Non-Random Acts of Violence

Death threats for American bureaucratic tyrants?

The Drudge Report recently showcased its awesome power with a top-of-page link to a fascinating article:

In October 2014, then-Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel did what she often does: speak her mind about political campaign issues.

“A re-examination of the Commission’s approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies is long overdue,” Ravel, a Democrat, wrote in lamenting a deadlocked commission vote over whether an Ohio-based business group must include disclaimers on political ads it posted for free on

But Ravel’s statement—just finding it on the FEC’s website is no small feat—didn’t disappear into the Internet’s bowels as bureaucratic missives often do.

Instead, in a sign of how toxic American politics have become, it spawned unbridled ugliness, including death threats that have drawn the attention of law enforcement. What appears to have initially prompted the torrent of messages targeting Ravel: an Oct. 25, 2014, banner headline on the Drudge Report: “DEMS ON FEC MOVE TO REGULATE DRUDGE.”

“Die, fascist, die!” one anonymous person wrote to Ravel in an email reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

“Hope you have a heart attack,” read another email.

“Go fall down about ten flights of stairs,” yet another person wrote.

As generally peaceable, civilized, and urbane human beings, we abhor violence, and don't much approve of threats.  American politics has mostly been free of the regular, systemic violence that plagues politics in many other countries around the world, although one could argue our Civil War killed a lot more people than a hundred years' worth of election killings.

Which presents us with an interesting contradiction: Most of the time, the politics of America - and of England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, our Anglo-Saxon brethren - are peaceable and polite.  Every now and again, though, they explode into a violent, riotous civil war, as in the United States and England, or serious unrest, as happens in Quebec from time to time.

Thomas Jefferson famously said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  Is it possible that our faltering liberty tree is coming due for another infusion?

Because, objectively, the arguments (though not, yet, the actions) of Ms. Ravel are indeed tyrannical.  What could be more fundamentally American than free speech on the public Internet, open to all equally?  What possible justification could there be for any kind of governmental regulation of media outlets?

Yes, there are an awful lot of total lies and fraud out there on the Internet.  But the mainstream media is chock full of lies too, and as for the words of elected politicians, well, they don't even bear thinking about.

Justice Louis Brandeis had some wise observations on the fundamental importance of free speech regardless of its accuracy:

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

As the learned Justice pointed out, there are times of danger where reckless speech can legitimately be suppressed, the classic example being falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  Nothing on the Internet qualifies; even direct calls for violence via Twitter can be prosecuted as incitement of violence, and the recipients as well if they act on them.  Nobody not already inclined to break the law will respond to a rabble-rousing tweet with dangerous actions.

What would be the consequences of government regulation of media outlets?  We don't have to look far: our current administration has a track record of using every tool in its arsenal to try to kneecap political opposition, including imprisonment.  How could any regulation of Internet publications, on any grounds whatsoever, not hamper free speech?

Our Founders would certainly consider such a threat to justify a violent response, which is in fact exactly what they themselves did in answer to similar provocations.  Yet, something within ourselves recoils at the thought of endorsing some... patriot?  citizen?  traitor?  criminal? ...going out and giving Ms. Ravel the redcoat treatment, or even the classic tar and feathers.  We just can't endorse violence in response to politics, at least not yet.

But as long as our politics continue to degrade our freedoms, and our leaders continue to be utterly unresponsive to the anger of the common people, we are building up pressure that can't help but explode in violence sooner or later - which is why so  many citizens are acquiring the means to generate violence as needed.  Ms. Ravel needs to think very carefully indeed about what she's playing at.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

Hobbes wrote: Thomas Jefferson famously said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

1) Indeed. Note Jefferson mentioned blood of patriots first, tyrants second.

This is important. We MUST maintain the moral high ground, as Captain Parker ordered his militia when facing the Redcoats just before the Battle of Lexington: "Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they want to start a war, let it begin here."

So NO death threats or suggestions that tyrants be "off'd" before the shooting starts are EVER in order.

"Our Founders would certainly consider such a threat to justify a violent response, which is in fact exactly what they themselves did in answer to similar provocations."

Hobbes, this simply isn't true. Our Founders (at least the responsible ones), while resisting tyranny with "manly firmness", did not generally resort to violence until faced with a British army on its way in the dead of night to disarm them on April 19, 1775.

2) Equally important: We must be armed, trained, and organized, or we won't water the tree of liberty with ANY tyrant blood once they start shooting at us.

"A well-regulated Militia, being NECESSARY to the security of a free State..." (2nd Amendment, emphasis added)

May 19, 2016 9:30 PM

You stepped right past the most important story here of all: the untrustworthy of Drudge's content and the amount of unwavering belief his readers have in what he links to.

Why are so many Drudge readers stupid enough to believe that the FEC is actually going to "regulate the Drudge Report"?

That narrative is completely false and a brief glance at the material Drudge links to shows it to be to anyone with an inch of gray matter between their ears. He's been doing that for awhile - any story about Fairness Doctrine and he instantly puts up screaming red links about regulating Drudge (none of which actually say or imply that).

Drudge went off the deep end awhile back with his Alex Jones like vision of the government and unfolding future. He occasionally goes on Jones' show and talks about everyone listening to his phone lines and the food Monsanto is feeding us. You can pull up the interviews on YT.

A little tinhat nuttery is excusable since most of that stuff doesn't directly overlap with politics. Then the Pied Piper entered the race and Drudge went completely over the cliff with one of the deepest and most direct media biases I've ever seen. For almost a year, every story about the race is carefully selected for its pro-Trump/anti-Trump feeling. Drudge sat on, or ignored, countless major news events and developments if they were anti-Trump or pro-non-Trump-candidate.

For those of us who have followed Drudge for more than 15 years, this was a very sad display for someone who prided himself on pushing forward the truth no matter who it affected or who disliked it.

Then, there's the problem of scope. Drudge has maybe 30 or 40 links on his page which is nothing. Check out Reddit politics channels (there are many dozens) and you'll find far more news going on, much of which Drudge doesn't mention or cover. During the GOP campaign, the gulf of news he wasn't covering - important unfolding stories - was pretty staggering. At that point, I realized it wasn't just lack of screen real estate, but actual careful bias.

In the age of Reddit and the bigger news aggregators, which you can tailor to your own likes and preferences, one-man hand-curated sites like Drudge are obsolete. But the story here is just how devoted many on the right are to this guy and whatever tabloid drivel he pushes forward. Rush seems to have noticed this, but others...?

May 20, 2016 9:24 AM

Ifon, the article's main point was when violence against tyranny is warranted.

When I joined the armed services, I swore that enemies of the Constutution are MY enemies whom I may need to shoot if so ordered. Mr. Drudge's place in the scheme of things is of competitively little importance to me - i hardly read him anyway.

May 20, 2016 12:52 PM

Yes, but that point has been made time and again. The Drudge point has not. Drudge continues the be the rallying point for most conservative-leaning netizens. What he states and links to has a tremendous effect. Furthermore, conservatives pride themselves on pointing out media bias. Will they do that when it's one of their own?

May 20, 2016 12:58 PM
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