Forty-two years ago this Sunday, an assassin’s bullet struck down a drum major for peace, Martin Luther King Jr. That horrific act not only silenced the strongest voice speaking truth to power in America, but it also kicked off unrest throughout the nation.
As Wikipedia tells it, in Washington D.C., windows of businesses were shattered and stores were quickly looted of their wares. Over 1,200 buildings were burned in the rioting. Crowds of over 20,000 protestors overwhelmed the 3,000 man police force and nearly 14,000 federal troops had to be called in. Troops from the Army’s 3rd Infantry guarded the White House as rioters came within two blocks of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the largest occupation of an American city since the Civil War.
The rioting raged for four days leaving a dozen dead, over a thousand injured and 6,000 arrested. Some parts of D.C. didn’t recover economically until the ‘90’s.
Dozens of other cities suffered similar fates in the immediate aftermath of the assassination and other riots broke out throughout that bloody year.
I shudder to think of the conflagration this nation would see if harm befell this President.
The threat is real. Nine members of the Hutari militia in Michigan, self-described “Christian warriors,” were arrested recently with plans to kill police, and attack the officers’ funeral in the hopes of setting off a battle that would topple the government. Other militias had trained with them.
In 2008, an assassination plot against candidate Obama was broken up in Denver, Colorado. Last year an elderly anti-Semitic man killed a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. A year ago, a 23 year old man who feared President Obama was going to take his guns killed three Pittsburgh police officers. Just days ago, a Tennessee man plead guilty for plotting with another man to kill President Obama and dozens of other black leaders.
This comes during a time of overheated rhetoric. After health care reform passed, Mike Vanderboegh, of Pinson, Ala., former head of the Alabama Constitutional Militia put out a call on his blog: "We can break their windows. Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary."
And the windows of Democratic headquarters were broken across several states.
It’s a time when the President is routinely referred to as a socialist, communist, terrorist and depicted as Hitler. Talk radio hosts have compared Obama’s policies to Nazi eugenics. It’s a time where members of Congress have referred to his health care plan as “Armageddon.” After a fellow Ohio Congressman voted for reform, Rep. John Boehner said he was a “dead man.” Rep. Michelle Bachmann has implied that the administration would use Census information to set up concentration camps.
Republican leaders like Bill Posey, Chuck Grassley, John Campbell, Jim Inhofe, Richard Shelby, Marsha Blackburn and others have played footsies with the Birthers, the Deathers, and other assorted wingnuts. It’s not surprising then that in a Harris Poll last month, 67% of Republicans think President Obama is a socialist, 38% think he’s doing “things that Hitler did” and one in four believe he “may be the Anti-Christ." One in five Republicans believe the President of the United States “wants the terrorists to win.”
It’s incumbent upon Republican leaders to set the record straight and not foment this kind of nonsense. Why did Republican leaders refuse to issue a joint statement with Democrats to tamp down the rhetoric and condemn violence?
Politics ain’t beanbag, the saying goes. Rhetoric gets heated. But we’ve arrived at a place where people carry guns to rallies and a large segment believes the President isn’t legitimate. That’s not to mention the ones who think he’s Satan incarnate. It’s a dangerous time. We’ve got to pull back from this madness and realize that we’re all on the same team.
No one can say that we haven’t been warned.