Government and Violence

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    I keep thinking, aw hell, that kid was a pot-head, which means we’re going to be hearing before long that “smoking marijuana has consequences”. He wrote more about not being able to sleep though- hopefully the government won’t mandate 8 hours of sleep per night.Report

  2. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Yes, I agree with you Jason.
    The gummint has been trying to stifle political speech with the ‘violence’ excuse for a long time. Lincoln and Wilson come to mind and certainly Bubba’s prouncement that Limbaugh was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing was meant to put a chill on ‘right wing’ speech. I’m sure you can cite other examples.
    And, Bubba was never brought before the court for the massacre at Waco.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks
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      says:

      Of course, anti-government rhetoric from the “left” was stifled under the Bush administration. When it wasn’t simply disallowed (arrests, free speech zones at political speeches, etc.), it was described as treasonous, providing aid and comfort to the enemy, or even actively supporting terrorism. People on the “right” were upset a couple years ago when the government appeared to be targeting right wing groups, but they didn’t have any problem with the government under Bush targeting left wing groups.

      The problem with decrying anti-government rhetoric is that over time it ultimately means decrying most dissent, because what “anti-government rhetoric” amounts to depends largely on who’s in power. And that’s probably the biggest sign that “anti-government” rhetoric as a broad category is specious and dangerous.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Dude, it was stifled by the establishment.

        There were “Free Speech Zones” at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

        I think that the fear was another 1968 Democratic National Convention.

        Those wacky Deaniacs…Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Of course, we’ve always known that Democrats tend to eat their own.

          Still, my point was simply that everybody does it, and what gets counted as anti-government tends to be highly (negatively) correlated with who’s in power. I suspect Bob, like many conservatives, thinks it’s largely a left-wing/liberal phenomenon, even though he lived through the 60s (and judging by his heavy and semi-random use and abuse of Voeglin terminology and entire sentences, might have partaken of the 60s a bit) and the 00s.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris, very curious remarks on your part. And I’m very curious what member or members of the Bush administration described “anti-government from the left”, as “treasonous, providing aid and comfort to the enemy, or even actively supporting terrorism”. Sources? Actual quotes from Bush administration officials using that terminology?

        And what’s wrong with free speech zones? If you went to hear a speech from someone (trying to think of someone you might want to go hear speak–maybe Bill Ayers, Ward Churchill, Lynne Stewart, George Galloway, Ted Rall, Jeremiah Wright, Noam Chomsky, …hmmm) well, in any case, it you were attending such an event to hear a speech, would you want to have the speaker repeatedly shouted down by a handful or even a group of protesters? I doubt it. Without question, THAT would clearly be an infringement of the guest speaker’s freedom of speech rights. So what problem do you have with “free speech zones”?Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    For all dissent to become suspect would be a bad outcome, indeed. Any sense it is materializing? Are people lumping Radley Balko in with Loughner today?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Honestly, what worries me more right now is the juxtaposition of the blame-laying for this event against the backdrop of the crackdown on Wikileaks. If the logic of that crackdown becomes applied to heated, hyperbolic, and even perhaps outrageous domestic political rhetoric, then we really are in trouble.

      Thankfully, this morning it seems like the cooler heads are taking the narrative back over. Jonathan Chait’s piece this morning was quite good, as was Ezra Klein’s last night (or was it yesterday afternoon). And thus far, the Administration’s response seems to have been quite level-headed, the leaked DHS memo notwithstanding (and on that….who the hell thought it was a good idea to leak something like that so quickly, when its most newsmaking item was utterly devoid of any connection to evidence).

      We still don’t know what this character’s influences were – what media he consumed, and the like. If we do learn those influences, then it will be understandable to have a national discussion of those influences (though still not necessarily beneficial).

      What astounds me in the reaction so far is that the one thing which does seem worth addressing based on the information we actually do know at this point, particularly when combined with what we know about other mass murders in recent years, is not being discussed at all, perhaps because it doesn’t fit well within any established political narrative. That, of course, is the issue of finding better ways of identifying and helping the truly insane and potentially violent, particularly within the context of our educational system.

