Who speaks ill.

What is it that makes us who we are? Is it the things we would like to forget, or the things we will always be proud of? Is it our memories of things past, or is it our hopes for the future? What is it that makes us, each individual, who and what we are?

Part of me wants to know because tomorrow, April 19, marks a dark anniversary, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. By any accounting, there really isn’t anything in Tim McVeigh’s past that would make you say “This person will be one of the biggest mass murders America will ever produce.”. Yet that is precisely what he became, a monster who willingly blew 168 innocent individuals to pieces. Some say he feared, even hated the federal government, and that he drew much of his “inspiration” from various right-wing writings and speakers. In the end, after listening to these people and seeing what he saw as the “wrongs” of federal law enforcement at places like the Branch Davidian compound, he decided that the time had come for him to “take action”. The action he decided to take was to commit mass murder on a scale unknown until that point in this nation.

One thing that stood out in the aftermath of that horrible day was the way that, nearly to a person, the people who had written or spoke out in ways that had helped McVeigh decide what he would do denied any responsibility for the act. They were, in their words, simply “exercising their free-speech rights”. One thing that every one of them failed to see, though, is that rights are coupled with responsibilities. You’re free to say anything you want, but at the same time, you are not free to use that right to defame a persons good name through liable. Nor are you free, as the classic example goes, to suddenly stand up in a crowded theater and scream “Fire!”. In both instances you are likely to find yourself in court facing anything from a civil suit to charges of causing the deaths of people because of the panic your words caused.

This come to another point. Today the folks in the Tea Party are using their “free speech” rights to the limit. The problem is, are they paying attention to what those words might be doing to those listening to them? They’ve most recently been busy trying to define themselves, not as a mob, but as a reasoning and sensible group angry with certain government policies. The problem is, that’s not how they come off, and it’s not hard to understand why. They demonize those who do not agree with them, often using rhetoric that goes well beyond incendiary, then deny they have any tie to people who shout insults at black legislators that would not have been out of place coming from the mouth of a Klan member in Selma in the 1960’s. The talk of the need to have a “new revolution” and then try to distance themselves from people who make threats of violence against people who they have accused of being the ones responsible for what they see as the “wrongs” done in Congress.

As they stand in front of their small crowds, railing against all that they do not like about the government, it might be a good idea if the Tea Party people keep April 19 in mind. How can they know who is listening as they denounce any and everyone who does not agree with them Or, for that matter, what is in their minds? As they call for “revolution”, do they know that nobody in their audience will take that as a literal call. Is there another McVeigh in that crowd, someone who is willing to “take the next step” and kill because of what they hear? Rights carry responsibilities, and maybe rather than trying to distance themselves from those who act out based on their words (or, worse yet, try to blame those acts on “outside agitators”), they should accept those responsibilities. When you preach hate, when you speak in anger, you pass that to those who hear you. Either accept that, or find a way to speak civilly. Or, for that matter,  just don’t speak at all if you can’t do so without spreading violence with your words.

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