On Saturday, West Virginia Republican Representative Michael Folk tweeted this:

 

 

Folk was immediately denounced by liberals, his colleagues, and his employers. Belinda Biafore, West Virginia Democratic Party Chair Belinda Biafore, released a statement later that day:

“Not only are Delegate Folk’s words concerning, they are disturbing. The mention of hanging and implication of murder should never, ever be acceptable. To think that a person in a leadership position in our state can say these types of things is baffling and should not be tolerated.

Folk’s actions should deem him as unfit to serve and Speaker Tim Armstead should take action if Folk doesn’t resign. It makes me very worrisome for the people of West Virginia that someone who can feel this type of hate and use this type of rhetoric is in any position of power.”

Along with his job in the West Virginia House of Delegates, Folk served as a United Airlines commercial pilot. On Saturday night, United announced an investigation into Folk’s remarks:

 

Instead of apologizing and renouncing his extreme statement against Hillary Clinton, Folk went to Twitter to defend himself, accusing critics of not understanding his point.

Sorry, I don’t mince words… read this story & watch this video & maybe you’ll understand: https://t.co/JydfZYQKVU

— Michael Folk (@MichaelFolk34) July 16, 2016

He later deleted many of his tweets, including one saying: “Hillary supporters coming out of the woodwork this morning…” He did not express any remorse whatsoever.

United dropped Folk on Sunday.

Folk later gave a soft apology, claiming to regret advocating for Hillary Clinton’s hanging, but still advocating for Hillary Clinton’s death:

“What I called for is for her to be tried and the maximum penalty for treason is death. Technically it’s not death by hanging.”

While Michael Folk’s initial tweet and follow-ups were deeply disturbing both in and of themselves and coming from an actual lawmaker, many tried to dismiss them as an isolated incident. Republicans may hate Hillary Clinton, but people aren’t calling for her death regularly, so perhaps it was not indicative of a greater problem.

But then Chris Christie made his speech at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

It was no normal speech. It was perhaps the most irresponsible, dangerous speech ever given at a major American party’s national convention. Christie made numerous baseless accusations against Clinton, and after each once asking the crowd: “Guilty or not guilty?” It’s not hard to guess their response.

 

He riled them up in anger and hatred, a scary sight for liberals and moderate conservatives. The crowd, filled not only with Donald Trump supporters, but actual Republican delegates, was shouting “Guilty!”, “Lock her up!”, and even “Burn the witch at the stake!”  of Vox explained why Christie’s rally cry was so unsettling:

“I can’t really believe I have to say this, but here goes: In a democratic society, it’s really disturbing for a political party’s leadership to basically endorse the idea that its main political rival should be jailed.

If Clinton were taking bribes or murdering people, that would be one thing. But we’re talking about her use of a private server and personal email account for State Department business here.

What’s new and scary is that party elites — or whichever party elites still remain in the year of Trump — are now repeatedly egging on this sentiment from the floor of their convention, rather than trying to tamp it down.

It’s very much what their audience wants to hear. And it very well may be that convincing the electorate Clinton is a criminal is Trump’s only path to victory in November. But it’s different, it’s disturbing, and it’s not good for our democracy.”

Christie’s speech made it crystal clear that Michael Folk’s tweet did not exist in a vacuum. It was not the product of one extreme mind, but of the Republican party itself and it’s anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric. These were not mere accusations of untrustworthiness. Chris Christie pushed the crowd to become violent in their dislike for Clinton. The main themes of the 2016 RNC have been minorities are ruining America and Hillary Clinton is evil. The prevalence of the latter sentiment is evidenced by the common anti-Hillary merchandise saying things like “Life’s a bitch, don’t vote for one,” “Hillarys Lies Matter,” “Hillary for Prison,” and “KFC Hillary Special: 2 fat thighs, two small breasts … left wing.” The merchandise, which even has websites dedicated to it, includes shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, posters, and more.

Anti-Hillary Republican rhetoric has moved beyond sexism to what Vox writer Dylan Matthews described as “the criminalization of politics.” He wrote about Christie’s speech:

“There were two genuinely unusual and somewhat shocking dimensions to Christie’s speech. One was the sheer severity of the charges he leveled against Clinton…  He didn’t merely accuse her of mishandling Syria but also implied she was responsible for every death in the Syrian civil war.

