By Ben Olson
The past week has just been awful in America.
A man who killed two people in a Kentucky grocery store last Wednesday allegedly entered a predominantly black church just minutes earlier, but left after he found the doors locked. The murders he committed just 10 minutes later are now being investigated as possible hate crimes.
After several prominent Democrats, Trump critics and CNN received mail bombs last week, the far-right media such as Fox News was downright hysterical, pushing conspiracy theories about how the bombs were “fake” and that they were “false flag” attacks committed by “leftists” attempting to gin up sympathetic votes before the midterms. When the alleged suspect, a Florida man, turned out to be a rabid Trump supporter whose intent was to harm Trump’s opponents, those same talking heads on Fox News and other right-wing outlets simply moved onto other issues without any accountability or correction. Geraldo Rivera was the only person to publicly say that he erred, in a lame statement claiming that he “outsmarted” himself.
Finally, on Saturday morning, a 43-year-old Pittsburgh man walked into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue and, after shouting his hatred for Jewish people, murdered 11 worshipers in a 20-minute attack. The youngest victim in Pittsburgh was 54 years old. The oldest was 97. Just minutes before entering the synagogue, the man wrote on Gab, a social media site frequented by racists that has since been shut down, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
These three atrocious acts have one factor in common: hate. We are a nation consumed by hatred right now. Something has to change.
We’ve seen an example of this hate locally through the posts and actions of Sandpoint resident Scott Rhodes, who has repeatedly called for the mass expulsion of Jews from America and the enslavement of “negroid subhumans” on his podcast, which is also listed as the sponsor of several robocalls sent throughout the nation containing racist content. While Rhodes claims he does not support violence on his podcasts, his anti-Semitic views resembled the Pittsburgh shooter’s in many ways.
The issue is not with the First Amendment, which I believe in strongly. The problem is that racists have politicized their hate. They don’t wear white hoods and burn crosses on lawns anymore. They look just like you and me, and their attacks usually come in the form of social media smears and robocalls attempting to damage the reputation of journalists who cover their actions (such as myself). The idea is to use the First Amendment and our current political divide in the country to repackage racism into a cleaner, neater ideology that appeals to a wide variety of people, and destroy the reputation of anyone who attempts to speak up against it. Many ironically attempt to utter as many outlandish, borderline threatening statements as possible as a trolling move to test the limits of their rights.
We need to understand that none of us live in a vacuum. The tone being set from the top down right now is not a good thing for this country. Every day, President Trump denigrates somebody or something and uses fear to press his agenda. There is nothing wrong with being a conservative or a liberal or a centrist. There is nothing wrong with agreeing with some of Trump’s policies — some of them have merit. But there is something wrong with using the power of the Oval Office to wage war on your own citizens because you don’t agree with them or they don’t agree with you. That is un-American and flat-out wrong, and we need to recognize that. The press is not the “enemy of the American people.” Fear is.
The First Amendment will always be a strong protection that allows us all to use our voices without fear of retribution or incarceration. Or will it? Will our Constitution survive this dark period in history? Already President Trump is claiming he can negate the 14th Amendment with a simple executive order. What next? What next, America?
Your votes count, folks. Use your voice and send a message that this is not what America is.
Let’s give all this hate a rest.
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