      There were warning signs with this kid, and it looks like his college did all it could have done given those warning signs under the system we currently have. But was there some other regime that could have been in place to ensure that he got the help he clearly needed or to prevent him from having ready access to weaponry? I honestly don’t know, but given that the perpetrators of mass murders are so often certifiably deranged, to the point that people in positions to do something about it are often aware of, and concerned with, that derangement, it seems like this is something that is very much worthy of discussion. That seems to be a constant theme running through these shootings, the Fort Hood shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings (which did spark Virginia to make changes to its gun laws as they relate to the mentally unsound), and I believe the Discovery Channel hostage taking, to say nothing of incidents going back much further, such as the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

      One thing that’s especially important to note here is that although these particular incidents are outliers – attacks that attract an inordinate amount of attention either because of their political nature or because of the sheer number of casualties they inflict – they represent just the tip of the iceberg of violence inflicted by people who are known to be insane. When an insane person inflicts violence on a family member, we either don’t hear about it outside of the locality, or – if it’s an entire family that is killed – we don’t view it as something worth discussing within the context of politics.

      The only time we wind up discussing the damage inflicted by someone who is known to be mentally unsound is when they do something that easily fits within established political narratives and can thus be used as a cudgel in the political realm. The real problem winds up getting ignored, which is that we need to find a way of doing a better job of identifying and helping the violently insane, and, yes, of making sure that they don’t have access to weapons.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        Thank you, I’ve tried to follow this incident online and the actual situation seems swamped at times by a political debate that belongs elsewhere.

        That said, I worry about the consequences of too strongly associating insance with violent. You make a powerful case about the costs of not identifying and dealing with the violenet and mentally ill (false negatives) but how do we balance this with the risks of restricting and stereotyping the mentally ill, who may not be violent (false positives).

        Mental illness is already too often associated with cartoon ‘madmen’ and I would be very careful about any policy or debate that encourages people to see anyone who goes to the doctor about depression as a future mass murder.

        For the record I suffered depression in my teens which was strongly linked with bullying at school so I’m particularly sensitive to anything that might lead such bullies to see themselves as justified.

        I don’t mean this as a total rejection of your position it probably would help to identify people with problems for their sake and ours. I just worry that a ‘something must be done’ approach to the facts you present could have ugly consequences.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Matty
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          says:

          Thank you, and I agree. My point was that this is the debate we should be having, and I was not trying to argue for any particular solution. In fact, I don’t have any. But rather than trying to fit every highly-publicized tragedy into our prejudices and political worldview, regardless of how much of an outlier we have to make the event in order to do so, we should at a minimum be trying to identify the actual widespread problem and discuss ways of solving it.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        Mark, you are exactly right — I came here to read for a minute before staring on a post on my blog related to mental health recognition and treatment, as well as addiction problems, the war on drugs and our over-filled prisons. I worked in this field for 15 years, so what I see sometimes is appalling especially when cost cuts in healthcare zero in on mental health and addiction treatment first. Back in the early 80s when I started, DuPont and GM has comprehnsive studies done on their EAP programs and showed a return on what they paid out for treatment (less downtime, better efficiency, less accidents and mistakes, less absenteeism and on-the-job absenteeism) — that was when treatment was better funded by insurance coverage nd sef-pay and more effective, because you could do what was necessary to treat the problems. Mental health is more difficult, but identifyng the problem in this case could have saved 6 lives and the injuries of the others, if adults had taken control earlier and addressed the problem. There’s a large forgotten/ignored/denied population of mentaly ill on our streets and even living in nice homes with enabling parents.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        “That, of course, is the issue of finding better ways of identifying and helping the truly insane and potentially violent, particularly within the context of our educational system.”

        Geez Mark, I wonder how many ‘programs’ the left has established to deal with this problem within the federal gummint alone, let alone state gummint? And, at what price?….$1 billion, $10 billion, $100 billion??

