Death Threats Must Die!

Death Threats Must Die!

The right wing harasses, intimidates and threatens people online. They aren’t going to stop because it works for them. They don’t usually face consequences for these threats, so what can be done?

When you watch someone screaming and punching a flight attendant after they were asked to wear a mask, it changes what you might do the next time you see someone not wearing a mask.

When people show up with guns at a school board member’s house they aren’t there to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. They are there to make a threat.

In today’s Justice Department oversight committee hearing, AG Merrick Garland was asked to re-edify Jamie Raskin’s colleagues on what the 1st Amendment protects and what it doesn’t protect. He said,

“What they are not allowed to do is threaten people with death or serious bodily injury.”

I admire Jennifer Jenkins, the school board member who spoke out about her death threats, but how many people think, “I’m not going to be on a school board if it means getting death threats & people coming to my house with guns. I’m especially not going to become a member if nothing happens to the people who threatened Jennifer!”

When I watch the media cover these stores I see how reluctant they are to push for real consequences for threatening speech. They get all balled up into questions of, “What exactly is free speech?” They bend over backwards to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to threatening speech.

The media don’t want to be seen as being against people’s free speech rights. But as I keep reminding people, threatening speech is not protected speech.  Just using that phrase starts questions of definitions. What is the definition of a threat? What is this “true threat” that Garland was talking about? What threats are actionable by law enforcement? How does this change when the threat isn’t local or can’t be idenitified? Why is it important to know the intent of the person making the threat?

The justice system is slow. Social media & TV news is fast. When the media run threat stories, they usually can’t show any immediate legal consequences to the ones making the threats. Occasionally they can show people getting fired. Or kicked off social media. But often there are no negative consequences at all.

Were any of these people at Jennifer Jenkins’ home armed with guns? Image from: Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today

More than a dozen protestors waved signs and called for a recall of Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins Wednesday evening outside of her home in Satellite Beach. They are unhappy with her support of a school mask mandate. Image from: Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today

If people are arrested, tried and punished for their threats, those cases can take years to be resolved.

I’ve been following up on cases of death threats to public health officials in Colorado, Idaho, California and Oklahoma from the start of the pandemic. Cases are still pending. The public hears NOTHING about what happened to the people doing the threatening until months or years later. But the impact on those threatened lingers, especially when there is no resolution.

Why is there an increase in threats now? A recent story says that COVID lockdowns have made things worse.

Following the killing of Sir David Amess, there have been renewed concerns about whether lockdowns have created the conditions for a surge in hate, as frustrated extremists or people vulnerable to radicalisation hunkered down over their laptops and mobile phones.‘Nastier than ever’: have Covid lockdowns helped fuel online hate? Guardian. 10-21-2021

Intimidation and threats to election workers, health care officials and politicians are all part of Trump’s legacy.

I’ve seen multiple stories about death threats on Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes & Lawrence O’Donnell’s shows but because the threats just happened, we can’t see the legal consequences to the people making the threat.

One suggestion I have for the media is for every time they run a story about a NEW death threat, they could look at a similar cases that has already made it through the legal system.

For example, do you remember the guy who called Rep. Ilhan Omar’s D.C. office on March of 2019 and threatened to shoot and kill the congresswoman? The caller said that someone, “ought to put a bullet in her skull.” Few people know what happened next. I wrote about it in May 2019.

What should people do about on-line death threats?

Patrick W. Carlineo, 55, of Addison New York spent a year in prison. He was released in March of 2021. The sentence could have been longer, but it wasn’t because of a request for leniency from Rep. Omar.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr., she had urged leniency and a restorative justice approach at sentencing, writing: “The answer to hate is not more hate; it is compassion.”She said a lengthy prison term or a burdensome fine would “only increase his anger and resentment” while restorative justice would let him “make amends and seek redemption.”In death threat case, court nixes penalty Rep. Omar urged, AP May 21, 2021

Carlineo spent a year in prison, partly because of a request for leniency from Rep. Omar. He was released in March of 2021. Image from: WROC Screen Grab

What has happened to all the men and women who have threatened AOC, Omar and others BEFORE 1/6? What about the people who threatened Dr. Fauci and multiple health care officials? How many have been charged? Are any in prison? How many were given a slap on the wrist and are offending again? 

When I’ve brought up the need for consequences for those making death threats and violent rhetoric, I’ve suggested multiple responses. My preferred method is to cut their revenue streams. Others have contacted their employers and licencing boards.

Another way is to bring consequences to people making death threats is to alert the people in their community and the social groups they belong too. The key is to find the groups whose opinion they care about and who publicly will come out against death threats.
Is Carlineo Catholic? Get his parish priest to condemn the death threats to Rep. Omar. Does he call himself a Christian? Find his minster and ask what Jesus had to say about threatening to kill others.

“But Spocko, what’s the point? He was probably a member of a nutball church, Oath Keepers or Proud Boys! They love it when someone attacks a member of the Squad!”

Sure, it’s possible all the groups he belongs to are extremists, but most groups publicly condemn violent rhetoric, death threats and threats of physical violence. In fact, many of them have by-laws and organizational rules against threatening speech. Until Trump became President, the Republican party would publicly condemn threats of violence.

Why bother getting statements condemning violence from the groups people like Carlineo belong to?
Why spend the time and energy to prosecute people for their death threats?
To RE-NORMALIZE that making death threats is wrong.

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