As a political scientist, there are times when politicians, journalists, and commentators use a word in ways that proves they have no idea what that word actually means. I think even the woke left knows that some words have powerful connotations, which is why its activists are so hung up on pronouns (see What’s in a Gendered Name?).
This leads me to believe that the misuse of some words is intentional because some of those in power want us to be racked with fear since fear demobilizes political opposition and makes the public docile and compliant.
The latest linguistic abuse is Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ), under the “moderate” Attorney General Merritt Garland, declaring that the FBI will investigate what the National School Board Association’s allegations that some parent’s actions at school board meetings are “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
By now most of us have heard about AG Garland’s personal skin in the critical race theory game and that the FBI lacks jurisdiction over cases of local law enforcement. Here’s more on what’s wrong with this DOJ memo:
1. That’s not terrorism.
Obviously. The actual definition of terrorism is that it’s a violent strategy that targets innocent bystander publics (i.e., non-state actors) indiscriminately, induces fear for future attacks, and uses both the horror of an initial attack as well as deep-seeded anxiety of future attacks to leverage the political system to capitulate to the terrorists’ demands. While scholars disagree about the finer points of defining “terrorism,” these are the basic agreed upon elements of our understanding of the term.
With this in mind, let’s examine American parents’ behavior during school board meetings. For the sake of argument, let’s focus on the worst examples of this behavior. There are parents who have been disruptive during meetings, raised their voices, cursed at and threatened school board members (although these threats seem somewhat vague since most of them seem to be some form of “I’m coming after you if you don’t change”). If anyone has more extreme examples, please comment below with links since I’m very interested in looking into this more.
Disrupting meetings could be considered disorderly conduct, although I think it would be reasonable to characterize clearly politically or socially motivated acts of disruption as a form of peaceful protest. Making threats is illegal when those threats are personal, specific, and explicit. As far as I know, these are the only crimes any of which any of these parents are guilty. Even in their most extreme form, these crimes don’t fulfill any part of the definition of terrorism.
I do think it’s reasonable to say that some school board members are afraid of these parents, but not all fear is the result of terrorism. If that’s the case, anyone with a fear of witches could claim that a Halloween party is an act of terrorism or that someone with a fear of heights can call those who design and build bridges are terrorists. This is both ridiculous and disparaging to actual acts of terror. If these school board members are afraid of losing their jobs, it seems to me that they should listen better to their constituents. If these school board members are afraid because they believe they will be physically attacked, measures should be taken based on credible threats instead of abusing language to vilify all parents involved in their children’s education.
2. Individuals, not groups, should be held accountable when they commit crimes.
I find it insane that the same people who call virtually all parents who stand up against the indoctrination of their kids terrorists also told us that the 2020 protesters were “mostly peaceful” and complained when others discussed the violent tactics of BLM in general. In either case, it’s important to understand the general tendencies of groups while recognizing that a) groups are rarely monolithic, and b) individuals are responsible for their actions.
When it comes to describing group behavior, it’s important to be nuanced. Take the Abolitionists, for example, some of whom wanted to lead a slave revolt in the 1830s and 1840s, some wanted to use the electoral system to shake up D.C., and others wanted nothing to do with either of these strategies. Group membership does not always mean that everyone in the group will act the same way or even agree on how to act in the first place. What is more, commonalities don’t predetermine behavior, just like it’s true that not all Muslims are radical jihadist terrorists even though all radical jihadist terrorists are Muslim.
Despite anyone’s membership in a group (which is protected by the 1st Amendment’s right of assembly, by the way), each individual should be held responsible for his or her actions and criminally libel for his or her crimes only. If some parents are violating the law during school board meetings, they should be punished according to the law, not out of political vengeance. In fact, if anyone, including a BLM activist, political operative, illegal immigrant, small business owner, etc., allegedly breaks the law, they should all be charged, convicted when appropriate, and punished equally for equal crimes. Without this principle of an equally applied rule of law, our democracy will continue to erode. That will do far greater and lasting damage than any angry parent at a school board meeting.
3. This fits into a disturbing pattern in which the far left is using the state against its political opposition.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I’m also not one to put my head in the sand because I don’t want to watch my country fall apart. For people like you who have been paying attention, it’s clear that this is not the first time the far left in America has misused language to demonize its opponents.
While this didn’t start with Trump, it certainly got worse after Trump shocked even some on the right by winning the 2016 election. In response, his critics began calling Trump a fascist. Love him or hate him, there is plenty of ways to criticize Donald Trump that are grounded in truth, but labeling him a fascist isn’t one of them. The first problem is that “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” Fascism is a system in which the state totalizes society and the individual in every way with help from monopolistic corporations and mobilizes to take over what lies outside the boundaries of the all-encompassing state. So regardless of what you think of Trump, he’s the worst “fascist” you can imagine. Just look at his deregulation and drawing down of American troops around the world as a start.
But it’s one thing to call an elected leader something that is unfitting. What makes the current case of parents being called “domestic terrorists” so much more consequential than these past instances of name calling is the criminalization of dissent. And we’ve seen this before, as well, in the ways the elite call the January 6 protests an insurrection even though those arrested have been charged with trespassing, not an incitement to violence or anything close to a coup.
Labeling lawful acts of dissent (which most of these are) and attempts to petition elected officials as acts of “domestic terrorism” instead of the forms of speech protected under the 1st Amendment that they are is beyond the pale, even for the Biden Administration. No government can have contempt for so many of citizens and also respect the rights of those citizens.
We cannot continue to have a democratic republic in which some activists are allowed to riot, loot, and violate local ordinances because the injustices of the system have driven them to break the law while those with different political beliefs are labeled “domestic terrorists” for expressing their disdain for their elected official’s decisions. All Americans deserve better.
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