A 27-year-old man in Wichita Falls, Texas was taken into custody Wednesday after making multiple criminal threats on his Facebook page in response to the coronavirus stimulus package negotiations.
The sentiments expressed by Gavin Weslee Blake Perry — misspellings and all — should, sadly, be all too familiar to anyone on the planet in the last three years, as impassioned members of the far right have been emboldened by President Trump's own rhetoric against Democrats and have taken those passions to extremes. In Perry's case, as the New York Times reports, he posted messages to Facebook suggesting that establishment Democrats including Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be SOS'd, or shot on sight. And he apparently didn't understand the limits of the First Amendment when he was arrested, screaming at federal agents that they were violating his right to free speech and that their actions were punishable by death.
To wit, Perry's messages on Facebook, which were apparently still live on the site Thursday, included the following, according to prosecutors:
- Attached to a screenshot of two tweets ostensibly by Schumer (one real, about the stimulus, and one fake, criticizing Trump for barring Chinese travelers from the country): "If youre a dem or apart of the establishment in the democrats side I view you as a criminal and a terrorist and I advise everyone to Go SOS and use live rounds."
- "Shoot to kill. This is a revolution."
- Attached to a link to an anti-abortion website: "Nancy pelosi is apart of a santanic cult and so are rhe people who work closly with her. Dems of the establishment will be removed at any cost necessary and yes that means by death."
The posts went up on March 23, and as the Dallas NBC affiliate reports, the "FBI and the Wichita Falls police department investigated the case after a concerned citizen notified them."
This is the first high-profile case to emerge in these tense times in which the international public health crisis at hand is inflaming political passions and leading to divisive and violent speech, but it likely won't be the last.
Trump himself has continued to use the pandemic crisis — which barely two weeks ago he was dismissing as a sham and not a crisis at all — to sow division and reap political gain however he can. The stimulus package, nonetheless, passed with bipartisan support.
This week, the medical magazine STAT noted that Trump allies have been trying to mock and politicize social-distancing orders, further laying bare the failures of this administration to come out early with consistent messaging from public health experts.
But, as a Wall Street Journal columnist suggests, some on the left are just as guilty of politicizing the crisis — and yes, even in the throes of a pandemic, we appear to be a house divided. It's still the president's job to do his best make sure that's not the case, because this is no time for political fights.