The proliferation of hate speech on the Internet may not touch most of us, but sometimes an article comes into my email that strikes a strong chord in my sense of outrage and fear. Such was the case regarding Ross Douthat’s opinion piece last week about journalist Amanda Hess and the horrifying Internet abuse that she faces because she is a woman who speaks out on the web.
As Douthat wrote, “The anecdotes, her own and others, range from the offensive to the terrifying, but there’s also a thudding, soul-crushing sameness to them: graphic threats of sexual violence, rape and murder, intertwining and repeating.” He was referring to Hess’ article in the Pacific Standard about technological stalkers and the law enforcement response that she should just stay off Twitter, a form of communication that she uses for her job.
Equally disturbing was Hess’ description about the people who regularly and anonymously violate others through the Internet. One of these, calling himself “Violentacrez,” was “infamous for posting creepy photographs of underage women and creating or moderating subcommunities on [Reddit] with names like ‘chokeabitch’ and ‘rapebait.’” In 2012 Gawker revealed that the man is Michael Brusch, a Texas computer programmer, who said, “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time. People take things way too seriously around here.”
Perhaps I was feeling more vulnerable and sensitive to the issue because of meeting I attended last Saturday. The purpose of the meeting was to support common-sense gun legislation in Oregon, in this case a law requiring universal background checks for all people purchasing guns. Seven people who attended the meeting were highly vocal about blocking any legislation. They used the following talking points against having these background checks:
- Gun violence isn’t all that bad in Oregon, only 416 people killed last year. [To me, 416 dead people is 416 too many, and we don’t know if that’s the correct number because the NRA control of Congress prevents any statistics about gun deaths.]
- “I know all my neighbors, and I know that they are all good people.” [We all want to think that we are good judges of character although I know I’m not. A person who I thought I would trust with my life turned out to be a sociopath who was just using me.]
- Gun violence is really worse in other countries because they lie about their statistics. [There’s absolutely no way to convince anyone believing this that he is wrong.]
- Universal background checks don’t do any good because criminals won’t follow the law. [I said that under this reasoning he would not want any laws because criminals wouldn’t obey them; he responded that this was a ridiculous statement.]
- The only solution is to put more guns in the hands of more good people. [More and more guns are being sold in the United States, and that doesn’t seem to be working out.]
- Background checks won’t do any good in one state because surrounding states won’t have them. [That’s the best argument for federal universal background checks!]
The strongest arguments came from people who indicated that they had been in the military. The last 12 years have deified the military system in a manner that increases sexism and racism by stressing the superiority of some people over others, both within the military and in the wars that George W. Bush sent people off to fight. The result of this value system is increasing dehumanizing of individuals. The result is only those within an intimate circle—which can mean fellow soldiers—have any importance. Everyone else is to be vanquished at any cost.
Because of the strict hierarchical relationships within the military, all cooperation, equality, and nonviolence are devalued. There must be a winner, and all others—women, ethnic minorities, LGBT, and those of non-Christian religions—are losers.
That’s where the guns come into the picture. There is no military without weapons. Many young people, even those who are not actively part of the military, come to believe that they have the entitlement to own as many guns as they want with no restriction on size or ammunition. They seem to be part of a private club in which people feel they are being attacked for loving their guns.
Restaurateur Bryan Crosswhite (Cajun Experience, Leesburg, VA) is setting up a registry of restaurants where guns are welcomed, complete with a 2AO sticker on the door and a website listing “gun-friendly” eateries. He personally gives a ten-percent discount on “open carry Wednesdays” for those who have a concealed or open-carry permit.
The Outdoor Channel plans an “expansion of its strategic partnership with the National Rifle Association” and a new “multi-year talent and endorsement agreement” with inflammatory NRA board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent. That means that the Outdoor Channel will become the Gun Channel. President/CEO Jim Libratore said, “Ted Nugent symbolizes everything that is right in our industry and represents our viewers as an outspoken patriot, a skilled outdoorsman, and a devoted family man.” Libratore is elevating Nugent’s racism, sexism, homophobia, immigrant bashing, and Islamophobia as well as his threatening to kill President Obama if he were re-elected to a high moral level.
Florida legislators, not satisfied with waiting until feeling threatened, is pushing a bill allowing people to show a gun and fire a warning shot without a prison sentence.
Part of the growing militarism of the United States gun owners is their desire to take over the country.
Early this month Jim Garrow called for “Operation American Spring” on May 16, an uprising against the president patterned after the Arab Spring uprising. He thinks that the population can take control of the country with just three percent of the people involved. Last fall, Larry Klayman got only 100 people at a rally to overthrow the president.
Everest Wilhelmsen called for assassinating President Obama on a Facebook post. Like the others, he’s obsessed with guns and the Second Amendment. The head of the Christian American Patriots Militia, he claims that the U.S. Constitution gives him the authority to murder President Obama. Last August, a Maine Republican called for deadly violence against the president, and two years ago another conservative did the same thing—both of these also on Facebook.
A current study shows that the number of mass shootings increased from five a year between 2000 and 2008 to 16 a year for the four following years. Although the shooters range in age, 94 percent of them are men and claim an average of two lives. “Mass shooting” is defined in the report as events in which a gunman opens fire in a public place motivated by killing many including at least one who is not “related” to the gunman. Gang violence and crimes in which shooting is a byproduct were not included in the study. A 2010 study predicted an increase in the number of mass shootings; it was right.
Claims that there’s no reason to be afraid of civilians with guns are being disproved. A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that people holding guns are less capable of evaluating threats than if they didn’t have a weapon in their hands. Just seeing a gun affects people adversely; studies since 1967 describe the “weapons effect” in which just the presence of a gun can stimulate aggressive behavior. If people are already aggravated, seeing a gun will ramp up their aggressiveness. Another study watched drivers stuck at an intersection behind a truck that didn’t move after the light turned green. People honked more often if they saw a gun displayed in the truck’s rear window.
A gun is automatically seen as a threat, as shown in the “threat superiority effect.” People have a tendency to see dangerous objects more quickly than other ones. Danger is reflected first by dilating pupils and followed by increase in heart and respiration rates. One woman felt that way when 40 gun activists gathered outside an Arlington (TX) restaurant because Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense were meeting inside. She said, “The only reaction I had was ‘I’m not going out there at all.’ They were all carrying rifles. There was a lot of firepower and a lot of potential for carnage out in that parking lot. Absolutely I was scared.”
Gun activists claim that they want to desensitize people about this fear. They fail to recognize that fear is a useful survival instinct. Last year Robert Pratt was carrying a shotgun in Plainwell (MI) while walking his dog. Officers tried to persuade him to take his gun back to his house, but Pratt said he was “just exercising rights as a U.S. citizen.” Cassandra Pell, the daughter of one of the officers was Pratt’s girlfriend. Pratt continued to carry his gun, and last June he used the shotgun to kill Cassandra before he committed suicide.
In an attempt to communicate with the gun activists at the meeting, my partner said that she had the right to feel safe and that the lack of universal background checks kept her from feeling safe. One of them told her she had no constitutional right to feel safe. In other words, he’s in control and can tell her what rights she should have. Maybe he just wants to rile people. Or maybe ….