Tuesday :: May 4, 2004

Mugging The Walk AND The Talk

by pessimist

Public safety should be a major concern for all citizens of any society.

It used to be possible to have disagreements over issues in this country without placing one's self in danger. This no longer appears to be the case. There have been two recent events, one local to this blog, which highlight that concern.

In the first instance, one of our frequent conservative visitors had his personal information posted on this blog, a serious violation of his right to privacy and safety. The other was the recent attack on Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Our conservative visitor might have been targeted for his outspokenness, which might also have been the case with Souter, although the police downplay any theory besides the commission of a random act of violence. But Souter has been a disappointment to those conservatives who applauded George H. W. Bush's selection of him for the Supreme Court, and thus, as I attempt to show, potentially a target for attack by his political opponents.

Isn't this the United States of America? Land of Free Speech? The land where it was once felt that "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?"

Apparently not anymore.

Both the right and left have historically, at times, acted with violence toward their opposition. For every Sara Jane Olson from the left there is an Eric Rudolph from the right. Both abandoned civil discourse over issues which divide the nation, resorting to force to ensure that their own views triumph. It didn't work for the left in the 1960s and 70s. It won't work for the right today.

Souter wasn't the first Justice attacked in recent times. In 1982, Justice Byron White was attacked while addressing the Utah Nar Association. His assailant definitely had political motivations.


White was punched repeatedly by a man while attending a public luncheon of the Utah Bar Association.

News reports and subsequent prosecution identified White's assailant as Newton Estes, 57, a local resident who had long-standing grievances against Hollywood and the television networks for running what he thought were obscene and pornographic images.

Estes had written the FBI two years before, objecting to the airing of the movie Annie Hall on television. In 1976, Estes had written a threatening letter to then-Solicitor General Robert Bork. He also wrote a letter in 1969 to Justice William O. Douglas in which he said he would hold justices "personally and physically answerable" if his daughter was ever molested by someone who had watched a "Supreme Court-licensed pornographic movie."

Estes said he was also angry at the Supreme Court because of its rulings on school busing. Years before, he had lived in Memphis, where busing was used to integrate schools. Estes said he had promised to seek "physical revenge" on high court justices if his daughter was ever injured in a racial incident at school.

Estes also told the agents that in plotting the assault on White, he hoped to be arrested and use his subsequent trial as a platform to talk about pornography and busing. "He stated it was nothing personal against Justice White [and] that he would have assaulted all but about four of the Supreme Court justices to accomplish what he was trying to do."

In 1985, a bullet entered the apartment of Justice Harry Blackmun.

A bullet did pierce a window of Blackmun's third-floor apartment in Rosslyn on February 28, 1985, lodging in a chair. But after a thorough investigation, the FBI concluded, "We found no evidence of a deliberate attempt on the life or well-being of Justice and Mrs. Blackmun." (Washington Post, January 13, 1986)

The New York Times reported (March 7, 1985), "The ballistic investigation, completed within hours after the incident, was said to have traced such a steeply descending trajectory from the Blackmuns' window to the chair that the shot would have had to have traveled a distance too great to have been aimed."

In other words, someone at a very great distance, probably across the Potomac River, fired a handgun high into the air, and the descending spent bullet happened to fall through the window of the third-floor Blackmun apartment.

In 1996, Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg had her purse snatched, but there is no reason to believe that this was anything other than a random criminal act.

Supreme Court Justices aren't the only ones to be potentially targeted for their political statements. On June 18, 1984, controversial Denver Radio host Alan Berg was gunned down in the driveway of his townhome by "The Order," a Right-wing White Power/Aryan movement. Nationally, the discussion grew so heated over discussion of the murder, as well as many other topics dividing right and left, that civil discourse became almost impossible. This situation was presented by filmaker Eric Bogosian in his movie Talk Radio, in which he portrays a controversial and abrasive talk show host who receives death threats from neo-Nazis and is targeted for his views, and was loosely based on the Berg case.

Right wing radio hosts can say the most outrageously violent things with impunity While Left wing radio hosts get slapped with lawsuits for hurting someone's feelings. [OK, technically this was a trademark infringement lawsuit, but if O'Reilly didn't feel personally insulted by Franken during an appearance by both on another show, would Fox have even cared?}

Every society needs both a left and a right to be a successful, healthy, thriving society. Just like a car needs both an engine and brakes, a society needs the left to be inspired to create change, while the right is to keep things from getting too chaotic through excessively rapid change. There has to be a balance between these opposing forces or a society becomes unhealthy, maybe to the point of collapse.

It's clear that our society is currently steeply tilted toward the right. This has to be brought back into a semblance of balance, for as the ancient 'Chinese' curse states, 'May You Live in Interesting Times'.

Our times are certainly extremely 'interesting' already. We don't need to make life more 'interesting' on a personal level as well.

pessimist :: 6:39 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!