January 18, 2011

Political rhetoric and WikiLeaks death threats

Filed under: politics,world news by Victoria Liberty @ 9:05 am

In a press release a week ago, WikiLeaks condemned death threats against founder Julian Assange and other staff members:

“When senior politicians and attention seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed they should be charged with incitement — to murder…A civil nation of laws can not have prominent members of society constantly calling for the murder and assassination of other individuals or groups.”

WikiLeaks also drew a parallel between these death threats and the Tucson shooting, and quoted Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said that those who use “vitriolic rhetoric…have some responsibility when incidents like this occur.”

While I agree that people who call for the murder of those they disagree with are acting wrongly and should be punished, I actually believe that the threats against WikiLeaks are much worse, not only in degree but in principle, than the typical examples that people cite as “violent rhetoric” in the wake of the Tucson shooting. I don’t see anything whatsoever wrong with the following pieces of rhetoric:

  • Sarah Palin’s map with crosshairs over 20 districts (and to be fair, similar maps used by Democrats)
  • Palin’s call for people to “not retreat, instead reload
  • Calling the health non-reform bill “job-killing”
  • A picture of Glenn Beck holding a gun
  • A campaign event that involves target shooting (also, pictures of the candidate with guns and using the slogan, “Send a warrior to Congress”)

On the other hand, here are some things people have said about Julian Assange (from this site) which I believe were truly wrong to say:

  • “If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?”
  • “A dead man can’t leak stuff…I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the S.O.B.”
  • “He should be killed, but we won’t do that.”
  • “He should be underground — six feet underground. … He should be put in jail or worse, hanged in a public forum.”
  • “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually.”
  • “I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? …Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?”

Of course, Assange is not the only victim of incitement to commit murder. I’ve seen countless nasty comments about Sarah Palin on YouTube, such as, “I would not be troubled if Palin vanished suddenly, in fact, the less hardline, right-wing conservatives like her the better” and “I hope someone shoots her in the face.” A New York State Comptroller, speaking about George W. Bush, once called on people to “put a bullet between the president’s eyes,” and John Kerry once said, “I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone.” These comments are wrong, just like the above comments about Assange.

I agree wholeheartedly with WikiLeaks about death threats and incitement to commit murder. But I think it’s important to differentiate these things from weapon-related metaphors, and to remember that the culprits can come from any part of the political spectrum.

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