Chilling effect

Political thuggery is on the rise in America. Because most of it is directed at the right, the legacy media does not find the trend towards organized political violence of much interest, beyond briefly noting individual incidents, particularly if videotape happens to be available. That is why the wave of attacks on Bush—Cheney campaign offices and supporters, including bullets fired, has not inspired front page articles all across America. The wave continues with news this morning.

A thought experiment: imagine that all across America offices of the NAACP or Planned Parenthood were attacked. Do you really think that the New York Times would not feature the campaign with numerous front page articles, while the editorial page thundered against the violence?

The latest wrinkle comes in the guise of pie attacks. Thursday night, high—profile writer Ann Coulter was assaulted by two men while speaking at the University of Arizona. The rushed at her and each threw a pie in her direction. The incident was captured on home video. It has received a certain amount of play, therefore. The miscreants were arrested and now face charges. Ironically, the most serious among their criminal liabilities relates to damaging the black muslin scrim backdrop, which, because of the $3000 in damage, qualifies them for felony charges.  For attacking Ann herself, and attempting to silence her political speech, they only face misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct.

Make no mistake, throwing a pie at a speaker in front of a crowd is no prank. It is an attempt to intimidate and humiliate the speaker. It thus has a chilling effect on future political speech. If there is an established danger of getting a pie in the face, how many people will be willing to go in front of audiences? Who wants to have clothes and hair ruined, and become an object of laughter? Who wants to have pictures forever living on the internet, of wiping goo off face and hair, looking ridiculous, like a wet puppy, only funnier?

The damage to our political culture of this chill on free speech far exceeds the cost of a piece of muslin cloth, or even the entire auditorium where the speech took place.

This morning on Fox & Friends Saturday, guest host Mike Gallagher, a radio talk show host himself, revealed that he had spoken Friday in State College Pennsylvania, as a counter—speaker to Michael Moore, who had been paid $30,000 to speak to students. He revealed that a campus group had offered a bounty of $1500 to anyone who could hit him in the face with a pie. This seems like a clear—cut incitement to violence. No details were offered, but I cannot understand how law enforcement would not immediately move to arrest someone publicly offering money for the commission of an act of violence.

Astonishingly, regular program host Julian Phillips remarked that he always finds pies 'funny.' He quickly backed away from any implication that he was advocating attacks, but he repeated the word 'funny.'

I was appalled.

As I grew up and studied history, I struggled to understand how it was that a modern and cultured nation like Germany could descend into Nazi barbarism. How could ordinary Germans just stand by and let the Nazi madmen take power? I came to the conclusion that organized political violence had a lot to do with it. The opponents of the Nazis did not dare speak up because they feared for their safety.

We are on a slippery slope if America tolerates political violence. It is a crime against democracy and liberty. The specifics of the weapons involved are less important than the intent to use violence as a political weapon.

If the worst charge that can be brought against the wielder of political pie—in—the—face is a misdemeanor — unless he is unlucky enough to damage the scenery — then we need new laws. Stealing or damaging property is a less serious crime than creating an atmosphere of fear in the political discourse.

If we do not defend our free speech rights, we will surely lose them.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker

Political thuggery is on the rise in America. Because most of it is directed at the right, the legacy media does not find the trend towards organized political violence of much interest, beyond briefly noting individual incidents, particularly if videotape happens to be available. That is why the wave of attacks on Bush—Cheney campaign offices and supporters, including bullets fired, has not inspired front page articles all across America. The wave continues with news this morning.

A thought experiment: imagine that all across America offices of the NAACP or Planned Parenthood were attacked. Do you really think that the New York Times would not feature the campaign with numerous front page articles, while the editorial page thundered against the violence?

The latest wrinkle comes in the guise of pie attacks. Thursday night, high—profile writer Ann Coulter was assaulted by two men while speaking at the University of Arizona. The rushed at her and each threw a pie in her direction. The incident was captured on home video. It has received a certain amount of play, therefore. The miscreants were arrested and now face charges. Ironically, the most serious among their criminal liabilities relates to damaging the black muslin scrim backdrop, which, because of the $3000 in damage, qualifies them for felony charges.  For attacking Ann herself, and attempting to silence her political speech, they only face misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct.

Make no mistake, throwing a pie at a speaker in front of a crowd is no prank. It is an attempt to intimidate and humiliate the speaker. It thus has a chilling effect on future political speech. If there is an established danger of getting a pie in the face, how many people will be willing to go in front of audiences? Who wants to have clothes and hair ruined, and become an object of laughter? Who wants to have pictures forever living on the internet, of wiping goo off face and hair, looking ridiculous, like a wet puppy, only funnier?

The damage to our political culture of this chill on free speech far exceeds the cost of a piece of muslin cloth, or even the entire auditorium where the speech took place.

This morning on Fox & Friends Saturday, guest host Mike Gallagher, a radio talk show host himself, revealed that he had spoken Friday in State College Pennsylvania, as a counter—speaker to Michael Moore, who had been paid $30,000 to speak to students. He revealed that a campus group had offered a bounty of $1500 to anyone who could hit him in the face with a pie. This seems like a clear—cut incitement to violence. No details were offered, but I cannot understand how law enforcement would not immediately move to arrest someone publicly offering money for the commission of an act of violence.

Astonishingly, regular program host Julian Phillips remarked that he always finds pies 'funny.' He quickly backed away from any implication that he was advocating attacks, but he repeated the word 'funny.'

I was appalled.

As I grew up and studied history, I struggled to understand how it was that a modern and cultured nation like Germany could descend into Nazi barbarism. How could ordinary Germans just stand by and let the Nazi madmen take power? I came to the conclusion that organized political violence had a lot to do with it. The opponents of the Nazis did not dare speak up because they feared for their safety.

We are on a slippery slope if America tolerates political violence. It is a crime against democracy and liberty. The specifics of the weapons involved are less important than the intent to use violence as a political weapon.

If the worst charge that can be brought against the wielder of political pie—in—the—face is a misdemeanor — unless he is unlucky enough to damage the scenery — then we need new laws. Stealing or damaging property is a less serious crime than creating an atmosphere of fear in the political discourse.

If we do not defend our free speech rights, we will surely lose them.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker