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Mark Potok Headshot

Calling All Thugs: The End of Civil Discourse

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The latest news from the opponents of health care reform who like to suggest that supporters should suffer for their transgressions: A day after two Virginia Tea Party activists posted the address of the brother of a congressman who voted for the bill, authorities discovered that someone had severed a gas line at the man's home.

According to The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., Danville Tea Party leader Nigel Coleman was one of the two people who posted the address of Bo Pierriello, the older brother of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Ivy), who voted for the health care bill. "This is Rep. Thomas Stuart Perriello's home address," Coleman wrote Monday, going on to suggest that others who oppose the health care bill "drop by" and "express their thanks." He added, "I ain't holding back no more."

According to the Politico website, Coleman, upon learning he had posted the wrong address, said on a blog: "Do you mean I posted his brother's address on my Facebook? Oh well, collateral damage."

Told by The Daily Progress of the severing of the line that connected a propane tank to a grill on Pierriello's screened-in porch, Coleman said he was "shocked" and "almost speechless." He claimed innocently that he was against violence, and in any case wasn't sure that the attack, which is under FBI investigation, was related to his post.

Coleman's absolutely despicable actions were remarkably similar to those of American neo-Nazi leaders who in recent years have made a practice of posting their enemies' addresses and other personal information. They, too, often suggested that their sympathizers drop by to let enemies know their feelings. But that certainly didn't stop Coleman from engaging in his own mindless and dangerous provocation.

The news of Coleman's post and its apparent result followed the boasts earlier in the week from Mike Vanderboegh, a former Alabama militia leader who last Friday called on enemies of health reform to smash the windows of local Democratic Party headquarters around the country. Vanderboegh's threatening blog post, which suggested that civil war could be around the corner, was followed by bricks or stones being thrown through party offices in three states. The offices of two Democratic congressmen in New York and Arizona were similarly attacked.

As if that wasn't enough, opponents of health care legislation demonstrating in Washington, D.C., this weekend spit on a black congressman, shouted racial slurs at two others, and shouted an anti-gay epithet at another congressman. A week earlier, a group at a Tea Party in Columbus, Ohio, taunted a man sitting on the ground with a sign saying he had Parkinson's disease. "If you're looking for a handout," one of the protesters told the health care reform supporter in a scene captured on video and posted to YouTube, "you're in the wrong end of town."

These despicable attacks and those who help foment them are unworthy of any citizen of a democracy, let alone of those who pretend to be standing up for principled conservatism. What we are seeing is the infuriated response of thugs and those who like to encourage thugs. And what may be most appalling of all is the absolute temerity, not to say cowardice, of supposedly responsible leaders of those who opposed health care reform, almost none of whom have condemned the latest round of hate. It's a sad commentary on America that this is what our political process has become.