What Hateful Politics and Violence Have in Common

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A reflection on the latest outrage of Erick Erickson, the conservative CNN commentator and editor of RedState 
 

Erick Erickson is showing his dark side again.

Almost two years ago, CNN hired the Georgia attorney and editor* of the RedState blogging platform to serve as a political pundit. It's easy to see why they'd be attracted to his occasionally keen insights, and mainstream media outlets routinely make the mistake of imagining that they'll no longer be under attack from conservatives if they hire someone with the right bona fides. Even so, the move surprised a lot of people, for reasons made evident in the video above. Who'd have thought the network would hire a man who compared an Obama Administration official to a Nazi propagandist, called Michelle Obama a "Marxist harpy" who would chop the president's penis off if he ever cheated on her, and described Supreme Court Justice David Souter as a "goat-fucking child molester"? This is, after all, a network that terminated a highly respected correspondent after 20 years on the job for sending a single tweet!

Like Andrew Breitbart, whose Twitter archive contains a pathological amount of deliberately generated hatred, and Mark Levin, who daily comes close to bursting a blood vessel and once told a female caller that her husband would be better off if he put a gun to his head, Erickson and his rise are difficult to separate from the general phenomenon of right-wing anger, something he stoked and harnessed. He built his audience by demonizing political and ideological opponents, often with violent rhetoric. "At what point do people walk down to their state legislator's house, pull them aside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?" he wrote on another occasion. There is no evidence Erickson's words ever directly inspired violence. He even came close to apologizing in the clip above, acknowledged the need to grow up, and dialed back his rhetoric.

But now I see that he's roiling the Web again:



In that clip from his talk-radio show, Erickson describes Washington, D.C., police shooting an Occupy DC protester with a stun gun. The protestor was suffering from a medical condition, Erickson says, so he was subsequently hospitalized because of the police action. "I would play the video for you because it was caught on film, it's hilarious," Erickson stated. "I mean you should just watch this video. If you go to WTPO.com, you can watch it. I won't play it on the radio because of the number of f-bombs the guy just starts yelling as they're tasing him. (Ecstatic laughter.) Ah but watching a hippie protester get tazed just makes my day... It is just made of awesome."

That a grown man gets excited and happy watching video of an unarmed man being tazed by police is as disturbing and morally repugnant as it gets. Even so, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that in American talk radio, the f-word is deemed more objectionable than footage of electric shocks coursing through a man's body as he lies on the ground. What a culture we've got ourselves.

Here is the video that Erickson found so gratifying:
 

Regularly invoking Jesus Christ -- and that's his definition of awesome.

What I take from this incident is an insight about what hateful politics and violence have in common. Guys like Erickson demonize their political and ideological opponents with hateful rhetoric. They're cast as malign, even less than human. It's that same mindset -- seeing protesters as malign, even less than human -- that leads to police so quickly and needlessly using violence against them. And then the politicos like Erickson laugh at the needless police brutality. They take pleasure in the human being writhing on the ground, about to be taken to the hospital. 

It's a vicious circle of hate. The sort of culture Erickson creates is corrosive to the people who police it, and the spectacle of police brutality brings out the worst impulses in opinion-makers like Erickson.

*This post originally stated that Erickson founded Red State. He didn't.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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