violence against Democrats.
The proof lies in what unreasonable Republicans have been saying since Paul Pelosi, 82, got his skull cracked at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning by a hammer-wielding QAnon enthusiast shouting, “Where is Nancy?” Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a photograph of a hammer and a pair of underwear—an early news report, since corrected, said the attacker was stripped to his underwear—captioned, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” Representative Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, posted and then deleted a tweet saying Pelosi’s assailant was a male prostitute whom Pelosi had hired (which of course wasn’t true). Elon Musk, who is not a Republican but appears drawn to the GOP’s more fetid precincts, tweeted along the same lines, later removed the tweet, and still later joked about it rather than apologize. Charlie Kirk suggested the whole story was intended “to smear millions of conservatives.” (For a fuller review of such stomach-turning statements, see Michael Tomasky’s piece, “Paul Pelosi Almost Died, and Most Republicans Don’t Have A Big Problem With That.”)
The GOP has become so extremist that a substantial portion of its leaders and more prominent sympathizers make light of or deny political violence committed against Democrats. There is no corresponding such behavior by leading Democrats when Republicans are threatened or attacked—and yes, there have been some horrific instances—because Democrats don’t count violent insurrectionists as a political constituency they dare not alienate.
The numbers aren’t discussed as often as they should be because most nonpartisan news organizations think it’s bad manners to document their lopsidedness. But let’s get real: “Domestic terrorism” has become a polite euphemism for “right-wing extremism.” The Anti-Defamation League counted 29 people killed in the United States by political extremists in 2021; of those, 26 were killed by right-wing extremists.
This is not a new trend. Indeed, it’s amazing how far back the pattern has held. According to an April 2021 tally by The Washington Post and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, right-wing extremists have since 2015 been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities. The comparable figures for left-wing extremists are 66 and 19. A study released this past summer by the University of Maryland reached back to 1948, thereby capturing the era of left-wing turbulence in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and so on. Yet even this longer timeline showed the likelihood of right-wing violence to be nearly double that of left-wing violence.
“Up against the wall motherfucker” notwithstanding, political violence enjoys much greater social sanction on the right than on the left. Thankfully, it remains true that a majority of Republicans and Democrats reject violence. But nearly three times as many Republicans as Democrats approve of political violence, according to a November 2021 poll by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute. Thirty percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” Incredibly, that view was also shared by 26 percent of evangelicals. Only 11 percent of Democrats agreed. (And yes, that’s 11 percent too many.)
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