Speech Acts & Politics ~ Right Wing Lunacy from Sea to Shining Sea
to a table at a town hall meeting on healthcare in Alhambra,
California. Photograph © Danny Moloshok/Reuters.
Of course, Kostnic and his racist ilk have a god given right to bear arms. According to the news reports Kosnic was standing on the grounds of a church. And, of course, pastors have been encouraging parishioners to exercise their god given right during church services too. But the members of lynch mobs throughout U.S. history have simply exercised their god given right to bear arms as they subverted the rule of law. Where have we witnessed this intersection of right wing paranoia, gun toting and Christianity before? Think KKK.
But let's assume that Kostnic was just engaged in political theatre - of course he'd never actually use the pistol to shoot an elected official or a fellow citizen! Right. Let's think about what wearing a gun does to political discussion. When we speak we are engaged in action of a particular sort. What is the difference between a threat, a warning and a prediction? Speech act theorists tell us that in large measure the difference will reside in the institutional context within which a given statement is uttered. If I am in church or a town meeting and express my views that is one thing. If I do so while wearing a fire arm it is quite another. And right wingers who claim they cannot see that are either being disingenuous or are ethically defective. Nothing I or an elected official could say to Mr. Kostnic while unarmed is a threat to him. So even if he has a right to bear arms in self-defense, by wearing this gun to a political discussion he is essentially stating that he has not got an argument (or the ability to articulate one) that will counter those offered by the folks who disagree with him. And he is signalling strongly the sort of behavior to which he plans to take recourse.
According to the report in The Guardian local police officials insisted that Kostnic was doing nothing illegal. It would be nice to think that Kostnic is so literary or so legally well-informed that he knows just how to stop short of overt threats. I'm not betting on either possibility. You? If, even without a gun, I verbally threaten the President or a Congressman or a Senator I can, I suspect, be arrested. The local police seem to be blind to the ways Kostnic and others like him are escalating conflict and, by acting in a threatening manner, inciting violence. Are we to conclude that the local police are either disingenuous or morally defective too?
The right-wing nutters are not sentient enough to be ashamed of the behavior Kostnic and many others have engaged in. But witnessing it makes me ashamed. Not afraid, Bill Kostnic, ashamed.
PS: You can find the stories from The Guardian that accompanied these images here and here.
PS2: Lest you think that Kostnic is alone, follow the links from this post at Huffington Post. The only difference in the Kostnic case is that he showed up at a meeting with the President instead of with a Congressional representative.