The Catcher in the Swamp
On Monday, in Plains Township, Pennsylvania, James and Lisa Goy were clearing snow out of their driveway and dumping it into the yard of their neighbor, Jeffrey Spaide. When Mr. Spaide rightfully complained to the couple, they began screaming at him, calling him names and hurling obscenities his way. The Goys were clearly in the wrong, and Mr. Spaide had reason to be very angry. He, then, walked into his house, grabbed a gun, and shot them both dead.
As infuriating as the Goy’s behavior had been, they did nothing to incite Mr. Spaide’s actions to kill them. In the end, Mr. Spaide had many choices on how to handle the situation, and he possessed full dominion over his actions. The Goy’s behavior and Mr. Spaide’s actions must remain separate. If every time someone did or said something that made us angry, we shot them, or punched them, or rioted, the county would be torn to shreds.
This week, we are going through another impeachment; this time claiming that Donald Trump incited the riot at the Capital on January 6. He did not incite anything. Trump offered to have the National Guard at the Capitol during his rally, but was turned down by DC mayor Muriel Bowser. How could he be planning on inciting violence when he offered troops to stop violence? The breach of the Capital had been planned on social media for weeks. And Trump told the people at the rally to act “peacefully and patriotically”, two words that could never incite people to violence. In fact, if you listen to his entire speech, you will find that the people who rioted were not even listening to his words because they acted contrary to the meaning of what he said.
But I have never understood the “incite a riot” charge anyway. Everybody is responsible for his or her own actions regardless of what others do or say. We are not controlled by others. Aside from threatening you or your loved ones lives, there is nothing anyone can say or do that could justify anyone to riot, to act violently, or do something illegal.
The “incite a riot” prohibition stemmed from a 1919 Supreme Court decision in which Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “you cannot yell fire in a crowded theatre.” I guess he feared people would get trampled to death during an evacuation of a fire. But don’t all theatres have fire codes? Aren’t all public buildings required by law to have a sufficient number of means of egress to accommodate the maximum occupancy to exit in an emergency without being injured. And if an old lady gets trampled during an evacuation, isn’t the person trampling the old lady to save himself responsible for her death, and not the person alerting the fire? (See Seinfeld episode, George and the Fire)
In 1980, Mark David Chapman was carrying the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, when he shot and killed John Lennon. In the novel, the main character, Holden Caufield speaks of killing people. He says, “I kill people in this hat.” The word “phony” is used over 30 times in the novel. Weeks prior to the shooting, Chapman had read an article about John Lennon in Esquire magazine, referring to Lennon as a “sellout” and a “phony”. Chapman would listen to Beatles songs while sitting nude in the dark, chanting, “John Lennon, I’m going to kill you, you phony bastard!”
Mark Chapman told NYPD Officer Stephen Spiro that he should read, The Catcher in the Rye, to understand why he committed the murder. Chapman read portions of, The Catcher in the Rye, in open courtroom as his statement.
In 1981, after trying to assassinate President Reagan, John Hinkley said, “if you want my defense read Catcher in the Rye”. Did the words written by J.D. Salinger incite these violent acts? Should Salinger have been held criminally responsible for these crimes because he wrote a novel?
If words incite, and this “incitement” is responsible for the illegal act, then that takes the culpability away from the actor. It removes his free will, and turns him into a puppet of the person inciting. If Donald Trump is responsible for the riot, then each rioter becomes innocent. Each rioter had a choice, either breach the Capital or not breach the Capital. They had the choice regardless of what was said in the speech.
Either the rioters understood right from wrong or they didn’t. Either they had control over their decision-making faculties or they didn’t. If they didn’t understand right from wrong, and didn’t have control over their actions, why are they in jail? Why were they charged with crimes?
There were over 200,000 people at the Capital that day who did not riot, so there were 200,000 people who heard Donald Trump’s speech and decided not to breach the Capital. Less than one-half of one percent of the people at the rally rioted.
Some people will argue that both parties are responsible. How does that work? Is this “the devil made me do it” defense? Really? No. You decided for yourself to commit an illegal and violent act. You have freedom of choice, and you used it unwisely.
This is like the rapist who blames his victim. ‘She wore a provocative dress, so I had no control over myself.’ Yes, you did have control over yourself. She played no role is you committing your crime.
Even if a person explicitly tells you to commit a crime, does that mean you have to do it? Does that mean you are bound by his words, and you’re no longer responsible for your actions?
In recent years, the political rhetoric in our country has become increasingly incendiary. Should all of the politicians who use such language be impeached as well?
President Barack Obama told his fellow Democrats, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”, and to “argue with neighbors, get in their face.”
Joe Biden once said, he wanted to, “take Trump behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”
Hilary Clinton said, “You cannot be civil with a party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi encouraged riots when she said, “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country. And maybe there will be, when people realize that this is a policy that they defend.” And later, she told her voters, you “must be ready to throw a punch.”
Chuck Schumer threatened Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch when he told them after a vote on abortion, “You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you.”
Senator Corey Booker encouraged fellow Democrats to “go to the Hill today. Get up and, please, get up in the face of some congresspeople.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged her supporters to “push back. Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” She also said, “I will go and take-out Trump tonight.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez encouraged her constituency to “occupy every airport, occupy every border, every ICE office.”
During the BLM and Antifa riots, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley justified that violence by saying, there “needs to be unrest in the streets.”
If words, in fact, “incite violence”, then how can we be so sure it was Donald Trump’s words that incited the Capital riot, and not the words of these politicians who have encouraged violence for years, and legitimized the riots we witnessed all summer and fall. Maybe it was their words, their calls for uprising and unrest, that incited the rioters to plan the Capital riot on social media for weeks?
On July 6, 2016, Barack Obama gave a speech to the entire country where he used questionable statistics to claim that systemic racism, was in every police department throughout our country. On July 7, 2016, in Dallas Texas, 12 police officers were gunned down, and four were killed by a Black Lives Matter activist. Less than 24 hours after Obama called all police departments racist, a black man killed four police officers. Did Obama’s words incite those killings? According to the standard apply to Trump, the answer would be, yes. According to rational and reasonable people, the answer would be, no. The man who shot those police officers was one hundred percent responsible for his crime. No one else.
Once again, the people in power believe that we Americans are incapable of hearing information and opinions, and making decisions for ourselves. They view us like little children unable to control what we do. They see themselves as The Catcher in the Rye, protecting the children from the evils of the world, and of themselves. But we are not children. We are adults, solely responsible for our own actions. Every human being is endowed with free will. Every person makes their own decisions in their life. They have sole dominion over their body, and their actions. And they, and only they, are responsible for the consequences of those actions.