When many of us hear the words "armed" and "dangerous," we think of criminal activity: Police officers are often told to be on the lookout for suspects — accused of serious felonies — who are armed and dangerous, and are therefore threats to public safety.
What's far less common are instances in which elected officials suggest being armed and dangerous is a good thing. The Charlotte Observer reported:
Following a not-guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday, Rep. Madison Cawthorn offered the 18-year-old an internship and told people on Instagram to "be armed, be dangerous and be moral." ... On Instagram, Cawthorn said in a video: "Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty, my friends. You have a right to defend yourselves. Be armed, be dangerous and be moral."
To be sure, Cawthorn was not the only GOP official in a celebratory mood after a jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on Friday. He was, however, the only member of Congress who thought it'd be a good idea to encourage his allies to be both "armed" and "dangerous."
The fact that the congressman added "moral" to the mix did not negate the importance of the other adjectives.
What's more, this wasn't the first example of Cawthorn raising eyebrows with the language of violence.
As regular readers may recall, the North Carolinian appeared at a local Republican Party meeting, and held a shotgun during part of his appearance at the local event. During his public comments, the GOP congressman referred to jailed Jan. 6 rioters as "political hostages," before musing about freeing the suspected criminals and possible efforts to "bust them out."
When someone in the audience asked, "When are you going to call us to Washington again?" Cawthorn replied, "We are actively working on that one."
But then he kept going, falsely telling locals that the country's election systems are "rigged," and arguing that if American elections "continue to be stolen, then it's going to lead to one place, and it's bloodshed."
Cawthorn, of course, was obviously peddling nonsense: Elections systems in the United States are not "rigged"; there is no evidence that any election was "stolen" in 2020; there is no need for "bloodshed." But the 26-year-old raised the prospect of political violence anyway in service of his party's lies.
In a healthy political system, such public rhetoric would likely lead to a conversation about whether the lawmaker should be expelled. Indeed, one congressional Republican — Illinois' Adam Kinzinger — published a tweet denouncing Cawthorn's rhetoric as "insane."
But House GOP leaders nevertheless preferred silence. They also said nothing in response to his "be armed, be dangerous" comments.
I'm reminded of this striking Associated Press report from 10 days ago, which included a paragraph that's difficult to forget:
Less than a year after former President Donald Trump's supporters staged a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in an effort to halt the peaceful transition of power, the GOP's refusal to broadly and forcefully condemn more recent examples of disturbing rhetoric and behavior suggests an unsettling shift. One of the nation's two major political parties appears increasingly tolerant of at least some persistent level of violence in American discourse, or at least willing to turn a blind eye to it.
There's a growing body of evidence to bolster the point. Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was censured last week after releasing a video in which he was depicted as killing one of his Democratic colleagues. Earlier this year, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was stripped of her committee assignments after the public learned of online messages in which she expressed support for violence against Democratic elected officials. This included an instance in which she liked a social-media comment about removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from office by way of "a bullet to the head."
It led The New York Times to note this month, "From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party. Ten months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right-wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power."
The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, a former chief speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, added a few days later, "It is tempting to dismiss this as the talk of posers and blowhards. But some posers and blowhards have live ammunition at their disposal."
The more one of the nation's major political parties is "tolerant of at least some persistent level of violence in American discourse," the scarier our public life will become.