These are truly grave charges for which there is no evidence, yet Christie leveled them casually, like they were any other campaign talking point. That’s a remarkable escalation of rhetoric — even for this bananas election.

The second shocking element of the speech was the ease with which Christie essentially called for the criminalization of political disagreement. You can like or dislike the Iranian nuclear deal. But helping negotiate it, and supporting it, is not a crime. Doing that is participating in statecraft. Christie suggested that bad policy should put you before a jury ready and eager to condemn you for anything they deem mistakes.

But what made Christie’s speech genuinely scary was that it was a distillation of the Republican convention so far, not an aberration from it.

Republicans have turned to a particularly toxic form of negative partisanship, and have come together around not just their hatred of Clinton but their belief that she is a criminal.

That is not a healthy attitude for a major political party to embrace. And it’s an actively dangerous case of norm erosion for mature political leaders like Chris Christie to encourage. The jailing of political opponents is something that happens in dictatorships and banana republics. It is not something an advanced democracy can accept as a normal demand.”

Christina Reynolds, Deputy Communications Director of Hillary for America, responded to Christie’s speech in an email later that night:

“If you closed your eyes, you could imagine it being a lot like a witch trial.

It felt like a dark turning point in American politics — a sign that our nation is on the brink of something dangerous that we might not recover from.

We have to win. We have to show that this isn’t the new normal. This isn’t how democracy can or should work. In other countries, politicians might try to jail their opponents — but not in America.”

But Christie was not the only powerful Republican to make extreme statements against Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. New Hampshire Representative Al Baldasaro, who has also served as a Trump campaign advisor, said that “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

Like Michael Folk, Baldasaro was unwilling to truly apologize for his violent and dangerous statements. The following day, on NH1 News, he said:

“Normally if you’re found guilty, it’s a firing squad. You know that was just my opinion, I mean, as a veteran.

As far as I’m concerned, it is treason and the penalty for treason is the firing squad — or maybe it’s the electric chair now.”

Following this statement and the next line of speeches from the RNC, Christina Reynolds reiterated the necessity of not normalizing violent Republican rhetoric:

“It can be easy to dismiss the entire Republican National Convention with a wave of the hand — all the craziness blurs into each other, all Republicans hate Hillary, blah blah blah, more of the same.

But it’s important to call out what we’re seeing: What’s happening at the convention is not normal and not acceptable.

Calling a political opponent a ‘criminal’ is not normal.

Blaming a woman for the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria is not standard political campaigning.

A crowd chanting ‘lock her up’ is not what you expect to see at a rally.

It’s all dangerous. We cannot risk becoming inured to this kind of behavior. We can’t tolerate it. We have to fight back.”

The concern continued after the third night of the RNC, where Ben Carson linked her with the devil. Reynolds was forced to make yet another statement:

“Last night in Cleveland, it took all of ten minutes for supporters to start chanting ‘Lock her up.’ Supporters held it up on signs, others wore it on their t-shirts.

In a democracy, you don’t lock up your opposition.

Hillary is not a criminal nor a witch. She is not, as Ben Carson put it, associating with Lucifer. She’s not a terrorist, or associated with terrorists, or a traitor to our country.

But honestly? It doesn’t matter. This isn’t fundamentally about the details of the claims they’re making about her character. It’s about the tenor of the argument and the danger it poses to our country’s basic system of governance. If one person can’t disagree with another without fear of imprisonment or violence, we’ll become something else entirely.”

The same night, a major Republican finally spoke up against the dangerous anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric at the RNC. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is not attending the convention and has not endorsed Trump, tweeted:

 

 

He also made a short statement on Medium, comparing the “lock her up” mentality to the 2008 and 2012 accusations of Obama being a Kenyan:

But one thing is certain, Republicans are not going to defeat Hillary Clinton in November by insisting that she belongs in prison any more than we defeated Barack Obama by pretending that he was born in Kenya. So let’s drop the references to orange pant suits and chants of ‘lock her up.’”

The fact that Flake seems to be in the minority in his concerns over the anti-Hillary rhetoric now being embraced as the Republican Party’s official position on their Democratic opponent is truly terrifying. Even more terrifying is how normal this has become. We as a country should be shocked. But instead we are mocking Melania Trump for plagiarizing Michelle Obama.

 

 

 

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