Having waded through the details of this dispute, it’s plausible that Gaetz is getting a bad rap and that Adam Kinzinger was misled by a deceptive edit.
Although, Gaetz being Gaetz, you never know how far he might stoop to pander to the more feral elements of MAGA, especially at a moment when he’s under federal investigation and could use some political support.
An ominous bit from his event last night with Marjorie Taylor Greene:
— KevinlyFather 🇺🇲🇨🇦🇲🇼🇸🇿 (@KevinlyFather) May 27, 2021
Talking about Big Tech and then immediately segueing into a call to “use” the Second Amendment does sound like a threat. It sounded that way to Kinzinger too, who tweeted about Gaetz’s comments, “This is not speech protected by the first amendment. This is beyond yelling fire in a theater.” Progressive Dem Ro Khanna, who’s friendly with Gaetz, was also taken aback:
Gaetz comments invoking the 2nd Amendment as a response to Silicon Valley when 9 people were killed in my district is not just hurtful and wrong but dangerous. Politics is not a game. I saw the grieving families. Violence or threats of violence have no place in public discourse.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) May 28, 2021
It wouldn’t be wildly surprising in 2021 if one of the most pugnacious right-wing populists in the House casually insinuated that the time to start murdering Silicon Valley execs had come. Like I say, Khanna knows Gaetz personally and he thought it was possible that that’s what Gaetz meant.
But watch this clip, which picks up with the final line of the last one:
Matt Gaetz to loud standing ovation tonight: “The 2nd Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government of the United States, if that becomes necessary.” pic.twitter.com/RLh5q4YlN0
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) May 27, 2021
Gaetz may have tripped himself up with an awkward transition. He was talking about Big Tech not being able to cancel him, then he started in on a new passage about the Second Amendment as a means of self-defense against an oppressive government. That’s a traditional (and correct) read of the amendment’s purpose, although it wasn’t lost on his critics that he was winking at insurrection here on a day when the Senate GOP was busy making clear that it would tank the January 6 commission to try to delegitimize any political accountability for the Capitol riot.
He tagged Khanna in a Twitter thread this afternoon and swore that he didn’t mean to imply that resistance to Big Tech should turn violent:
I unequivocally condemn the violence against your constituents.
The Second Amendment should NEVER be used to threaten anyone in civil society, including big tech.
My remarks were deceptively edited.
I respectfully request you review them in full to see the essential context.
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) May 28, 2021
“The clip cut out Gaetz’s reference to the First Amendment, which makes it clear he is not calling on supporters to shoot Silicon Valley employees, but instead to simply exercise their rights to freedom of speech and assembly.” (Newsweek)
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) May 28, 2021
Pretty clear. Greene seized on it to go on offense against Kinzinger:
You lied about him.
Matt gave a history lesson on our great 2A after speaking about Big Tech’s attacks on our 1A.
Republicans should agree with him, but we all know you’re really not Republican, you’re fake and old news. https://t.co/UL3gfdkVWc
— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) May 28, 2021
Whatever Gaetz meant, Kinzinger was clearly wrong on the law. For one thing, the “fire in a crowded theater” standard for the First Amendment was abandoned ages ago by the Supreme Court. For another, Gaetz’s comment about Big Tech and the Second Amendment would be protected speech even if he meant what Kinzinger thought he meant. In order to qualify as criminal incitement, a speaker must intend to incite and be likely to incite imminent lawless action. We can argue about Gaetz’s intentions but there’s no argument that what he said at the rally wasn’t likely to incite anyone to attack a Silicon Valley exec “imminently.” If he had said the same thing to a mob gathered outside Mark Zuckerberg’s house, then we’d have something that’s potentially chargeable.
One wrinkle, though. While Gaetz’s characterization of the Second Amendment as a bulwark against government tyranny is fine as far as it goes, however provocatively timed, the idea that people have an obligation to “use” it in that context is ambiguous. “Use” it how? Does he mean use the rights granted by the amendment simply to buy guns, just in case General Biden’s stormtroopers kick down the door? Or does he mean use the guns themselves? The problem with GOP populists being minimizers of, or outright apologists for, insurrectionist riots and overturning elections is that it becomes impossible to give them the benefit of the doubt on their innocent intentions when they talk like this.