This post is part of a series.
In Part 1 of this series, I argued that warlike rhetoric is not unethical, but it must be used with caution and some caveats if we are not to be misunderstood as inciting violence.
The next level of aggression is incitement and threats. Incitement has been defined in the US by our Supreme Court in order to distinguish it from free speech which can contain lawful criticism or moral condemnation of others. Additionally, it can contain mockery.
The Direct Incitement Test, also known as the imminent lawless test or Brandenburg test, was established in Brandenburg versus Ohio (1969), defining the limits of inflammatory speech that advocates illegal action. Under the direct incitement test:
The constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action. 1
To clarify the three elements listed in the definition above (intent, imminence, and likelihood), the Supreme Court made another decision in 1973
The Supreme Court has said that for speech to lose First Amendment protection, it must be directed at a specific person or group and it must be a direct call to commit immediate lawless action. The time element is critical. The Court wrote that “advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time … is not sufficient to permit the State to punish Hess’ speech.” In addition, there must be an expectation that the speech will in fact lead to lawless action. 2
So to sum up, the best legal definition we have in the US, which I concur with because it protects free speech, is that incitement must
- Directly call for a specific illegal action
- In the immanent future
Some Examples of NON-Incitement
Example 1: Thomas Jefferson
So, for example, I could quote Thomas Jefferson in public saying:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
I would not be guilty of incitement, however, because though I may be commending violence (though this is not a specific call to violence, it can easily be understood as such), I am not commending it right now. If, however, I added “and NOW is that time!” I would be inciting violence.
As it stands, this might fall under the rubric of violent rhetoric, but it’s still merely rhetoric.
Example 2: The Million Man March
The motto of of this year’s million man march was “justice or else.” And while that is certainly a veiled threat, it neither specifies an action, nor does it suggest or create an immanent threat to anyone.
In fact, despite this ugly motto and the racism of organizer Louis Farrakhan, the event took place without effecting any direct violence.
Example 3: “Murdering Babies” at Abortion Clinics
Despite the fact that the overwhelming attitude of most abortion protesters is one of lawful pleading with the women and their babies who are are about to become victims in the abortuaries, an infinitesimally small number of largely mentally unstable people have justified murdering abortion clinic workers to “stop the killing.” However, as I discussed in Part 1 of this series, not only is calling the ending of human lives not a metaphor, and therefore not rhetoric, but it meets neither of the two definitions above for incitement; it does not directly call for the killing of doctors, nor does it create the immediate threat. It is therefore protected under free speech laws, and, I would argue, correctly so, as an ethical norm.
Example 4: Atheist criticisms, rants, ridicule, and serial killers
One of the most outspoken critics of religion is Richard Dawkins, who has hardly withheld his disdain for faith. For example:
“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
A couple of the most recent spates of serial killings have been done with specific anti-religious animus in mind, where killers have specifically killed Christians for their faith, not to mention the infamous killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who also cannibalized his victims. 3
But can we indict Dawkins and his ilk for their uncareful language, which may have encouraged such atrocities? Of course not! Not only does this accusation fail both points of our definition above, disallowing public insults or other inflammatory or angering speech is a form of censorship which, though it might make for a “nicer” society, would also inhibit our pursuit of a society based on truth.
Of course, such freedoms require maturity, where we expect people to grow a bit of a thicker skin if they want to live in a free society where people are free to disagree and argue their points. If we hold to such low expectations of ourselves and others that we are afraid to upset or offend people by every little faux pas, disagreement, or insult, walking on proverbial eggshells, then we will have traded that for freedom – freedom that could have been had for just a little bit of strength and emotional maturity.
Example 5: Cartoons of Mohammed and Insulting Zealots
Recently, anti-Islamic personality Pamela Geller purposely held a Muhammad Cartoon Contest in order to support free speech, and to demonstrate our country’s lack of support for such speech in light of our “moral inversion” in failing to recognize the real dangers of Islam to freedom. 4
Knowing that even such a mild rejection of religious taboos might ignite murderous attacks (which it did), was her contest incitement to violence? 5
Not at all. This event did NOT meet the first requirement of our definition above, that of calling for violence. So she obviously did not incite violence. But did she unwisely invite violence by knowingly violating the religious taboo of so-called extremists?
The fact that she payed over $50K for security for the event shows that she was aware of the possible reaction from Islamists. Such concerns panned out, with two assailants who were killed by security as they attempted to attack the event.
The answer is pretty clear – while it may be Christian to curtail our freedoms to not offend others (Romans 14:21) at a personal level, when fighting ideas in the public arena, and especially mortal threats to freedom, exercising freedoms in order to preserve them for all can NOT be considered incitement. As Geller herself intoned:
“Freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before us is: Will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery, and savagery?” 6
If you recall, in some instances, the preaching of the Apostle Paul caused riots. Was his preaching unethical or incitement? No. (Acts 19).
Some Examples of TRUE Incitement
If such public words and deeds of protest and freedom are not to be considered incitement to violence, then are there contemporary examples that are incitment? Sadly, yes.
Example 6: ‘Pigs in a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon’
One of the most egregious recent examples of incitement to violence is the recent chant of “‘Pigs in a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon” by Black Lives Matter activists, in response to police violence.
Calling for the death or injury of police is a direct call to violence, fulfilling the first of the two part Supreme Court definition of incitement. But was there an immanent danger to police?
Were these directly attributable to the calls for such by BLM activists? It is impossible to know, but the combination of a specific call to violence and the real immanence of such things makes this immoral, unethical, and illegal incitement.
Example 7: Black Panthers – “Oink oink, bang bang!”
