The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and in recent times that has been challenged and the limits sorely tested. It is a slippery slope, one fraught with the danger of going a step too far in censuring free speech, but it is the opinion of this writer that there must be a line … somewhere. Last night I came across one of the right-wing pundits who I believe has crossed the line no matter where the line is. His name is Josh Bernstein, and he is an online commentator. His online show is called, predictably, the Josh Bernstein Show. His bio says he is an anthropologist, writer, news anchor, political analyst, and more, but I rather doubt most of that, and don’t have time to spend trying to confirm or deny.
What brought him onto my radar was his call for Trump to “sharpen up them guillotines” to use on special counsel Robert Mueller in response to Mueller’s comment during his public statement on Wednesday that “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Bernstein went into attack mode, accusing Mueller of taking bribes.
“How much were you paid to do that press conference? All of you are just disgusting, despicable excuses for human beings and, honestly, I hope you all go down. Treason. President Trump said treason. Guess what? I agree with that. … You know what they do for treason? U.S. Code 18 § 2381. They put you to death, that’s what they do. Let’s sharpen up them guillotines, let’s bring out Old Sparky, let’s make sure that those lethal concoctions are ready to go, because you people deserve it!”
Now, we’ve all become used to the hate speech that emanates from both sides of the political spectrum, but most viciously from the far right, and most of us take it with a grain of salt these days. But I sense a more ominous tone here. The danger is not in him saying it, but in people hearing it, and some people hearing it as a call to action.
If this were an isolated episode in Mr. Bernstein’s hate speech, I might be more inclined to chalk it up to the ravings of a lunatic and move along, but it is one of many. In January, he had this to say about democrats …
“Democrats don’t care about Americans, they don’t care about their security, they don’t even care about their paychecks. The bottom line is, and I hate to say this, these are the types of people that Americans fought against in World War II. These are the ones who should be sterilized so we can start over.”
In October, after Alex Baldwin made a statement that through the electoral process, we need to effect a change in government, Bernstein called him treasonous and said he should be banned. He went a bit further, though …
“These idiot liberals, these morons that want to bring us down to a third-world level, these people should be locked up for treason. Liberals like to say, ‘Well, it’s very patriotic to say something nasty about your own country.’ You know what? No it’s not. It’s treasonous.”
He has called for all Muslims to be ‘eradicated’ …
“These people need to be eradicated from Western Europe, they need to be eradicated from the United States, they need to be eradicated, I would say, pretty much from everywhere, because they have shown time and time again—whether you’re a peaceful Muslim, whether you’re a radical Muslim—you’ve shown time and time again that you just cannot deal and cope with being in a civilized society. So we’ve got to do something about it.”
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Why is this man allowed to say these things on the airwaves? Because of the 1st Amendment right to free speech. I think by now you all know that I fully support the right to free speech and freedom of the press. But, I’ve said more than a few times, with every right comes an accompanying responsibility to use that right with conscience. Josh Bernstein is taking his right, but not exercising his conscience.
Picture a white supremacist, or a hater of gay people, or an Islamophobe sitting at his computer one night, watching one of Bernstein’s videos calling for the execution of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, or just ‘liberals’ in general. The man has a few guns, maybe a few beers under his belt, and decides to take up the gauntlet. I don’t need to paint the picture, do I, for we’ve seen it far too many times already.
Remember last October when Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs through the U.S. mail to a number of prominent Democrats and Trump critics, as well as CNN? Fortunately, he was stupid, the bombs were discovered, and nobody was hurt. But, what about next time, or the time after? Remember the mosque shootings in Philadelphia last year and New Zealand this year? What inspired those killers?
I think that the time has come to draw a line somewhere. Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school shooting has had terrible consequences for the families of children who died in that horrific event. In December 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch entered Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., armed and planning to kill whomever he came across. His inspiration was the conspiracy theory that would become known as Pizzagate.
Words have consequences. While I would not wish to stifle the ability of the press or anyone else to speak freely and offer an opinion, I think we must draw the line at calling for the death of another. Mr. Bernstein just happened to cross my radar, but how many more are out there calling for the death of an individual or a group that we don’t know about? I think that when you allow a right or a privilege to be abused, it ultimately ceases to be a right. Think about it.