The contemporary trend of making authoritative extrapolations based on the Facebook “likes” of an alleged assailant often leads amateur sleuths on pointless wild goose chases. It’s difficult to discern with absolute certainty someone’s true political/moral/religious views after a several-hour colloquy, never mind a cursory Facebook skim. Yet, in the aftermath of violent incidents, a person’s social media behavior is frequently taken as dispositive of motivation. Though it’s possible sometimes to make inferences based on Facebook, the idea that you can get a complete character profile based on perusing someone’s online postings is asinine.
That said, we do know that Wednesday’s congressional attacker, James Hodgkinson, shared a conspiracy-tinged Change.org link on March 22, accompanied by the caption, “Trump is a traitor.” Once again, it has to be stressed that this information is woefully insufficient to conclude that the perpetrator was motivated by Russia-oriented conspiracy theories. Motivations are multifaceted, and often political beliefs “intersect” with mental distress, causing people to act violently. But the sharing of the link does indicate that Hodgkinson has been affected by the frenzied climate Democrats have stoked around the Russia issue.
Once again, for extra emphasis: calling attention to the link Hodgkinson shared is not to say that Democrats are directly culpable for this shooting. That would be ridiculous. But the shared link does show that he was to some extent enmeshed in the conspiratorial paranoia that Democrats have knowingly fostered, at full-blast, for approaching an entire year. One ancillary consequence of fostering conspiratorial paranoia for a full year is that certain people with unstable mental predispositions may latch on and commit violent acts. But Democrats and liberals, in their self-assuredness, have been reticent to acknowledge this byproduct of their current political strategy. Proclaiming that the president engaged in treason — as many members of Congress and media figures have — is going to have an influence on the broader public, and included in that broader public are people who might be deranged and/or have violent inclinations.
If you deny that the kind of overblown rhetoric that Democrats have specialized in over the past months — warning about traitorous subterfuge and foreign infiltration — can have any trickle-down effect on regular people, you’re deluding yourself. And yes, this same principle applies across the board. Republicans and conservatives who wail delusionally about Sharia Law and the usurpation of American institutions by scheming Muslims also have this effect. Given that Islam-obsessives promote a political ideology that reeks of paranoia and conspiratorial fancy, it should be no surprise that disturbed individuals occasionally latch on to these beliefs and commit acts of violence. When this occurs, the act can be reasonably attributed to the right-wing provocateurs who have spewed such propaganda for such an extended period of time. Does that mean you can assign direct culpability to any given provocateur for any given violent act? No. To do that would be to make an unfounded claim of causation, and establishing causation is inherently tenuous in these situations. But it’s ridiculous to suggest that political beliefs can’t motivate unstable people to act in certain ways, including in ways that bring about violence.
After an attack on the Canadian parliament by a self-styled ISIS devotee in December 2014, Jeet Heer wrote:
What seems to be the problem, rather, is the fusion of radical jihadist ideology with other personal problems, whether they be alienation, anomie, or various shades of mental illness […] For a person radicalized in this manner, the fantasy of political violence is a chance to gain agency, make history, and be part of something larger.
Jeet stresses that these incidents are almost invariably multi-causal. And to be clear, we don’t have any hard evidence yet that Hodgkinson was mentally ill in a classically diagnosable sense. Still, the fallacy that right-wing trolls are engaged in today is concluding that mono-causal motivation can be attributed on the basis of Hodgkinson’s Facebook posts alone.
But it’s equally folly to deny that a person can be influenced to act by their political beliefs.
Just this Tuesday, Sen. Kamala Harris showed just how insidious Democrats’ paranoia has become. Coursing through the hearing and the line of inquiry pursued by Democrats was the idea that meeting with Russian state officials ought to be regarded as intrinsically sinister and/or suspicious, and that any such meetings ought to be regarded as evidence of untoward relations between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia. Marco Rubio reminded us that these suspicions are thoroughly bipartisan in nature when he asked Jeff Sessions to reach back into his memory bank and try to deduce whether he had encounters “at any point during the campaign” with a Russian “businessman, or anyone walking down the street” which “in hindsight, appears suspicious.” But Harris took it to another level when she demanded to know whether Sessions had interfaced with “any Russian businessmen or any Russian nationals.” In doing so, Harris expanded the ‘zone of suspicion’ beyond Russian state actors to anyone of Russian nationality. It’s really not hard to imagine how such logic might manifest in extreme acts undertaken by people who take the “Russians behind every bush” allegations seriously.
Whether or not Hodgkinson was motivated by Russia hysteria, we’ll probably never know. But we do know that Democrats have engendered an increasingly unhinged political environment. (As, in other ways, has Trump.) Accordingly, Democrats bear responsibility for their role in fostering that environment, a consequence of which is that large portions of the left/liberal grassroots have been driven insane with fantasies of treason and Manchurian Candidate plots. It’s a huge leap to suggest that individual Democrats bear responsibility for any individual act of violence, given the multi-causal reasons why someone might do a thing like this. But ignoring the paranoia that has been stoked is equally wrongheaded.