        Now I really don’t know what we should do to correct this inability to recognize the wackos capable of murder among us (and still maintain our freedoms) but I do know that hanging these clowns might slow down their murderous manifestations.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Well, I was lumped in with Loughner the other day, on this very site. Surprised you didn’t notice.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Yes, Jason, and I say that unglueing coming — I held my tongue, but I saw it coming.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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          says:

          Plus, there are many associations in being right now in what is supposed to the responsible, professional media. They preface this association by saying there is no evidence, but…

          Then there are 5 minutes of implying, or flatout making, connections.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to MFarmer
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            says:

            What was remarkable in this case was that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I turned to TV news media for information (CNN specifically). Immediately the repeated assumption was that rhetoric played a role here (the anchor did keep trying to add the words “from both sides,” but it was obvious what he meant). That’s probably not the wisest way of reporting, but I can somewhat understand given the nature of 24 hour news networks where you have to say something at all times, even when you don’t have any hard news to report. That doesn’t justify it, but it does make it a bit easier to understand. What truly appalled me, though, was that the killer’s name was announced around, what, 3:30 EST? Within an hour, all the Youtube videos and Myspace postings had been discovered and were being broadcast all over the internet, with plenty of bloggers realizing that we were dealing with someone who had a severe mental illness of some sort. Yet it was at least three hours later before CNN started to provide any of this background, during which time it was simply repeating its meme. In fact, the way I ultimately found out about that background was on this very site, when I finally logged on several hours after the killer’s name had been announced.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson
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              says:

              The basic assumption is that if a ‘D’ was killed, the ‘D’ was killed by an ‘R’ for ‘R’ reasons. If an ‘R’ was killed, the assumption would be that the ‘R’ was killed by a ‘D’ for ‘D’ reasons.

              Of course, if you go back and look at political assassinations, this assumption is false for the vast, vast, vast majority of assassinations… but, hey. It’s the conclusion *I* jumped to. I certainly can’t hold it against other folks for jumping to it.

              Now, when it comes to still holding it despite new evidence…Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In 1998, I was working on Capitol Hill when someone killed two Capitol police officers outside Tom DeLay’s office. This was either the same day or the day after the House had voted down a Patient’s Bill of Rights. It was also right when murmurs of an impeachment attempt were starting to gain some real steam. This led to a lot of assumptions being made very quickly. Those assumptions all turned out to be very wrong.

                One of the differences was that those assumptions never spread beyond private conversations before the truth started to come out. Now you can find evidence to back up any assumption within seconds and spread that evidence around the world in minutes. You can also find evidence that destroys those assumptions when they’re false almost as quickly – but you need to have enough information to narrow what you’re looking for down. While you’re waiting for that information, all those initial assumptions are getting reinforced. 12 years ago, CNN didn’t have to compete with the memes spreading around the world based on evidence-free assumptions; now they do, even though they probably shouldn’t even try to. But if they’re going to try to compete, then they have to be quicker to report on contradictory information.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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            says:

            I’ve got to start editing my postsReport

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        I did notice – go back and you’ll see I was the first to tell him to get that shit out of here (in not so many words). But you’re not citing only “LarryM” making one comment here and not coming back to reaffirm his view as sufficient evidence to show that we now view dissent as in general suspect in the culture, are you? One anonymous blog commenter can’t do that. So I would ask again, is this happening?Report

  4. Avatar BenSix
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    says:

    This doesn’t seem to be relevant in this case but it’s an interesting speculation…

    “If it turns out that Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Giffords because she opposes the AZ anti-immigrant law, will the media say he was a PRO-government extremist?”

    Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach
    Ignored
    says:

    Isn’t simply a difference between: policy x should be changed to y for reasons a, b, and c…vs. violent threats?

    Does someone have an example of the grey area where a threat could seem like a policy proposal, or a policy proposal could seem like a threat?Report

  6. Avatar RTod
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    says:

    While I agree with your sentiment, Jason, I’m not sure if I find it irrelevant or a straw man. There probably are people out there somewhere arguing that yesterday’s tragedy is a call for people to start silently obeying the Government, but I haven’t seen them. Where I see people being heated is in suggesting that using language and imagery of violence against a backdrop of supposed tyranny might have contributed to this. (And while I don’t know that I agree with that, it’s not tsuch a way out there argument.)

    But I think it’s important to notice that those that some are railing against this morning are not ordinary citizens who are voicing dissent against the government. They are Presidential candidates-in-waiting, actual or wanna-be Senators, Congressmen and Governors, and high profile political pundits who more or less work for one political party r the other. They are, in short, people who work for one of the parties that IS the Government, or people who represent the those people. Call the criticisms against them on-target or off-, but I don’t think calls for changing the rhetoric of these celebrity-politicians should be counted under the “Obey Government!” column.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    The worst outcome would be for all dissent to become suspect.

