Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

McCain's Outrage Inciting Road Rage

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 13, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: free speech, freedom of speech, john lewis, John McCain, obama is a terrorist, outrage, palin, terrorists, violence

It was a beautiful fall day as my partner and I drove upstate from New York City to enjoy the change of seasons in Northeast U.S.A. this past weekend. We enjoyed looking at the glorious colors of the foliage in my car, proudly emblazoned with an "Obama '08" sticker on the rear bumper of my Jeep.

Suddenly, from hundreds of feet behind, a red SUV accelerated madly, blowing the horn continuously as it careened within inches of our bumper. We were traveling at about 60 miles per hour, and just entering a sharp exit curve that required slowing to a speed limit of 40 mph. This is a dangerous situation for any vehicle, but especially to roll-over prone vehicles like my boxy, high and narrow Jeep. My heart pounded and my knuckles whitened as I wrestled the steering wheel into the curve. I slowed down to accommodate the steeply-banked turn, hoping the maniac behind me would slow down enough to avoid an accident. Instead, the red SUV moved even closer and the continuous horn blaring did not cease.

My partner and I were both frightened -- what kind of nutcase were we dealing with? Would there be an accident? Were we dealing with one of those deadly road rage situations you read about in the paper? What had angered this person to the point of reckless high-speed driving? As we would find out in moments, the answer lay in the "Obama '08" bumper sticker on the back of my car.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles south in Washington, D.C., Senator McCain is expressing "outrage" at the remarks of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a revered civil rights leader who witnessed the terrible violence visited upon African-Americans and those who stood with them in the segregation years.

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.

"George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat.

McCain Campaign Increases Racist Rhetoric

Meanwhile, increasingly frustrated at Sen. Obama's rise in the polls, McCain and his campaign are using rhetoric targeting Sen. Obama as a frightening, unpatriotic, lying demagogue who condones terrorists. While neither McCain nor the campaign has actually said that Obama is a terrorist, they have said that Obama is palling around with terrorists and is a terrorist's best friend. It is a short leap to the perception in the public mind that Obama is a terrorist, and those who support Obama are supporting terrorism.

A google search for "Obama is a terrorist" brings up over 275,000 websites using that specific phrase. This "Obama is a terrorist" meme is all over the place, and McCain cannot disavow it. One brave man has gone to McCain/Palin rallies and found people willing to go on camera agreeing that he is, in fact, a terrorist.

McCain supporters at his town hall meetings have said they are scared for their children if Obama is elected, McCain and Palin have given fiery speeches accusing Obama of lying about his association with Bill Ayers, a member of the 60's Weather Underground group, who participated in bombing statues and buildings as well as violent street protests. Supporters at these events have been documented on camera shouting comments like "Traitor!"

One supporter began his speech at a McCain rally by calling Sen. Obama "Barack Hussein Obama." Others have revealed at McCain town hall meetings that they believe internet rumors about Obama being an Arab Muslim, rather than a Christian African-American. A woman at one town hall, who spoke disparagingly of Obama, received wildly telegraphed signals from Sen. McCain to stop before he grabbed the microphone from her: "I can't trust him. I have read about him. He is not... He is not... He is an Arab...." McCain stopped the woman before she could go, but not before she demonstrated the extent to which campaign rhetoric is fueling wide-spread racist internet disinformation campaigns about Obama's Arab and terrorist "ties".

Senator McCain is apparently recognizing that the carefully-controlled campaign rhetoric is tapping into a vein that could spiral into violence by some on the right. He has chastised his followers who have openly showed their rage, fear and prejudice, saying that "Sen. Obama is a decent person."

But, as he himself said, he does not mean to diminish his followers' "ferocity." His attempt to disassociate himself from the "terrorist" rhetoric ignores the effect of his inflammatory message. In fact, when McCain made his comment about Obama being a "decent person," his own crowd jeered and booed. When Republican campaign speeches and ads openly state that Sen. Obama is a liar regarding his alleged ties to "domestic terrorists," McCain's tepid disavowals do nothing to dissipate the fear and rage generated among his supporters.

Right Wing Rhetoric

I googled "Obama Arab," and came up with this as the first result:

Kenneth Lamb, journalist of some note, posits an interesting argument to Obama Hussein's roots on his blog, Reading Between the Lines . Please go here and read it all.Yes, it's important. Add it to the troubling pot of where Obama Hussein's allegiances lie. Obama Hussein, descendant from Arab slave traders. Ouch. Spin that.

