'The vigilante as the lone hero': Why the Republican Party’s 'bloodlust appears to be getting worse'

'The vigilante as the lone hero': Why the Republican Party’s 'bloodlust appears to be getting worse'

From President Richard Nixon to President Donald Trump, the GOP has repeatedly touted itself as "the party of law and order" over the years. And Republicans have often slammed Democrats as "soft on crime" — a message that worked for Republicans in Nixon's 1968 campaign and is still being used by the GOP in 2023.

Some Democrats, in response, are arguing that the GOP can't honestly call itself the law-and-order party when its leader, Trump, is facing a 34-count indictment and multiple criminal investigations.

Another argument is that Republicans aren't respecting the rule of law when they are so quick to applaud vigilante justice — an argument that appears in two opinion columns published on May 16: one by Jamelle Bouie for the New York Times, the other by Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman for the Washington Post.

READ MORE: Why are Republican billionaires making heroes out of killers?

Bouie cites specific examples of "vigilantes" being praised by Republicans, including Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin and Daniel Perry in Texas. Both of them said they shot Black Lives Matter protesters in self-defense, but while Rittenhouse was acquitted by a jury, Perry was convicted of murder and later promised a pardon by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

"There seemed to be a bloodlust, defined by an almost reflexive embrace of anyone who used lethal violence against a perceived antagonist," Bouie recalls. "That bloodlust appears to be getting worse…. Although it is possible the jury (in Perry's case) made a mistake when it handed down a guilty verdict, neither (former Fox News host Tucker) Carlson nor Rittenhouse nor Abbott tried to argue the case on the merits."

Bouie continues, "Instead, they made a simple assumption: that any violence against a left-wing protester is justified on its face. Perry had lived out the right-wing fantasy of lethal violence in defense of 'order.' By their lights, he had done nothing wrong."

Meanwhile, in their Post column, Sargent and Waldman note how quick Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and right-wing media figures have been to praise Daniel Penny — the former U.S. marine who is facing second-degree manslaughter charges after placing a homeless man, Jordan Neely, in a chokehold on a New York City subway on May 1. Supporters of Penny have been emphasizing that Neely, who suffered from mental illness, was acting in a threatening manner that day and had been arrested more than 40 times.

READ MORE: 'An especially heated debate': Jordan Neely’s death reopens painful wounds among New Yorkers

"When Ron DeSantis defended Daniel Penny, the former marine accused of killing a man suffering from mental illness on a New York City subway, the Florida governor didn't just laud Penny as a hero," Sargent and Waldman observe. "He also cast the law enforcement apparatus prosecuting Penny as presumptively illegitimate. In so doing, DeSantis joined many on the right seeking to transform Penny into a martyr being punished by the 'deep state' for supposedly defending civil order."

The columnists continue, "But this is particularly sobering coming from DeSantis. It suggests the two leading contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — DeSantis and former President Donald Trump — are open celebrators of vigilante 'justice.'"

Waldman and Sargent point out that according to author Sam Tanenhaus — who recently finished a biography on the late conservative William F. Buckley — praising vigilante justice and tying it into billionaire George Soros is different from Republican law-and-order messaging of the past. Tanenhaus argued, "The vigilante as the lone hero victimized by the Soros conspiracy — we're in a new place."

Sargent and Waldman stress that although Penny "should be presumed innocent of the charge until proved guilty," DeSantis and other Republicans shouldn't be going out of their way to "valorize" him before more facts in the case are presented.

"It would be one thing if right-wing figures were merely reminding people of this presumption and urging them to allow the justice system to do its work," the Post columnists argue. "Instead, some are valorizing Penny as a hero and the victim of a prosecution that has been decreed inevitably unjust, no matter what the facts prove."

READ MORE: 'Crisis of masculinity': Fox News host longs for more 'men' to become vigilante subway killers

Find Jamelle Bouie's column at this link and Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman's column at this link (subscription required for both).

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