My friend David Neiwert has been warning us for years that this was coming. Tea Party activists appear to have attempted to murder a member of congress.
Words have consequences. For almost twenty years, the rhetoric of the far right has been getting more violent and eliminationist. Eliminationism is a particular form of rhetoric that not only dehumanizes the oppositon, but that portrays them as a threat to the audience's very life--a threat that must be eliminated if they are to survive. It takes us-and-them rhetoric and cranks it up to eleven: only one of us can live. The most common imagery in this style of rhetoric is painting the opposition as a disease or as vermin. Of course, a few comments of this kind will show up in any heated debate, but when it is a steady drumbeat, day after day, it amounts to nothing less than inciting a mob to massacre the other side. Stalin used it to prepare the countryside for his dekulakization massacres, Hitler to go after Jews and Communists, Radio Rwanda scced the Hutu on the Tutsi, and Milososovic's allies used it start the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia. Death panels, baby killers, end of America, treason, armed rebellion, secession. At one time, no office holding politicial would be seen near such talk; now it the--the Republicans--who are doing the talking.
The Virginia Tea Partiers really, really hate Rep. Tom Perriello. In November the Danville TEA Party planned to hold an event where they would burn Perriello and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy. The event was eventually called off when the farmer, whose land they were going to use, backed out. Yesterday, Sarah Palin today tweeted: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!' Pls see my Facebook page." Her Facebook page showed a map with the districts of twenty Democratic House members marked with crosshairs. Perriello was one of them.
On Monday, Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, published what he thought was Perriello's home address with the message, "I personally believe it’s so important for representatives to remain fully grounded and to remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote. Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat. It has a much more personal touch to it." In fact, Troxel the address published does not belong to Perriello; it belongs to Perriello's brother, Bo, who lives there with his wife and four young children. When told of this fact by the online magazine Politico, Troxel said he would leave the address up until the congressman's office proded him with Perriello's real home address. Troxel also ignored a direct request fromy Perriello's office to take down the address.
Nigel Coleman, the Danville Tea Party Leader who wanted to burn Perriello in effigy last fall, copied the address from Troxel's blog and posted it on his Facebook page with the message, "This is Rep. Thomas Stuart Price Perriello’s home address ... I ain’t holding back anymore!!" When notified by a local paper that, like Troxel, he had put up the wrong address and was actually sending people to the home of Perriello's brother, Coleman shrugged it off. "Do you mean I posted his brother’s address on my Facebook?" Coleman wrote. "Oh well, collateral damage."
Damage is what it almost was. Yesterday, Bo Perriello recieved a threatening letter. In the evening he smelled gas and discovered that the line to a propane tank on his patio had been slashed. FBI, local police, and fire marshalls are investigating the incident as a possible threat on a member of congress. Coleman's cavalier attitude towards collateral damage has dissolved. He is "shocked" and "almost speechless," he "obviously condemn[s] these actions." Naturally, he also denies any responsibility, "we don’t know this is a related event."
Democratic congress members arriving for the healthcare vote walked a gauntlet of angry Tea Partiers. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) was spat on by a protestor. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, was called a "ni--er." A small crowd began chanting "fa--t" at Barney Frank (D-MA). Now that intimidation has failed, they are moving on to unveiled threats and actual vilolence. Over the weekend, at least five Democrtaic offices were vandalized. Louise Slaughter's office received a phone message threatening to assasinate the children of lawmakers who voted for the bill. At least ten members of congress have requested extra security. The Virginia police have stepped up patrols in Bo Perriello's neighborhood.
Like Nigel Coleman, the Tea Party leaders, talk radio, and Fox News pundits will all express horror at near tragedy with the Perriellos. They will say the attempted arsonist was a lone crazy who has no connection to them. They will deny that their words have consequences. And, when they are done with their pious denials, they will manage to slip in that, anyway, it's all Perriello and the Democrats' faults for making us mad. Then they will go on demonizing their fellow Americans and priming the pump for the next violent attack.