The average Fox News viewer may not know the case law on this but I promise Gingrich does, which makes the segment awfully cynical. For starters, Madonna didn’t really threaten anything. She’s an attention-hungry slob who shouldn’t use her platform to mainstream thoughts like this, but note that she didn’t actually condone doing it.
Madonna was just trying to express herself at the Women’s March on Saturday…
“Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” Madonna said. “But I know that this won’t change anything. We cannot fall into despair.”
In an Instagram posting on Sunday, Madonna said she wanted to clarify her statements.
“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in its entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context,” she wrote. “My speech began with ‘I want to start a revolution of love’.”
Is it legal to say “Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House”? In this situation, sure. There’s a famous case along these very lines from the 60s, in which a speaker at an anti-war protest in D.C. said, “If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ.” He was prosecuted for threatening the life of the president — but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court because, c’mon:
[T]he statute initially requires the Government to prove a true “threat.” We do not believe that the kind of political hyperbole indulged in by petitioner fits within that statutory term. For we must interpret the language Congress chose “against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”… The language of the political arena, like the language used in labor disputes … is often vituperative, abusive, and inexact. We agree with petitioner that his only offense here was “a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President.” Taken in context, and regarding the expressly conditional nature of the statement and the reaction of the listeners, we do not see how it could be interpreted otherwise.
America has a lot of buffoonish blowhards who like to fantasize about violence with no intention of acting on it (what would the Internet be without them?) so the law cuts them a lot of slack. And as I say, history professor turned House Speaker Newt Gingrich knows that, so what’s he babbling about? Does he want the law changed so that all violent hyperbole means jail time or is he suggesting that Madonna be arrested as a form of petty harassment, knowing that the charges against her won’t stick? Bad either way. Really bad in the context of a lecture about fascism.
Speaking of blowhards and violence, sign me up with the people who can’t quite believe we’re seriously debating whether it’s okay to punch neo-Nazis just because they’re neo-Nazis. Condoning vigilante attacks on someone for their political perspective is an almost impressively bad idea, a slope as slippery as a banana peel covered in grease on a sheet of ice. I get the point that Nazism advocates eliminationist violence and therefore attacking Nazis can be thought of as a type of “preemptive self-defense,” but not getting punched in the face is, or should be, Richard Spencer’s reward for merely being a buffoonish blowhard who doesn’t act on his ideology. And let’s be real: If you sincerely believe in freedom of thought, you shouldn’t be laughing when someone gets clocked for exercising that freedom. The fact that Spencer wouldn’t extend the same courtesy to you is beside the point. He has his principles, you have yours. I believe it was Lincoln who said in his second inaugural that, in America, you have every right to be a dirtbag so long as you do it peaceably. Or maybe I thought of that just now. Either way, it should be carved in marble somewhere in D.C.