Wave of political violence hits U.S.

13 pipe bombs are mailed to Democrats, while 11 are killed in a synagogue

Graphic courtesy of CBS News | Between Wednesday and Friday last week, 13 makeshift pipe bombs were mailed to well-known critics of President Donald Trump and Democratic Party members. None of the bombs detonated.

A wave of politically-motivated violence shook the United States last week and has since ignited a national conversation about inflammatory rhetoric and the place of civility in politics.

Between Wednesday and Friday, an individual in Florida allegedly mailed at least 13 makeshift pipe bombs to prominent members of the Democratic Party and frequent critics of President Donald Trump, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

One package was sent to CNN’s office in New York in an attempt to target former CIA Director John Brennan, who has contributed to the network.

None of the improvised devices successfully detonated, and federal authorities took a suspect into custody Friday on charges that include illegal mailing of explosives and threatening a former president.

The next day, a suspect shot and killed 11 congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue before wounding four police officers in a shootout. A SWAT team eventually arrested the suspect, whom federal authorities have charged with 29 counts including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, which falls under hate crime legislation.

Hours prior to the attack, the suspect allegedly posted, “HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered” to the social media site Gab, which is an alternative to Twitter that is often used by white nationalists.  HIAS is a Jewish philanthropic organization that works in 12 countries to support refugees and other stateless peoples. The nonprofit has been a target of extreme anti-Semitic and anti-immigration groups.

President Trump responded to the first wave of bombing attempts with calls for national unity, affirming in an Oval Office presser “acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” The next morning he published a tweet in which he claimed that much of the division in American politics stems from mainstream media outlets’ publication of “purposefully false and inaccurate reporting.” Trump provided no evidence for his assertions.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer issued a joint statement in response, asserting, “President Trump’s words ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence,” in reference to the president’s repeated employment of divisive rhetoric, including a tweet on Monday in which he labeled the media “the true Enemy of the People.”

In the days following the attacks, “false flag” conspiracies have been advanced by several high-profile conservative figures. Fox Business TV host Lou Dobbs, conservative pundit and author Ann Coulter and Donald Trump Jr. have all either tweeted or publicly endorsed fallacious theories that the attempted bombings were planned and executed by leftist activists seeking to garner sympathy for Democrats ahead of the November elections.

UC Flyer
Photo courtesy of Facebook | Flyers, like the one pictured above, were scattered around the University of Cincinnati. 

Flyers circulated throughout the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) campus early Friday morning appeared to advance a similar false flag conspiracy theory, according to Preston Parrish, a UC student who first reported discovering the flyers.

Per the editors of the News Record, UC’s student-run media organization, the individuals responsible for the flyers have not yet been identified.

The politically motivated acts of violence and subsequent statements from the president, congressional leadership and other high-profile commentators have launched a national debate about civility and inflammatory rhetoric in American politics.

“It’s definitely ridiculously polarized, and I think that’s been seen in the midterms now with how a lot of races are being run on TV,” Sam Peters, President of Xavier College Democrats said, “A lot of those TV ads are very inflammatory and tend to give less positives about the candidates running and more negatives about who the candidates are running against.”

Tyler Harmon, Fundraising Chair for Xavier College Republicans, agreed with Peters but also signed on to President Trump’s indictment of the media.

“The media can definitely be biased and can be very polarizing with how they blow things up,” Harmon said. “There’s no doubt that media sources show (President Trump) in a negative light rather than a positive light.”

When asked about Trump’s polarizing rhetoric regarding media outlets, Harmon stood by the president, “What he says is an opinion of his own on the matter,” Harmon said, “In no way is he infringing on the media’s right to free press, the right for them to say everything.”

On the connection between the president’s rhetoric and last week’s spate of political violence, Harmon stated further, “We can’t connect this guy who sent these mail bombs with Donald Trump. You can’t blame Donald Trump for the actions of someone else.”

Harmon and Peters both agreed on the need for greater civility and respect in politics and our culture more widely.

Peters spoke of redirecting angry sentiments into constructive political action.

“I think people are scared and unsure, and so taking the time to channel those emotions into something positive is important,” she said.

She added that she tells her club, “If you don’t like something don’t go on Twitter and post, but instead knock some doors, make some phone calls and ensure we’re positively channeling that energy into a message of ‘we’re Democrats, this is why we’re voting for these people’ as opposed to ‘this is why we aren’t voting for others.’”

Harmon noted the need for spaces that exist outside of the political divide, “I think it comes down to social interaction between ideologies and parties. People just need to be civil and talk with each other, and not just want to hate.”

“I think that’s kind of on the individual,” he added. “People willing to say ‘hey I’m a Republican, you’re a Democrat, you can come over to my house and have some dinner, we don’t even have to talk politics.”

By: Ryan Kambich | Op-Eds Editor