That's from a blog called "Atlas Shrugs," which has the following as its byline:

Western Civilization hangs in the balance. This blog is part of the solution. Get your heads out of the sand and fight the Great Fight. The Jew may be the canary in the coal mine, but you, my friends, will be next. Changing the World, one word at a time...Citizen Soldier

I gather from this that the Citizen Soldier should "do something" if he or she wishes to save Western Civilization from the dangerous effects of an Arab slaver as president. Hmm, let's see, if I were your average Turner Diaries-reading right wing extremist with strong NRA beliefs, what would I think of to do? What would Timothy McVeigh do?

I googled "Obama terrorist" and came up with this as the first entry:

Obama's Terrorist Connection - William Ayers This video, which has almost 140,000 views, is only one of many on the internet. It intersperses dramatic news footage of 1960's bombings and Weather Underground members advocating violence with pictures of Obama and misleading text suggesting that he was very close to Ayers despite knowing of Ayers' background. The comments include a number of equally racist and violent sentiments, such as

"HUSEIN WHO? DIDN'T WE HANG HIM?"

and

If obama becomes president he will probably get assassinated the first week by some red neck.

There are many other comments that imply that the election of Obama is going to result in the death of Americans through terrorism.

The McCain campaign is stoking these fires by harping on the idea that Obama has terrorist ties, and claiming that any association, no matter how tenuous, is a matter for fair comment. These tenuous disclaimers do nothing to quell the violence they raise in American hearts.

Free Speech, George Wallace and "Fighting Words"

McCain expressed outrage that his campaign's assertions about Obama's "terrorist" ties should be likened to those of George Wallace, which, as Rep. Lewis correctly noted, "created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks" against African-Americans in the 1960s. While Senator McCain and Governor Palin insist that they have the right to raise Obama's "terrorist associations," they are refusing any responsibility for creating a climate in which violence might be seen as justified. Thus, while decrying terrorism themselves, they are inciting violence against Senator Obama -- and cars with Obama bumper stickers -- with "fighting words" like "terrorist."

The words "Sen. Obama is a terrorist" are "fighting words." "Fighting words" are words generally expressed to incite hatred or violence and to place the targets of the words in danger of harm. This idea was first defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1942 decision (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire), in which the Court was required to decide whether calling someone a "fascist" and a "racketeer" constituted free speech or disorderly conduct. The Court said it wasn't a freedom of speech issue.

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Repeatedly using words that suggest that Senator Obama is a terrorist, even though the words, when parsed in Mrs. Grundy's English class don't quite add up to that, is not protected by the First Amendment.

"Terrorist" is not merely a pejorative term like "soft on crime" or "lefty." Consider the case of Nadar Sokanvar, who told co-workers on the first anniversary of 9/11 that he thought the U.S. would be hit by terrorists. He was convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced to 30 days in jail for saying that. The court held that the main issue is a "perceived or real threat to the safety of others," and that the key factor was that others believed their safety was at risk as a result of the statement. (98 P.3d 303) Consider the case of Reggie Upshaw, who gave a public speech that he supported the terrorist attacks of 9/11 -- he was thrown in jail for disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. (741 N.Y.S.2d 664) The judge upheld the charge, noting that it is necessary to consider the defendant's words and deeds in the context in which he spoke and acted.

When McCain and Palin and their campaign create a perception that Senator Obama is a terrorist whose election would threaten the lives and safety of Americans, and they know that their campaign rhetoric is creating a condition in which others are responding to that threat with violence, then their speech is no longer in the realm of free speech. It moves into a much darker territory -- the territory of fighting words, of inciting a riot.

McCain and The Man In The Red Jeep

After accelerating at high speed towards our car on a steeply banked highway exit, and blowing his horn continuously for a minute or so while inches from my bumper, the red jeep swerved to the right and stepped on the accelerator. As it pulled even with our car, the window opened and a man in his forties with tattoos on his arm leaned out. He screamed something towards my partner, who was sitting frozen in her seat. It took us a moment to recognize it as "Don't vote for a black man!"

He then stepped on the gas and swerved in front of our car, cutting us off. As I stepped on the brake, he stuck his arm out the window and raised his middle finger, and I let him go. Feeling very shaken, I memorized his plate number and my partner wrote it down. We discussed calling the police, but I felt that filing a police report would be tantamount to giving this dangerous thug our names and addresses.

I was shocked that afternoon to hear Michelangelo Signorile having a discussion with Naomi Wolf on his Sirius OutQ radio show about how one mark of an increasingly right-wing society is seemingly random attacks by ordinary citizens on their opponents. Michelangelo brought up the fact that a number of incidents of intimidation against Obama supporters have been reported in the national press.

Were the enraged acts of the man in the red jeep just the acts of an individual, with which McCain and Palin and their accusations of "terrorism" against Obama are unlinked? I say no.

I say that John McCain, by encouraging his supporters to call Senator Obama a terrorist, whose election will result in American deaths by terrorists, is taking the same road as George Wallace.

