Amanda Marcotte Is Confused

On Ismaaiyl Brinsley and Scott Roeder


Amanda Marcotte has a history of misrepresenting the views of the people she criticizes. Today her strawman shares a name with me:

Every post deserves a soundtrack.

It was entirely predictable that those in the "police can do no wrong" camp would blame the tragic murder of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, at the hands of Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, on the recent protests against police violence. But it was just as predictable that other, more clever rightwing sorts would use liberals denying that linkage as cover to excuse any and all rightwing terrorism, past or present, by blurring the distinctions between what Brinsley did and what other, more clearly ideological killers do.

The award for that move goes to Jesse Walker at Reason, who draws a false equivalence between Brinsley's actions and those of rightwing terrorist Scott Roeder, who killed abortion provider George Tiller in 2009. "Responsibility for a crime lies with the criminal," he says, suggesting that people who point to incendiary rhetoric that precedes a bout of violence will create a situation where "we aren't supposed to criticize anyone at all."

Here's the passage she's quoting:

Responsibility for a crime lies with the criminal. It was Ismaaiyl Brinsley who decided to pull that trigger two days ago, not anyone else. If Mayor de Blasio had gone on TV Friday night and urged the world to "go cop-hunting tomorrow," I could understand why someone would assign him partial blame for Liu and Ramos' deaths. But of course he did nothing of the sort, and neither did any of the other politicians being accused of inciting the crime, from Holder to Obama to Rand Paul.

When Scott Roeder killed the Kansas abortionist George Tiller in 2009, several commentators tried to blame the assassination on Tiller's many critics in the media and the anti-abortion movement. The maverick Marxist Brendan O'Neill then pointed out what this criticism implied: that "public debate should be watered down to the level of polite tea-party disagreements, lest any borderline cranks be agitated or inflamed by it." The same objection applies in Brinsley's case, except that this time most of the alleged inciters are already speaking in watered-down terms. (De Blasio's great crime, in his opponents' eyes, are some public remarks about telling his biracial son "to take special care" around "the police officers who are there to protect him." Not exactly fighting words.) By this standard, we aren't supposed to criticize anyone at all.

There is a lot more to her argument, and there is a lot more to mine. Curious readers can click through to our respective posts and decide how much they agree with her or with me. I just want to note that her core claim here—that I drew a "false equivalence" between Brinsley and Roeder—isn't accurate. For one thing, I wasn't actually comparing Brinsley and Roeder; I was comparing the rhetoric that supposedly inspired them. (Later in the post, I expressed doubt about whether the rhetoric in question inspired Brinsley at all.) More importantly, I didn't say they were equivalent. I explicitly said that the rhetoric coming from de Blasio, Holder, Obama, and Paul is watered-down in a way that the rhetoric of Tiller's critics was not.

The point is that if you don't think we should blame the anti-abortion movement writ large for Roeder's crime (and unlike Marcotte, I don't think we should), then it's even harder to make that kind of argument about Brinsley. Or as I put it in the post, "The same objection applies in Brinsley's case, except that this time most of the alleged inciters are already speaking in watered-down terms." The words are all there, Ms. Marcotte; you just have to pay attention to what they mean.

While I'm at it, I don't consider myself "rightwing." And no, the secret agenda of my post was not to "excuse any and all rightwing terrorism." It was nice of her to say I'm clever, though.