Earlier this month a local conservative political candidate called for a Black man to be hanged, and also for judges and prosecutors to be shot. And that’s not even the most disturbing part of this story.
What happened next was maybe more ominous. Which was … nothing.
Nobody denounced the comments. People in politics shrugged, barely raising an eyebrow. We’ve passed some tipping point where it’s apparently now accepted that parts of the political right are just going to call for extreme violence, and nothing can be, or will be, done about it.
Two weeks ago, a repeat offender in Seattle named Alexander Jay was arrested and charged with felony assault for shoving a 62-year-old innocent bystander down the stairs at a light rail station. She ended up with three broken ribs and a broken clavicle.
Surveillance video of the horrific incident was aired on TV news. When it started making the rounds on social media, here is how Loren Culp, a Republican congressional candidate in central Washington, reacted:
“Get a Rope!” he tweeted. “Not only for the low life scumbag who did this but for the worthless judges and prosecutors who continually let this happen by turning violent criminals back out only to make new victims.”
Then he followed up with: “No rope, firing squad and I’ll volunteer for it.”
That was on March 13. This statement from a leading GOP congressional candidate, calling for vigilantism against an alleged perpetrator but also court officials, has been sitting there for more than a week now with nary a peep of disapproval from his party or anyone else in the political system.
Even on social media, Culp’s call for a lynching was greeted mostly with morbid curiosity.
“Yikes, might want to rethink this post?” wrote one commenter. Asked another: “Are you suggesting lynchings, Loren?”
Seems deadly clear to me. “Get a Rope!” is not a dog whistle, or some sophisticated thought that might have an alternative explanation. We don’t have the death penalty here anymore, so he can’t be referring to that. Culp is a former police chief so he surely knows how toxic speech like this can be in the criminal justice system.
Now when this first came up, I’ll admit that some of us at The Seattle Times expressed a certain weariness. Oh God, another story about another candidate saying another unhinged thing. Each time, we debate whether writing about it makes us dupes — if we’re simply serving to broadcast and propagate the unhinged thing.
Only last month we featured Culp calling coronavirus “the Chinese Virus” while recommending quack cures to his followers — a story that prompted the Anti-Defamation League and other groups to denounce his “anti-Asian rhetoric.”
“We speak together to ensure that this rhetoric never becomes normalized,” they wrote.
Except that’s what’s happening anyway. If a candidate keeps saying extreme and hateful things, and isn’t disowned by his party, and meanwhile everyone else starts shrugging because we think he’s a nut or we’re worn down or we just can’t keep pace with the firehose of lunacy, well, that’s a case study of how something as rancid as a call for a lynching becomes politically normal.
I noticed this when I wrote last month how another Republican in that same dreadful race, for central Washington’s 4th Congressional District, had called for hanging the U.S.’s chief medical advisor. What Jerrod Sessler said was: “We should be building a gallows for Anthony Fauci.”
Nobody spoke out against that. So I found my initial shock deadening, boiled-frog-style. Oh, it’s just another Republican who wants to hang a public health official.
Sessler is a relative unknown. But Culp got 1.7 million votes when he ran for governor in 2020 — the most ever by a GOP candidate for the office. He was recently endorsed by the past president of the United States, Donald Trump.
“A man of the people, Loren will always defend your personal liberty,” Trump gushed. “Loren Culp has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Unless you’re a defendant in court or, a judge or prosecutor — then Loren would hang or shoot you.
Trump doesn’t show the slightest discomfort about being on the same team as other violent fantasists around the nation. The Washington Post noticed this trend and declared him the granddaddy of it all: “Trump’s violent political rhetoric is metastasizing in the Republican Party,” they wrote in an editorial last week.
That article cited a Virginia Congressional candidate who wants to execute election officials; an Arizona state senator who called for public hanging of her foes; and an Arizona congressman who made an anime video of himself killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. All are stars in the party anyway.
I suspect the only way to prevent violent words from party actors like this from eventually spilling over into actual violence is for Republicans themselves to finally take a damned stand against this virus in their own party.
Where is the state party on this, or GOP elected officials, or county party organizations? You all OK that one of your Trump-backed candidates is out there publicly calling for a lynching and for executing court officials?
It’s your party: You can’t mutely pass it off on the Anti-Defamation League to say from afar that this is terribly, horribly wrong.
If we don’t hear much — and we probably won’t — it sure seems like our politics is going terminally round the bend down a dangerous road.