    Is anyone calling for that, or is this another straw man like when, after Oklahoma City, Clinton called for people to tone down the violent rhetoric, and was accused of wanting to destroy the First Amendment?Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      Plus, it’s disingenuous to pretend that many reactions are attempts to stifle opposition — the opportunists are out in full force. The biggest problem is the association of dissent with anti-government radicalism. Tom Brokaw said this moning that we need to find better ways to sesolve our political differences and that this is an attack on democracy. This conjures up images of a purposeful group, violent, political attack on another group which is practicing democracy. This wasn’t a violent attack on democracy attempting to resolve political differences with a gun — I mean, talk about “heated rhetoric” and hysteria!Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    To everyone: No, this isn’t a strawman. As LarryM wrote on this very site:

    Well, no more comments from me here. You guys are mostly reasonable, but after events in Arizona today I realize you’re mostly allied with the worst political movement since fascism and Stalinism. It’s time to pick sides, and I’ve picked mine. This travesty has radicalized me to an EXTREME degree.

    Let’s just hope for an appropriately severe reaction from Washington to a FAR greater threat to our nation than 9/11. Starting but not ending with 40,000 national guardsmen in Arizona, the declaration of martial law, and the removal of the current state government.

    Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Yeah, but he was a total douche and nutjob. My lefty sister & I were arguing last night about whether or not Beck/Limbaugh/Etc. contributed. I thought she was wrong to suggest that they did, but I wouldn’t lump her in with LarryM – any more than I would paint righties based on Bob’s subsequent comments to you.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to RTod
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        says:

        “It’s only the crazy people who are calling you the worst thing since Stalin” is, while true, not exactly a refutation of the statement “I have been called the worst thing since Stalin.”

        And you did sort of call it a “strawman”. I would have run with something like “when I called it a strawman, I misspoke. I ought to have said that the self-professed Scotsmen who say such things are such obvious fakes that they ought not be taken seriously. No True Scotsman would say such a thing.”Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Point well taken; in my defense, however, when I read the post that quoted another post that had concerns that what we were seeing now was a push to acquiesce to the government, I had thought we were talking about the usual talking heads talking about Palin/Beck/Limbaugh/DeMint/etc.. It had not occurred to me we were talking about LarryM.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Dammit, LarryM, wasn’t supposed to announce the Kenyan-Marxist takeover plot until next Thursday.Report

  9. Avatar Freddie
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    says:

    I could write a whole essay about this, and probably should, but my brand of leftism starts from the opinion that all human institutions are corrupt, so they all require checks against each other, and that means that America suffers deeply from lacking an organized labor force. People tend to associate labor with government, because both equal “lefty” in our discourse, but they are entirely different and often antagonistic. There is a real space for libertarians to embrace organized labor as part of a trinity of American power, Corporate/Government/Labor, that helps rein in the power of the government. That’s the vision I prefer, in a limited sense; note that I’m against the Matt Yglesias school of “enact the neoliberal policy regime, destroy the working class, make them feel better with redistributive social programs” school of left-wing (if you can call it that) politics. It’s far too paternalistic.

    Anyway unfortunately the libertarian position, whether within the libertarian ideological apparatus or as an element of traditional conservatism, is unfortunately just as hostile to organized labor rights as it is to government interference, so such an evolution is unlikely. It’s a weird fusion of the neoliberal left and the libertarian right that prevents it. In the long run, undermining labor inevitably empowers government because those without preexisting economic privilege come to see government as the only vehicle to improve their lives, when labor has lost all power.Report

  10. Avatar D. C. Sessions
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    says:

    It should be obvious what sort of agenda this furthers: Everything “government” is good.

    Only if the government is legitimate. Which it obviously isn’t if the “wrong people” are elected.Report

  11. Avatar Ken Hoop
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    says:

    I would venture that apart from increasing numbers of its own citizens, those
    who have and have had in the recent past even more right to complain about the US government initiating or directly subsidizing unnecessary, barbarian-like violence on humans on a daily basis, are masses of Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakis, Lebanese and Palestinians.Report

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