Intimidation is Counter-Productive
by Ari Armstrong, September 19, 2000
One of the more inspiring stories I've heard is from Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Art Olivier, who recently visited the area. When running for city council and mayor in his home town of Bellflower in California, Olivier suffered threats, arson on a rental property, and a bullet hole in the side of his house, all because the changes Olivier advocated reduced the power of that town's power figures and cut back the financial kick-backs paid by the city.
Did Olivier quit because of the intimidation? No, he redoubled his efforts. "It just made me madder," he said.
Another Californian showed similar resolve. Federal drug agents literally had to kill Peter McWilliams (by denying him life-saving drugs) before this champion of civil rights would stop criticizing the federal drug war and advancing the cause of individual liberties. Yet even after his death McWilliams' fight lives on.
Just recently I was threatened by an anonymous caller who told me to "back off" in my fight against the background check initiative. Did I "back off?" No, I wrote an article about the caller, dug in my heels, and put even more work into the cause.
My point here is that intimidation doesn't work. Not only does it not work, but it is counter-productive. The victim usually increases his or her resolve. In addition, the one causing the intimidation alienates possible allies and embarrasses his or her own movement.
This applies whether the intimidation comes from statists -- or from freedom advocates. Today I spoke with a woman who claimed one or more members of the Tyranny Response Team called a member of the Million Mom March a "whore." If this is true, then shame on the person who said that. Not only do such intimidation tactics distract both sides from the legitimate issues at hand, but I'm sure it only serves to convince the Million Mommer that she's right.
Of course, it would not be fair to paint every member of the TRT with the same brush, any more than it would be fair for me to criticize the entire S.A.F.E. organization because one caller threatened me.
And of course some members of the Million Mom Organization have said horrible things about the TRT. Bob Glass, reporting information from two "plant" Million Moms, wrote in a recent article, "What seemed to have an ironic sense of justice to it, is the fact that many of the Million Moms were victims of their own propaganda. They were busy making jokes about the TRT, how we must have eaten lead paint as children, and our parents are related by blood, and we are the products of inbreeding and a shallow gene pool and all of the other mindless, evasive humor they love to belittle their opponents with. They truly believe that we are red neck Neanderthal types, truly incapable of reason, articulation and cognitive reasoning."
So double-shame on the Million Mommers who made such flagrantly bigoted remarks. Indeed, this sort of bigotry very much reminds me of that described in Leon Uris' Mila 18. One Million Mommer actually ripped up a copy of the U.S. Constitution when it was offered to her, a sign that the organization has no shortage of anti-rational zeal. On the other hand, pejorative terms like "whore" certainly don't count as "articulate and cognitive reasoning," either.
Obviously, though, TRT leaders such as Bob Glass are very eloquent in their defense of liberty and refrain from using empty emotional attacks.
I don't want to over-state the magnitude of the problem here. While it has been my experience that the anti-gun lobby is much more likely to employ intellectually dishonest argumentation and ad hominem attacks, it's clear that many members of both sides are basically rational and well-intentioned. So I recommend both sides make an effort to cut out the intimidation tactics and the name-calling, so we can get down to the business of arguing the merits and demerits of particular proposals.
I for one have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, when more people treat the issue of gun ownership rationally.