Same issue as above – direct metaphors for killing police. (Interestingly, last year’s shooting in Tuscon led to accusations that Tea Party rhetoric was at fault. But direct calls for violence were never uttered by the Tea Party.) This incitement should be recognized and prosecuted:
Example 8: Taunting Police with Open Carry
I think open carry laws themselves may be incitement, and are probably stupid. 12 I am all for police having the right to ask people to move, and to arrest them if they are disrespectful or disobedient to police. Especially when some open carry advocates bother police by going into restaurants and near schools with big guns. Like this ass:
Example 9: Farrakhan Calling for “10,000 fearless men”
Luis Farrakhan, the infamous racist leader of the black Muslim organization Nation of Islam, just two months ago (Aug 2015), in a Baptist Church (!) called forth volunteers to start killing other citizens in the US:
“I’m looking for 10,000 in the midst of a million. Ten thousand fearless men who say death is sweeter than continued life under tyranny. Death is sweeter than continuing to live and bury our children while the white folks give our killers hamburgers. Death is sweeter than watching us slaughter each other to the joy of a 400-year-old enemy. Death is sweeter. The Quran teaches persecution is worse than slaughter. Then it says retaliation is prescribed in matters of the slain. Retaliation is a prescription from God to calm the breasts of those whose children have been slain. So if the federal government won’t intercede in our affairs, then we must rise up and kill those who kill us; stalk them and kill them and let them feel the pain of death that we are feeling!” 13
Example 10: Preaching the Jihad Passages Directly and Openly
Let me assure you – nothing in the New Testament gives you any inkling of violence – in fact, there is a strong pacifist streak in the NT. However, as Christians, we do have to address the examples (but not commands to us) of God’s commanding the conquering and killing of Israel’s enemies (e.g. 1 Samuel 15), or of Elijah hacking the prophets of Baal to death (1 Kings 18:40).
While there is on ironclad defense of these Old Covenant (made with Israel) commands, in general, Christians do not preach these as incitement to violence because there is not a good logical case for it. To do so would contradict even plain reading of the text. And this is why you don’t see Christians murdering other nations today (spare me the tired arguments of the Crusades and the Inquisition, these were neither scriptural nor current). 14 As Pam Geller has written:
The Bible does not contain similar teachings. The Qur’an exhorts believers to fight unbelievers without specifying anywhere in the text that only certain unbelievers are to be fought, or only for a certain period of time, or some other distinction. Taking the texts at face value, the command to make war against unbelievers is open-ended and universal. The Hebrew Scriptures, in contrast, record God’s commands to the Israelites to make war against particular people only. This is jarring to modern sensibilities, to be sure, but it does not amount to the same thing. That’s one reason why Jews and Christians haven’t formed terror groups around the world that quote these Scriptures to justify killing civilian non-combatants. 15
Using the common and best hermeneutics of Muslims themselves, we understand that (a) what Mohammed said and did are examples for all Muslims for all times, and (b) his later commands override his earlier ones (abrogation), there is a strong logical case that the scriptures commanding subjugation and murder of unbelievers are part and parcel of Islam, not extremist abuse of the Koran. Of course, some debate this claim. 16
The following passages (and many more), even when read and taught in context, DO meet the definition of incitement, especially when you see how likely Islamic violence is (over 27,000 Islamic terror incidents since 9/11)
And slay them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is more grievous than slaying. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, slay them — such is the recompense of unbelievers, but if they give over, surely Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers. (Quran 2:191-193)
They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper. (Quran 4:89) 17
Incitement is a serious charge, and one that should not be thrown around carelessly. Many types of speech that arouse anger, disgust, or are perceived as insults or mockery are NOT incitement if they do not call for specific violence. The’re just free speech. They may be unwise speech in light of the elevated tempers of both the righteously indignant and the ideologically sensitive, but they are not legal incitement, nor are such dangers to be enough to cow us into the slavery of silence, especially in light of moral wrongs.
Real incitement to violence is happening today, but mostly from the ideological left and Islam, but the “moral inversion” of our time is that, as Pam Geller says, punishes the victims and fails to protect our freedoms. It is sickening.
Now that we have covered the first two types of aggression, rhetoric and incitement, we can move on to our last type – acts of violence.
- Brandenburg v. Ohio (wikipedia.org) ↩
- What constitutes ‘imminent lawless action’? (FirstAmendmentCenter.org) ↩
- Jeffrey Dahmer (wikipedia.com) ↩
- Cartoon contest organizer defends decision to hold event (CNN video) ↩
- Muhammad Cartoon Organizer Pamela Geller Was Asked, ‘Is This Worth Dying For?’ This Was Her Response (theblaze.com) ↩
- Pamela Geller, Organizer of Muhammad Cartoon Contest, Trumpets Results (New York Times, May 4, 2015) ↩
- Black Lives Matter Radio Host Calls for Race War & Cop-Killing (truthrevolt.com) ↩
- “It’s about to go down, it’s open season on killing white people and crackers” (infowars.com) ↩
- Black Activists Call for Lynching and Hanging of White People and Cops (breitbart.com) ↩
- Chris Christie: Some Black Lives Matter followers call for killing cops (cbsnews.com) ↩
- Black Lives Matter response to death of BLACK police officer speaks VOLUMES (AllenBWest.com) ↩
- Real Time with Bill Maher: New Rules – Open Carry (youtube) ↩
- US Muslim Leader: “We Must Rise Up and Kill Those Who Kill Us,” “I’m looking for 10,000… who say death is sweeter…” (pamelageller.com) ↩
- Flying Hijacked Planes into Glass Houses (thereligionofpeace.com) ↩
- The Truth about Qu’ran (pamgeller.com) ↩
- Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran? (npr.org) ↩
- If Loretta Lynch Wants to Ban ‘Violent Talk,’ She Should Ban the Quran (pamgeller.com) ↩