Political opportunism is so commonplace during elections that in some camps it becomes compulsory. Any event (no matter how tragic) has to be converted to a chance to wring any amount advantage (no matter how classless and distasteful the words and actions become). Sure threats were leveled and people have died, but there are votes to be gained!
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made it clear he absolutely does not adhere to this very stratagem. He was asked about the current political environment. His response? “Everybody needs to watch what they’re saying. We are all responsible, every one of us.” You can watch the video here.
But by Sunday, the senator apparently had forgotten what he said Friday. While stumping at the Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Florida City, Nelson used the occasion to weigh in on the events of last week, then ramping up the hysterics to a surprising level. Following the arrest of a South Florida resident for mailing suspected explosive devices to political figures, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the senator apparently thought it wise to turn hyperbolic and liken our climate to a genocidal tragedy.
Using his wife’s relationship with the First Lady of Rwanda as the springboard he drew comparisons to our nation and that country’s recent inhumane history. “That story of Rwanda is very instructive to us,” he told the congregation.
"When a place gets so tribal that the two tribes won't have anything to do with each other ... that jealousy turns into hate," Nelson said. "And we saw what happened to the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda, it turned into a genocide. A million-people hacked to death within a few months. And we have got to watch what's happening here." This truly is not the way to tamp down the inciting dialogue in this country.
The Rwandan genocide is considered one of the worst mass slaughters in human history. An estimated 800,000 civilians, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were killed in three months in 1994. Hutu militias and civilians led the campaign of violence during an incredibly violent civil war that eventually ended when Tutsi forces defeated Hutu extremists.
Nelson's behavior typifies a technique that has played out repeatedly this past week; politicians and journalists calling for an end to dangerous, spiteful rhetoric and in the same discussion, freely lobbing explosive accusations of culpability toward the president and the GOP in general.
Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin tried to spin things to a less incendiary level. “He uses Rwanda as an extreme example of what could happen when a nation becomes totally divided,” detailed McLaughlin. “He wasn't likening the current political climate in America to what was happening right before the Rwandan genocide." Considering all the calls we have been lectured with lately to back down on excitable language this was a jarring comparison to be made.
But the media have fostered this kind of talk. The press and politicians said mail terrorist Cesar Sayoc was radicalized by Donald Trump’s violent rhetoric. The synagogue shooter, likewise, was said to be inspired by Trump’s supposed anti-semitism. It takes a unique state to be in where you decry the hateful rhetoric supposedly inspiring these deplorable acts, yet you go on to deliver your own divisiveness in almost the same breath. It surely qualifies as rhetoric considering the lack of factual exploration made by those speaking in this fashion.
Charging the president as being anti-semitic is near laughable. The same press scorching him for inspiring this Jewish violence has in the past lambasted him for his stern support for the state of Israel, specifically moving the U.S. embassy. His appointment of Nikki Haley to the United Nations was so she could reestablish our country’s firm devotion to the state of Israel on the global stage. Not to mention that Trump being an anti-Semite would be a surprise to his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law, and grandchildren -- all orthodox Jews.
Another detail undermining the accusation -- the synagogue shooter on social media expressed his dismay with President Trump. The reason? He was not anti-Semitic, as the shooter preferred. He declared to have never “worn, owned, or even touched” a MAGA hat. Why? Because the president was being controlled by Jews. So that radicalized narrative has gone up as vapor.
These are details the media, however, are less energetic in chasing down. Also escaping the media finger-pointing are other recent perpetrators of violence. William Clyde Allen has somehow managed to avoid being the focus of media scorn, despite very similar actions taken just weeks ago. Allen also sent threatening postal deliveries, these involving a potential ricin exposure, to various political targets. Since his deliveries were aimed at President Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other military leaders, they were not nearly as inflammatory.
James Hodgkinson is another reactionary the media want to pretend does not exist. Somehow this Bernie Sanders devotee with an obsession over health care, who premeditated his shooting of a congressional softball game is not considered to have been unduly motivated. Despite his zealotry and the fact he sought out Republicans specifically, there have been few claims he was driven to his violence by political stridency.
More confounding is when the media generated the very speech they have demonized. The day before the mail bombing story broke, the New York Times published a piece in which author Zoe Sharp wrote of a fictionalized episode involving the assassination of President Trump. This was not a book review, nor comment made in an interview. The paper commissioned the work, edited, and published it. Notably few in the press have cited this as part of their critical analysis.
But still, they call out for restrained commentary as they hurl hateful accusations in the other direction. Those calling for a civil discourse would probably have their message more readily digested if they didn't actually add more fuel to the fires of rhetoric.
Bill Nelson, in hinting we are on the path of genocidal warfare, seems no less eager to build that conflagration.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.