Tweets and Stones

Recently, former CIA director Michael Hayden implied on Twitter that former President Donald Trump should be executed for violating the Espionage Act.  After MSNBC contributor Michael Beschloss suggested in a tweet that Trump should be executed like the Rosenbergs for giving U.S. nuclear secrets to Moscow in 1953, Hayden retweeted: "Sounds about right."

It was a year ago almost to the day that Hayden retweeted a meme comparing Trump-supporters to the Taliban in Afghanistan.  The retweet occurred at the same time the Taliban were overrunning Kabul in August 2021.  This helps to explain a lot in terms of Hayden's total lack of self-awareness on Twitter, but it fails to help us understand exactly what's behind the retweet that suggested that Trump should be executed.

Beschloss and Hayden were both responding to a Washington Post report that claimed that the purpose of the raid at Mar-a-Lago was to retrieve nuclear documents.  To be sure, the question about whether or not Trump was in possession of said documents, and the question about the lawfulness of the FBI's raid, are legitimate.  Yet there is a greater question looming high above these inquiries: "How did we get to the place in this country where a former CIA director thinks it's okay to publicly imply that a former president should be executed?"

There is much irony here when you consider that a congressional select committee is currently investigating whether or not the words of President Trump instigated the "insurrection" that followed his speech at the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 6. 

Apparently, the irony is lost on the likes of Beschloss, Hayden, Liz Cheney, and others.  It is not lost, however, on most of the American people who will soon be casting their ballots to make their voices heard in an unmistakable way.  Elections are the modern democratic equivalent of a sacrificial rite, and a much more civilized way of dealing with one's political rivals.

So how did we get here? 

In order to answer this question, we need to understand that Beschloss, Hayden, and the Twitterati are actors in a political drama that is similar to narratives found throughout much of the history of literature.

Consequently, these twenty-first-century tweet elites are like second-century Apollonius encouraging the mob in Ephesus to hurl stones at the blind beggar he identified as "the enemy of the gods" and the cause of the deadly plague ravaging the city.  After initial reluctance, the Ephesians stone the man so thoroughly that they can't tell if he is a man or dog.  As Rene Girard observed, the word plague at that time was used in both a sociological and medical sense.  In this instance, however, if it referred to a medial plague, then the stoning would have had no effect.  As it turns out, the plague in Ephesus was stayed, and social order ensued.  The beggar, or the "plague demon," as Apollonius called him, was a convenient and unfortunate scapegoat.

As a prelude to this horrible event in Ephesus, it's hard not to hear an echo of Jesus's words to the crowd when the Scribes and Pharisees brought the adulterous woman before him.  As John Halton noticed, in Ephesus, the crowd had to be talked into stoning the beggar, but in Jerusalem, the crowd had to talked out of stoning the woman.  Jesus says to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."

Jesus's words are more than just rhetorical flair.  His entire emphasis is on "the first stone."
The first stone, as Girard argued, is the most decisive.  "It is the most decisive because it is the most difficult to throw."  It is the most difficult to throw "because it is the only one without a model."

Beschloss and Hayden have cast the first and most difficult stone by calling for the execution of a former president on Twitter.  Trump is someone they see as responsible for the current societal plague.  Consequently, they have now made it much easier, if not entirely desirable, for others to hurl stones, too.  They seem wholly unconcerned whether these stones are real or metaphorical, and they appear uninterested in waiting for the evidence to come out.

"Just stone the plague demon now.  We'll sort it all out later" seems to be their attitude.

This is similar to the attitude of the crowd surrounding the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg during the so-called "Red Scare."  We would do well to remember that the only material evidence against the couple at trial was given by David Greenglass, a machinist at Los Alamos, where America developed the atomic bomb.  

Greenglass confessed that he had passed documents to the Soviets containing instructions for making atomic weapons.  In exchange for his testimony against the Rosenbergs, Greenglass was given a lighter sentence and served just ten years in federal prison.  The Rosenbergs, however,  got the electric chair even though they maintained their innocence to the end.

Greenglass, as it turns out, was Ethel Rosenberg's brother.  His testimony alone put her and her husband in the chair.  Ten years later, Greenglass was a free man.  He died in July of 2014, more than a half a century after his sister and brother-in-law were executed.  Before his death, Greenglass admitted that his testimony against his sister was false.  He had lied to the court in order to keep his wife from going to prison.

We are now in a new Red Scare era rife with propaganda and calls for the execution of political enemies.  Beschloss and Hayden have thrown the first stones in the form of tweets and retweets.  While their tweets are not viral, their audience is substantial.  The Beschloss tweet generated 17,800 retweets, 2,475 quote tweets, and 56,800 likes.  The Hayden retweet had 1,151 retweets, 395 quotes tweets, 4,307 likes.

It remains to be seen if the rest of the Twitter mob will harken to their words or heed the words of Jesus.  We'd do well to consider our own sins, and let our tweets, retweets, and stones fall harmlessly and blamelessly to the ground.  Beschloss and Hayden, like the adulterous woman, should "go and sin no more."

Jim Fitzgerald is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary in the Middle East and North Africa.  His articles have appeared in American Greatness, American Thinker,, and the Aquila Report.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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