Despite the bricks through windows, slurs and spitting, a cut gas line, and an anthrax threat against Congresspeople who voted for healthcare reform, Sarah Palin has been blithely unapologetic about the violent language and images she has been using on Facebook and elsewhere, most notoriously the image at right, which features the districts of Democratic congresspeople in crosshairs, and her call of “Don’t retreat, reload” (since removed from her Facebook page, but still on her Twitter feed). She claims the violence is metaphorical: All she’s calling for is more political action.
Now, Palin is a flaming idiot. She’s just enough of one to honestly believe that using she can use violent language and her followers can subsequently commit violent acts and there is no connection whatsoever. Nevertheless, the irresponsibility is staggering. Anyone ought to accept that, when a rash of violence breaks out, the thing to do is to condemn it swiftly and completely. Even if there is no good reason that your words should incite more violence, you should still watch them extra carefully.
The blogs were quick to point out the danger in her behavior, so she eventually changed the title to “Don’t Get Demoralized! Get Organized!”, but left the graphic. Her subsequent attempt at humor, a post about March Madness filled with gun- and war-related idioms and titled “Warning: Subject to New Politically Correct Language Police Censorship,” reveals her poor grasp of the situation. For one thing, she doesn’t understand that changing her own post title isn’t censorship (nobody forced her to do it, and the people saying “you shouldn’t encourage your followers to kill people” are merely exercising their own first-amendment rights), nor is removing a more or less direct call to violence against one’s opponents political correctness so much as, oh, sanity.
Much more importantly: It’s safe to use this kind of language in sports because the friendly rivalry of sports fandom so rarely leads to real violence. Angry language, yes; shoving matches and similar faux-violence, yes. But I remember the controversy when fans at a Mariners game held up signs that said “Yankees Suck.” Many people considered that going too far, stepping across the line from friendly to mean. It’s true that, occasionally, real fan violence breaks out during a game in the heat of the moment, but sports essentially never leads to coolly premeditated acts of hate like calling someone to threaten sniper attacks on her children, nor out-of-the-blue violence like ramming into a car with a 10-year-old girl in it because of a bumper sticker.
But here’s the real question: Are Palin’s followers getting the metaphor? Has anyone who supports her made the mistake of the “lamestream media” and failed to realize that what look like gun sights are actually supposed to be surveying symbols? Even if 99% of her followers understood her perfectly, that leaves 200 of the 20,000 people who like every one of her Facebook posts who think that they should actually go shoot someone. It doesn’t matter if they’re deranged and mentally unstable. Motivating 200 potential deranged gunmen is irresponsible and completely unacceptable behavior.
I’ve been stymied in my attempts to find out. While the post has about 10,000 replies, Facebook’s “Show all replies” function only shows the most recent 50 or so and doesn’t allow you to view additional pages of replies, making it impossible to gauge how people initially responded to the post (naturally, all the recent replies are of the “liberal lametards don’t know what a metaphor is” variety). I also wanted to look at the Twitter traffic from her followers after the post, but while all tweets are archived, they become unsearchable after about a week. If anyone else happened to archive or link to the sort of stuff that was being said in the wake of Palin’s post, that would be edifying.