Opinion: I Receive Threatening Comments From Insurrectionist Apologists

Walter Rhein

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The United States of America has a concept called freedom of speech. This means that, with few exceptions, every citizen can say whatever he or she wants. However, one of the exceptions is that there are laws against engaging in threatening speech.

For more than four decades, the Supreme Court has said that "true threats" to harm another person are not protected speech under the First Amendment—When is an online threat illegal and when is it free speech?

The complications come when people engage in threatening speech and then turn around and say, “It was only a joke.” Why do people think threatening the life of another human being is “funny.”

You'll find many examples of threatening speech in the comments section of my articles. The hypocritical element is that many of these comments are left by people to claim to be “pro-life.” How can you be “pro-life” and then turn around and threaten somebody on the internet.

Violent speech has become far too normalized in the United States of America. Take this recent quote from Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.

I believe people should just, just be ready to get out on the streets with pitchforks and torches with how low the liberal media has become,” Michels said Thursday on a conservative talk radio show. “People need to decide ‘Am I going to put up with this? Am I going to tolerate this, taking somebody that gives money to churches or cancer research and use that as a hit piece in the media?’ I’m appalled. It’s disgusting.” — SCOTT BAUER

In the context of the recent insurrection against the government of the United States of America, I find this comment very inappropriate. We’ve already seen what happens when a political candidate incites his followers to violence. The result is loss of life and damage to property.

Politicians have a unique power in our society and they should be held legally accountable for irresponsible words and actions. Calling for people to take to the streets with “pitchforks and torches” should be considered disqualifying language.

White nationalists have taken to the streets with torches in recent history.

White nationalists descended Friday night on the University of Virginia campus with burning tiki torches—White nationalists use tiki torches to light up Charlottesville march

I receive plenty of threatening messages in response to my articles. Everybody is tough on the internet. Some of them tell me to drive out to meet them so that they can teach me “respect.”

I assume that most of these people are at least smart enough that they post their threatening language under pseudonyms, but you never know.

I tend to believe that if people can’t respond to me with a rational, non-threatening argument, it proves that they are in the wrong. Again and again, we’ve seen the lawlessness of insurrectionist apologists. We need to have more accountability in our political discourse. People who resort to making threats of violence and who engage in lawless actions prove that their position is wrong.

Violence should not be normalized in American politics. For some reason, a certain percentage of the population flocks to politicians who “talk tough.” It doesn’t matter if these “tough guys” are trust fund babies who have never worked a day in their life. For some reason, mob mentality takes over and the masses do whatever these people say.

Our whole nation is still watching the consequences of the January 6th insurrection play out in real-time. Many people had their lives ruined on that day. They had their lives destroyed because they got riled up by violent political talk.

A retired New York police officer who was also a Marine veteran was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for assaulting police in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021 – the longest sentence yet from the riot—Retired NY cop gets 10 years in prison, longest sentence yet in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Think about that for a moment. Here’s a guy who had worked a whole career in law enforcement. He’d finally made it to retirement age. He should now be able to enjoy the profits of his labor. Instead, he will be sitting in jail in his golden years.

Is that fate worth it?

Part of the reason I don’t have insurrectionist apologists in my life is that I don’t want violence in my life. The kind of language they use is toxic. I don’t spend time with people who make violent statements against the government. What starts as a violent statement ends with an attack on the Capitol and a ten year prison sentence.

Think about that the next time you are inclined to write a threatening or a hostile comment on one of my articles. Your comment isn’t going to have any effect on me. Obviously, I’m not going to meet anyone who writes comments on my articles. I’m too busy working.

But if you write a threatening comment on an article, it might have an impact on you. Maybe you’ll become more and more emboldened. Maybe you’ll engage in other acts of lawlessness. Maybe the people closest to you will become embarrassed by your behavior and cut you out of their lives.

Keep in mind too that if you post threats with your real name, you are setting yourself up for real-world consequences. I’ve taken screen shots of hate speech and sent it to employers. There are consequences for threatening people. It’s time all Americans embraced law and order instead of just chanting the phrase as they goosestep around the country carrying torches and pitchforks.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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