In the mid-1100s, a dispute erupted between King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The dispute concerned the rights of the crown versus the rights of the church, which was the sort of thing that popped up a whole lot back then (and I suppose still does).
In 1170, Henry II was informed that Becket had excommunicated from the church several bishops who had supported the crown. Furious, Henry II reportedly said, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
This comment wasn’t quite an order, but nonetheless, it inspired four of Henry II’s knights to make a trip to Canterbury and hack the Archbishop to death with their swords.
Today, the “turbulent priest” quote is often used as a shorthand for a leader’s wish being taken by his subordinates as a command. There’s another term for this phenomenon that you might have heard:
Stochastic terrorism is basically terrorism by proxy. Essentially, the idea is that an individual or group demonizes another individual or group in the public eye. Eventually, this incites someone to carry out a terrorist attack on the demonized party. There’s no way of predicting when it will happen or who will be the attacker. To use a fictional example, if the President announces tomorrow that the sole cause of inflation is a guy named Bob Cumberdale up in Canarsie, Bob would be wise to skip town and go into hiding.
But we don’t need to use a fictional example; there are plenty of real ones.
This past Saturday, a man drove up to Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Florida, a historically black school with about 1,000 students. A security guard spotted him acting odd and asked him his identity; he refused to comply, and was seen putting on a bulletproof vest and mask before speeding away.
He drove directly to a Dollar General in New Town, a predominantly black neighborhood in Jacksonville, and shot and killed three people before killing himself. All three of his victims were black, and it’s been reported that he ordered several white shoppers to exit the store during his spree.
There’s absolutely no question that this was a racially motivated incident. During the attack, the shooter texted his father (he lived at home) and asked him to break into his room and check his computer. There, his father found his son’s manifesto, which largely focused on his hatred of black people.
The next evening, about 200 people showed up at a vigil for the shooting victims just a block away from the Dollar General. And do you know who had the absolute audacity to arrive on the scene to make a few remarks?
Florida Governor and Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis.
Yes, Ron DeSantis, the man who has made banning diversity programs in schools a building block of his Presidential campaign. Ron DeSantis, who has legislated that Florida schools cannot teach their students the racist parts of history, which is most of it. Ron DeSantis, who said that enslaved black people benefitted from learning valuable skills. Ron DeSantis, who loosened Florida’s gun laws. This is the guy who felt he could contribute something of value after a man committed a racially motivated shooting spree.
Upon approaching the podium to speak at the vigil, DeSantis was booed and heckled, with people yelling things like “you’re not welcome here” and “your policies caused this.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t think that DeSantis is a racist. I think he’s a craven opportunist who believed that acting like a hate-filled racist would help him win the presidency. Wherever he got that idea will remain a mystery for the ages.
But you know who does think DeSantis is a racist?
Back in June, in the midst of DeSantis’ extraordinarily ill-advised attack on Disney World after Disney criticized Florida’s draconian “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a group of protestors showed up at the theme park carrying Nazi flags and signs supporting DeSantis. It’s safe to say that the White Supremacist Voting Bloc thinks Ron’s on their side.
Fortunately for DeSantis, while he was getting booed at the vigil, Jacksonville councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman stepped in and asked the crowd to be respectful.
“Put parties aside,” she said. “A bullet don’t know a party.”
With all due respect to the councilwoman, she should have let them boo.
Time and time again, we see politicians vilifying certain groups of people, and then, inevitably, some angry dispossessed man takes a gun and kills a bunch of members of that group. Every time, we’re all expected to pretend that the shooter was just a totally insane lone wolf acting on mysterious reasons and not the target audience of a demagogue who listened to every word of every campaign speech and decided to rid the politician of his turbulent priests.
Ron DeSantis may be a yawning black hole of naked political ambition and is probably devoid of the capacity for shame, but that doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t at least try.