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Ted Cruz's crazy "jackboot" talk: When inflammatory rhetoric starts getting dangerous

A question for gun-nut Republicans who think Obamacare and gay rights are "tyranny": when does the shooting start?


Simon Maloy
October 16, 2015 1:57PM (UTC)

You’ve probably noticed by now, but Ted Cruz can sometimes be a bit melodramatic. The junior senator from Texas and 2016 candidate has been known to worry out loud about “tens of millions Americans dying” at the hands of Iranian sci-fi weaponry. He has a habit of calling the sitting president as a sponsor of terrorism. And when he was asked for his reaction to the first 2016 Democratic primary debate earlier this week, Cruz let rip with a characteristic mix of hair-on-fire nonsense.

“It was more socialism, more pacifism, more weakness and less Constitution,” Cruz said to a crowd of Iowa supporters. “It was a recipe to destroy a country.” Cruz hadn’t actually seen the debate, as the Dallas Morning News noted, so to cover all the bases he shifted from describing the Democrats as feckless weaklings to authoritarian dictators-in-waiting. “We’re seeing our freedoms taken away every day and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously,” he told reporters. “Last night was an audition for who would embrace government power for who would strip your and my individual liberties.”

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That’s inflammatory rhetoric for a semi-credible major party presidential candidate to be tossing around. And while it’s easy to dismiss this stuff as posturing and pandering for the hardcore conservative voters that form Cruz’s base, there’s a deeper significance to it, as Ed Kilgore rightly points out:

Cruz is one of those presidential candidates (along with Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee for sure; the exact position of several others is unclear) who claim the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to revolutionary violence against their own government if it engages in “tyranny” or doesn’t respect our rights.

This is an argument Cruz makes with some frequency: you need guns to protect yourself against government tyrants. And there he is on the campaign trail describing the opposition party candidates as would-be tyrants, fitting themselves for jackboots. His response to this summer’s Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage was to describe it as “the very definition of tyranny.” His official statement on the arrest of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for refusing to do her job declared that “judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.” He opposed Obama’s executive order on immigration by invoking “despotic executives” and “unaccountable monarchs.” If you hear all this, and you also hear Ted Cruz say you need a gun to ward off tyranny, you have to start to wonder when people begin putting two and two together.

It’s not limited to Cruz. Ben Carson has spent the better part of a fortnight arguing that the Holocaust could have been prevented, or at least impeded, if Jews or anti-Nazi Germans had been armed and capable of inflicting violence upon the Third Reich. It’s a profoundly ahistorical argument that accomplishes little beyond appropriating the horror of the Holocaust to bolster Carson’s view that present-day Americans should be armed to protect against their own government’s slide into Nazi-like tyranny – something he believes could very well happen. But again, we have to take a look at what Ben Carson considers tyranny. He’s described Obamacare, for example, as “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” He’s said that Barack Obama is working to “destroy the country” and that Democratic leaders are “trying to destroy this nation.”

Conservatives rally around Republican candidates when they declare their willingness to employ violence against the government in the event that it sinks into despotism, arguing that they’re simply exercising a fundamental American right. The problem is that so much of the conservative movement has come to define “tyranny” as “something the Democrats did that I disagree with.” They actively encourage conservative voters to believe that they’re being persecuted and having their rights stripped away as part of a broader agenda to purge religious liberty from the land. When you pair that message with a passionate call to arm oneself to defend against the voiding of your rights, you’re crossing into insurrectionist territory and inching towards the militia kooks who are just looking for an excuse to open fire on federal agents.

Kilgore recommends that “progressives, responsible conservatives, and most of all the MSM need to challenge Second Amendment ultras either to repudiate the right to armed insurrection or stop using rhetoric that suggests one of our two major parties is promoting ‘tyranny’ or trying to ‘destroy the country.’” A good way to help knock this stuff down is to ask them a simple question: when does the shooting start? They say guns are needed to fight tyranny, and that Obamacare and same-sex marriage are the definition of tyranny, so who gets a gun pulled on them for implementing these liberty-killing measures? Would they defend someone who committed an act of violence in protest of Obama’s despotic and monarchical executive orders on immigration?

If your position is that we’re surrounded by the tyranny of equal marriage rights and affordable health care, and that violence against the state is the ultimate check against said tyranny, then I think we deserve to know when the revolution starts.

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Simon Maloy

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