By Wim Laven
I get accused of “being over-the-top” and using hyperbole by conservative friends and acquaintances with increasing frequency. This is caused, in large part, by me being a vocal and active contributor to the public discourse about issues of peace and justice. I am called a “snowflake” for responding to those who support—or even promote—rape culture. My conservative friends say they cannot take me seriously, which is frustrating, but at least it is honest. The question is: how seriously should we consider the statements others make?
I went to high school in a fairly run-of-the-mill metro area in the 90’s. It happened to be a conservative area, and I did my best to fit in—though I admittedly struggled with that. Racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes were common and I confess my own guilt in being a “just joking” racist in my misguided efforts to fit in. It was much easier than being threatened as a “race traitor” for sticking up for minorities. I use my experience as an example regularly in these discussions; old friends who didn’t really change and who are still conservatives tell me “our high school wasn’t racist” and at the same time friends of color thank me for speaking up.
Friends from back in the day are buying weapons and saying things like, “getting ready in case there is a civil war after impeachment…” It made headlines when Major League Baseball umpire Rob Drake tweeted (then deleted): “I will be buying an AR-15 tomorrow, because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020” and while he has since apologized, he is the only one I know of who has.
When someone says, “you better hope there isn’t a war because we’ve got all the guns,” I don’t hear a joke.
I have studied violence and hate for more than a decade. Rhetoric like this is both cause and consequence of serious violence and division. Mass shootings have already been committed in the name of these nefarious antagonisms. Hate crimes have been on the rise as well. There is not perfect information, not everyone who “jokes” will act, but there is strong evidence of a serious threat. There is the story of Brennan Walker, 14, a black kid who missed the bus to school and tried on foot to trace the bus route. He ended up lost and knocked on doors for directions. White man Jeffery Zeigler, 53, shot at Walker, who ran away, hid, and just cried.
Let me be explicit. Research shows people are stockpiling guns, white men in particular. They are less educated, worried about their ability to protect their families, insecure about work, and have racial anxiety. Stockpiling sometimes fills a void in their lives and can accompany hero fantasies. One studyfound that “for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50% increase in the odds of having a gun at home.” The upshot here: Trump’s menacing threats in the form of tweets and re-tweets are very serious. Expect more talk of a Civil War as the impeachment inquiry digs deeper and pressure on Trump’s removal increases—and it will continue.
The problem with the question, however, is that not all communities are equal and the threats and violence target some groups more than others. In November of 2016 NBC reported that gun store owners say: “that since November 8 they’re seeing up to four times as many black and minority customers —and black gun groups are reporting double the normal number of attendees at their meetings since the election.” In 2019 the trend of gun ownership as a way to protect themselves and others in some communities continues. Violent fascists, like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters militia, travel to carry out violence and deliver threats. There is growing distrust over the efficacy of the policing of far-right groups.
There are about 393 million firearms in the United States, and 328 million people, and I do not want to be alarmist, yet we also must be realists. Most guns and most people will never kill or injure another person. The problem is that there are people who are committed—loyal—to a President who is calling for violence and we are increasingly finding evidence that the provocations are working. All Americans need to be cognizant of this recipe for disaster. See something; Say something! Statements about a new Civil War, armed defense of Trump, and the dehumanization of Americans for political reasons are all warning signs that should be taken seriously. Be careful of the fascists in your community, if the far-right Oath Keepers militia takes Trump’s tweets seriously, “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see THEM as illegitimate too,” then you should too. Not because there will be a Civil War, but because those most susceptible to the rhetoric are falling for it—armed ideologues will continue to carry out terrorist violence until order is restored to the White House. Like President Obama said: … “the ills of a nation that has the capacity to unify, but not always the will.”
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.