The subject is different -- yes. Wallace advocated racial segregation, and McCain does not advocate racial segregation. McCain does not espouse racist ideology. But that is beside the point. While it was not John McCain or Sarah Palin in the red jeep behind me, it is they who "sowed the seeds of hatred and division" and "created the climate and the conditions that encouraged that vicious attack." As the courts said in the cases of Nadar Sokanvar and Reggie Upshaw, a perceived threat may be dangerous, and the context of violence moves speech from politics into incitement to riot.

Of course, John McCain and Sarah Palin aren't on trial for disorderly conduct and incitement to riot, nor should they be. But neither should be claiming "outrage" at the suggestion of Rep. John Lewis that their "Obama is a terrorist" line is contributing to an atmosphere in which violence is becoming more likely.

Am I exaggerating? Go ask the man in the red jeep.


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Ah, but the problem here is that, since these two are mainstream upstanding white christian politicians, they are incapable of hate speech or incitement.

Kind of like the fundie preachers who spout their hate and fear from the pulpits about the "gay" menace to our society.

Someone I know has said that we are not really voting for the canidate who heads the ticket, but the vice presidential canidate, since it is highly unlikely that either of the princibles will survive for long, McCain because of his age, and Obama because of some cracker with a gun, bomb or other weapon.

Scary, but it is something my friend and I have discussed and saw coming. I'm glad you both are alright.

May I have permission to reprint this on my blog?

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | October 13, 2008 6:23 PM

Yikes! Glad you're both okay. I refuse not to be shocked, however tempting that is, because incidents like this just scream for good old-fashioned outraged shock of the sort that resets what normal and sane is.

Unfortunately the racist hate based attacks are nothing to new to American society. They are only getting coverage because of the election. There are many POC who can tell stories of racial harassment that blood curdling and yet the media has largely turned its back on it. The war against our bodies has never stopped.

Weird! Did they think they were being persuasive?

Also, we put this up on TBP's group diary at dailykos, and you got a few more comments here

Absolutely ridiculous. I wish you had called the police; perhaps it would have made the guy realize what an asshole he'd been. I can understand your fear of retaliation though...

Nice made up story. You have no proof except for you and your partner. Especially since you didn't file a police report. And if you really thought this was as bad as you make it out to be then you would of had the guts to face this and file a report. Nice made up story to try and tie into a point that really makes no sense.

By the way there are crazy people in this world and they aren't all conservatives. And for this comment

"one mark of an increasingly right-wing society is seemingly random attacks by ordinary citizens on their opponents"

that's crazy talk. And I hope you have been listening to the left leaning media that says there will be riots if Obama doesn't win. That sounds like terrorism to me.

So, wait, your response to her story is to call it made up and then make one up?

How does that make sense?

And, yes, right-wing = violence. It's not the left who called for the war in Iraq. It's not the left that spreads divisive and hateful rhetoric about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

I disagree with your suggestion, Dargan, that we should have reported this to the police. Had there been an actual injury or property damage, I would have have, but as it was, fortunately, it wasn't that serious. If we had filed a report, we would have been required to put our names and address and phone number on it. The suspect would have a right to see that report. The person who did this is clearly not a rational balanced person, and we would have had to live with the fear of another confrontation. It would have put a strain on our lives at a time when our plate is already full for personal reasons. Perhaps, yes, it would be better if we were not so fearful, and felt the courage to stand up and report this to the police. But we didn't. That's how intimidation works. I understand your concern about proof of the story, and I did not tell it with the intention of having a court of law act on it. I just wanted people to know that the incident occurred.

Yet the violence committed is being committed by Democrat supporting men who violently bash and even cut into a face of Republican supporters. In each case, it is a man bashing a woman.

Online, I see one Democrat supporter verbally abusing anybody who even critises Barack Obama. Abuse including; labelling people as nazis, jew haters, homosexual beaters, terms too crude to post on this site, threats of violence and so much more.

Wow, if I were an American voter, I would be encouraged by Democrat support behaviour to vote for anybody BUT the Democrats.

Oh, Earth W., there are no terms to crude to post on this site.

But I do love how all your evidence of "abuse" is people who point out how others are being abused.

Within one week after the election, I have been tailgated and flashed three times while commuting. I've rarely seen such actions while driving, until I put an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on.

Three times in a week? I may have been on the receiving end of such aggression once a quarter before I had the bumper sticker.

Today, I removed the sticker. I support him but there are lots of crazy people out there.

Hey Jillian,

I read your article about you and your "partner"... what... do you two play tennis doubles or something? Maybe it's golf? Or maybe the two of you have a law firm together? Is that what you mean by "partner"?

Or... maybe you meant to say you are a slimy lesbian sicko.

Is that what you meant, you demented, liberal piece of feces?