At a Tea Party Express rally in Missouri last week, a conservative activist named Scott Boston, referencing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), told an assembled crowd, "We have to kill the Claire Bear." The comments were enough to get the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police, which ordered some extra protection for the Democratic senator.
Sarah Steelman, who's running against McCaskill, was on hand for the event, and seemed reluctant to denounce the activist's rhetoric. The Republican said she "disagreed" with Boston's word choice, "but I understand his frustration."
This week, Steelman went further, saying there was "nothing violent" about the rhetoric, and expressing frustration that law enforcement followed up with the activist directly.
"Are we just we just going to abandon all common sense in this country and anytime anybody says anything, the government is just going to come down and send FBI agents to knock on your door? Are we going to have thought and speech police? ... This is part of the problem in Washington."
Look, I suspect Scott Boston does not literally support assassinating an elected U.S. official, but he appeared at a public rally and talked about killing a senator. That's not all right. It's not evidence of "thought police" when some nice folks from the FBI stop by his house to make sure he isn't a threat to public safety; it's evidence of due diligence.
Americans can say just about anything when it comes to expressing political opinions, but when violent rhetoric enters the picture, law-enforcement officials take an interest. And they should.
The fact that a U.S. Senate candidate isn't bothered by violent rhetoric, but is bothered by the FBI assessing a security threat, is disconcerting.
John Brunner, who also hopes to take on McCaskill and is running against Steelman in a GOP primary, said of Boston's comments, "This type of rhetoric is unconscionable and I reject this kind of politics. Comments like these have no place in this U.S. Senate campaign, or any other campaign in this country, because they don't represent American values."
Maybe Steelman should take some notes from Brunner.