It's been a slow couple of days in the political world, so I would like to take the opportunity to write about three incidents that have occurred in the last few weeks: the murder by a professor in Alabama with a history of violence, of three of her fellows, a guy in Texas that flew his small plane into an IRS building, and a person with a 15 year history of mental illness driving across the country to attempt to shoot up the Pentagon.
Naturally, the first instinct of Republicans is to blame all of this on liberals, and I have seen plenty of that on the wingnut blogs. I want to suggest a more truthful account of how these three people, all showing signs of mental unbalance, came to commit their violent acts.
The history of "terrorism" at least back to 19th century Russian nihilism is very consistent. Inciters of the violence almost invariably manage to disconnect themselves from the actual perpetrators. Those responsible for causing the violence normally restrict themselves to doing whatever they can to manipulate people into committing violent acts, knowing very well that eventually someone, usually mentally unstable, will follow their guidance, without any direct contact to implicate them or endanger their personal security.
This strategy reached its height in the concept of "leaderless revolution," developed by the Irish Republican Army and perfected by the PLO. Small groups of individual actors were systematically isolated from the leaders, so their violent acts could never be traced back to the guys at the top, who managed for decades to evade any responsibility for the crimes they incited. In fact, Yasir Arafat and Gerry Adams never paid a price for their behavior; Arafat died worth an estimated three to five billion dollars, and Gerry Adams continues to parade around to this day as a respectable politician.
Perhaps the classic example of this behavior can be found in the person of one Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 precipitated World War I. Princip continues to be regarded by most people as a member of a small group of violent agitators, although it has long been established that he was incited and equipped by disident right wing elements in Serbia's army, who had previously been responsible for the murder of the king of Serbia. Those army officers, of course, evaded any consequence of their behavior, although, of course, it resulted in a disaster for their country.
Now we come to the present three cases. None has a history of direct political activity. The professor voted for Obama. The pilot left a boring manifesto indicating that he had a history as a right wing tax evader. The Pentagon attacker was just plain crazy. What led them to take violent action?
Now, here is the important thing to note: No one on the left is inciting violence as the answer to our problems. No one on the left is calling for the death or violent overthrow of our leaders. No one on the left is promoting the idea of secession and armed rebellion as an answer to the current government, You do not see people at left wing meetings or demonstrations openly and aggressively brandishing firearms. Yet all of these things are virtually daily occurrences on the right.
Right wing leaders know perfectly well that if they continue their incitement of violence and hatred, someone, somewhere will take the hint and do something abominable; at which point, these leaders will disavow any responsibility for the consequences. All three of these people were acting out the behavior which conservative leaders have worked so hard to make acceptable, at least from their side. This phenomenon is not unexpected. It is the logical result of Republican incitement, as it has been the result of similar incitement around the world for at least two centuries.
I have often spoken about a defining characteristic of the right: their pathological inability to take a shred of responsibility for the consequences of their behavior. Of course this will continue to be true with incidents like these. But make no mistake: the deliberate incitement of hatred and contempt for the legally elected government has always led to the same result, and it will continue to do so here and now.