It’s undeniable that hate speech foments hate
by Wayne Besen
Like the Arizona assassin, Jared Loughner, there is no doubt that Renato Seabra is profoundly disturbed. However, that does not absolve those who placed the dangerous idea that homosexuality is attributable to demons in Seabra’s head. Where might he have gotten such a notion?
We can start with the “ex-gay” organization Exodus International, where its president, Alan Chambers, once wrote, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can.”
Chambers also told a crowd of social conservatives, “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by.”
Given this harsh rhetoric, it is understandable that an unbalanced individual distressed about his sexual orientation might resort to violence. After all, Chambers clearly states that homosexuality is evil and then offers a remedy, which is to “stand up” against the perceived evil spirits and not stand “idly by.”
In Jeff Sharlet’s latest book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, a Ugandan man justifies supporting the death penalty for gay people because, “they”—the gays—“are trying to end the human race.”
His comments sound strikingly similar to Focus on the Family’s founder James Dobson, who once told The Daily Oklahoman newspaper that same-sex marriage will “destroy the earth.”
Recently, Pentecostal preacher Cindy Jacobs warned that the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell has caused God’s wrath, including the “potential that there is something that actually happened in the land where a hundred thousand drum fish died and also where these birds just fell out of the air.”
It is irrelevant whether Sebra or Loughner were directly influenced by the “spiritual warfare” of these preachers or the Tea Party’s vitriol. What matters is that the constant demonizing of certain groups of people—whether minorities, liberals, or employees of the federal government—sets the stage for bloody reprisals.
Social conservatives would likely counter that sanguinary acts come from the hands of deranged individuals. Technically, this is true. However, public figures generally understand that a small percentage of their audience is unhinged from reality. So, providing fiery rhetoric that can incite mentally ill people to take criminal actions is grossly irresponsible and an abdication of moral leadership.
A perfect example of this disconnect is Rush Limbaugh. Even as he defended right-wing extremists from accusations that their rhetoric led to the Arizona massacre, blogger Jim Burroway provided a photograph of a Limbaugh promotional billboard in Tucson painted with bullet holes and the headline, “Straight Shooter.”
Such violent imagery was in line with Sarah Palin’s infamous graphic targeting vulnerable Democratic legislative districts with crosshairs. As we know, critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was one of the legislators in Palin’s gun sights.
Unfortunately, the media tries to draw a moral equivalence between the rhetoric of the left and right, which is inaccurate and unhelpful. This bogus media attempt at “balance” obfuscates the reality that the vast majority of alarming rhetoric comes from Republicans and Tea Party adherents.
The root of the problem is people like Sarah Palin who say, “Don’t retreat—instead reload.” It is people like Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) that inflame old passions by hinting at secession. It is the Republican Party that wins power by attacking immigrants, bashing Muslims, and using antigay marriage amendments to drive voters to the polls.
It is House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who allowed the healthcare bill to be portrayed as a step toward communism. It is former House Majority Leader Dick Armey who helped organize the bitter Town Hall healthcare meetings designed to intimidate legislators. It is the GOP that disrespects the office of the President by acting as though Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lack legitimacy.
My intent is not to say that most Republicans are bigots, nor am I implying that the names I’ve mentioned are directly responsible for causing deaths. However, they have soured the political climate in America by consistently catering to bigots, pandering to religious extremists, serving as apologists for militia kooks, and entertaining the wild fantasies of sick conspiracy theorists. Instead of restoring sanity, they have treated these crackpots as if they were legitimate, even respected, constituencies.
It is time America stops living in denial and considers the possibility that over-the-top bombast may lead to a body count.
Wayne Besen is the founding executive director of Truth Wins Out (truthwinsout.org) and author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.