Gaetz and Greene vs. Adam Kinzinger: Did Gaetz really hint at using violence against Big Tech?

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:

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:

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:

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:

Pretty clear. Greene seized on it to go on offense against Kinzinger:

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.