The Fall and Rise of the Guillotine – The New Republic

Posted By on June 13, 2020

The left, of course, is not alone in reaching into the violence of the past for its rhetoricnor are leftists necessarily the worst offenders, despite the recent ubiquity of the guillotine meme. The right-wing pundit Erick Erickson infamously argued for the installation of dictators in Latin American countries in 2018, noting he was hoping for some helicopters in this plan, a reference to erstwhile Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochets death flights, a series of extrajudicial killings in which the regimes political opponents were thrown to their deaths from helicopters and airplanes.* Until late 2019, Amazon soldT-shirts with slogans like Wanna Take a Ride?emblazoned over an image of a body falling from a helicopteras Pinochets Helicopter Tours gained vogue as a reference for the right. At the Charlottesville, Virginia, Unite the Right rally in August 2017, far-right marchers chanted, You cant run, you cant hide, you get helicopter rides. On June 7, one right-wing commentator tweeted, If the left gets rid of the Trump we have, normal people will turn to the Pinochet theyll need, followed by a helicopter emoji.

Then theres Confederate imagery, also on the right, and the references to the Crusades, which began innocuously enough among video game fans and history buffs, before quickly morphing into an Islamophobic credo. Both the left and the right seem happy to reference Soviet gulags, with some of the former even defending the institutions as compassionate and rehabilitory. Prison-camp references have also been a recent feature of anti-press rhetoric, as well. When Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez shared an article describing basketball star Kobe Bryants alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman, after Bryants death earlier this year, her newspaper briefly suspended her. When it reinstated her, following a massive outcry,people replied to the Post Guilds Twitter statement with messages saying she should serve a stint in GITMO. One called for making gitmo the hotel California for journos! While guillotines paraded through streets may be frightening, they are far less terrifying in the near term than the recent police crackdown on the free press. The reporter Scott Nover, who runs the press freedom newsletter Pressing, created a list of at least 306 threats to and violations of freedom of the press that have occurred during the protests following George Floyds death. As journalists are taken to actual jails for reporting the truth, the association of internment camps like Guantnamo Bay with media hatred becomes more sinister.

Speech, naturally, cannot be violent in itself. Nevertheless, it can contribute to a culture in which violence gets normalized. Political actors, online agitators, and commentators ought to know that their words have consequences; that through them, they help to build a culture where politicized violence becomes more likely and less quickly condemned. Some, of course, are already aware of this. Its the point.

I dont know if Erick Erickson would actually throw his political opponents out of a helicopter to their deaths. I prefer to believe he wouldnt. But some right-wing activists certainly use references to historical violence to signal a very real intent to replicate past atrocities.

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The Fall and Rise of the Guillotine - The New Republic

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