At least they didn't quote the lying bastards at SPLC. You know, I'm with Mama Liberty on this one. If they don't want a civil disturbance, why don't they stop disturbing us?
I'm stressed for time this morning. Dissect this one at your leisure.
Experts: Pelosi right to fear violence
By EAMON JAVERS
9/25/09 4:53 AM EDT
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently invoked the grim specter of political violence, arguing that today’s angry political climate could cause people to cross the line from heated talk to dangerous actions.
Republicans sharply rejected her claim, with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) saying Pelosi is “living in another world.” Others charged that the California Democrat herself stoked emotions by labeling some health reform protesters “un-American.”
But it’s not just Pelosi who is worried. In interviews with POLITICO, five former Secret Service, FBI and CIA officers say that they, too, are concerned that today’s climate of supercharged political vitriol could lead to violence.
And this week, the FBI said that it is investigating whether anti-government sentiment played a role in the death of a U.S. Census worker who was found hanged from a tree in rural Kentucky, because the body had the word “fed” scrawled on the chest — though authorities say there are too many unanswered questions at this point to rule the case a homicide or a hate crime.
Beyond any specific case, some of the experts see the political moment as a part of a larger trend that’s been developing since the mid-’90s — dating back to GOP attacks on President Bill Clinton and continuing through the left’s sharp criticism of President George W. Bush, who was called a “liar” and “loser” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
This summer’s protests against health care included an episode where freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr. (D-Md.) was hanged in effigy. Anti-energy bill protesters tarred and feathered an effigy of Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.). Last Halloween, a homeowner in liberal West Hollywood hanged in effigy Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at his home.
There’s a big difference, of course, between a person who shouts at a congressman at a town hall and a person who would do something much more violent. But security experts say that the shouting incidents and other angry moments in recent weeks serve as indicators of an increase in political rage in the culture.
That rage comes against a backdrop of enormous changes in American life. The United States suffered a humiliating economic collapse that threatens its long-term position as the world’s most important economy, with a staggering 9.7 percent unemployment rate. President Barack Obama made several controversial federal interventions into the private sector.
At the same time, the country has elected its first African-American president at a moment when dramatic demographic changes mean that the groups now considered racial minorities will account for the majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042.
That kind of sweeping social change can be deeply unsettling.
“Times of threat bring increased aggression,” said Jerrold Post, a CIA veteran who founded the agency’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior during his 21-year career at headquarters in Langley, Va.
“And the whole country’s under threat now, with the economic difficulties and political polarization,” said Post, now a professor of psychiatry at The George Washington University. “The need to have someone to blame is really strong in human psychology. And once you have someone to blame, especially when there’s a call to action, some see it as a time for heroic action.”
In the United States, experts say, political violence is more likely to come from deranged loners than to come from any specific political group. For every Timothy McVeigh who is motivated by a murderous political ideology, there are far more delusional figures like Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who tried to kill President Gerald Ford in 1975, and John Hinckley Jr., who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Potentially violent loners, though, can be influenced by the atmosphere around them. Some of the security experts said angry rhetoric and images in the culture can agitate and inspire those loners to cross the line from anger to violence.
And several of the law enforcement experts said they see examples of fraying American nerves nearly everywhere in politics, from talk radio echoing with angry voices to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouting, “You lie!” at Obama during a joint session of Congress.
All that contributes to a dangerous mix, says former Secret Service agent Ronald Williams, who served from 1970 to 1993. “When there are vitriolic comments, acrimonious commentary and anger, the likelihood of violence escalates,” he said.
Williams, who served on the protective detail for Ford, said he agreed with Pelosi’s comments, even though he doesn’t personally care for the speaker’s politics. “I’m not a real big fan of Nancy Pelosi’s,” he said. “But she is correct.”
Last week, Pelosi said she worried that the nation’s violent history could repeat itself. “I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late ’70s in San Francisco, this kind of rhetoric,” Pelosi said. “It created a climate in which violence took place.”
She also said she hoped everyone would turn down the rhetorical volume. “I wish we would all curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements and understand that some of the ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statements may assume,” Pelosi said.
Later, her aides said she was referring to the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. But the killings of Moscone and Milk by Supervisor Dan White weren’t merely a random act of political violence — White served with both men and was upset that Moscone wouldn’t give him back his job after he changed his mind about quitting.
Williams says he sees provocative comments coming from both the left and the right, including from Pelosi herself. “By her own descriptions of the people who are out there protesting, she is engaged in ratcheting up the potential for dangerous acts to occur,” Williams said. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote an op-ed column in August that branded certain town hall protesters “un-American” for drowning out opposing voices.
Some Republicans agree: “If the speaker genuinely wants to lower the temperature of the debate, she should stop using heated rhetoric that is contributing to it in the first place,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.
For his part, Obama largely dismissed Pelosi’s concerns in an interview with CNN’s John King on Sunday. “Yelling at politicians is as American as apple pie. I mean, that’s — that’s in our DNA,” Obama said. “We have a long tradition of being skeptical of government.”
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said Pelosi merely “expressed her concern that people on all sides should certainly express their opinions but be careful what they say, because words have consequences.”
At least one Republican, Joe Scarborough, seemed to echo Pelosi’s comments this week, criticizing Fox commentator Glenn Beck for saying Obama is “a racist.” Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said, “You cannot preach hatred. You cannot say the president’s a racist. You cannot stir up things that could have very deadly consequences.”
Former President Jimmy Carter injected the president’s race into the national debate last week, telling NBC News, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.” In his Sunday interviews, however, Obama rejected race as a primary reason for the opposition to him and his policies.
But whether it’s driving the anger or not, Obama’s race is a complicating factor for security agents, said Joseph Petro, a 23-year Secret Service veteran who spent four years guarding Reagan. “Politically inspired violence is a real problem,” said Petro, who is managing director of Citigroup Security and Investigative Services. “If you add in racism, the bandwidth of potential violence expands exponentially.”
Tom Locke, a 32-year veteran FBI agent who led the bureau’s investigation in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, agrees. “With the openness in our society, it would be silly to say Obama’s not in danger,” said Locke. “The threats are real, and the threats are every day.”
The Secret Service declined to discuss its view of the security situation but says it is monitoring the situation. “We are respectful of everybody’s freedom of speech,” said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan. “But there certainly is a line. And when people approach that line, we have an obligation to determine people’s intent.”
Former Secret Service agent Andrew O’Connell, who served on President George H.W. Bush’s security detail, takes solace from recent history. “There were some pretty violent statements” during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office, O’Connell said. “But I don’t think too many people acted on it then.”