Questions for Alex Seitz-Wald and ThinkProgress

Friday, January 21st, 2011

USA Today reports:

Police have seized a Boston-area comic book dealer’s arsenal and suspended his gun license over a blog post that suggested other members of Congress and their aides should be targeted in the wake of the shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

In a post titled “1 down, 534 to go,” Travis Corcoran of Arlington, Mass., wrote: “It is absolutely, absolutelyunacceptable to shoot ‘indiscriminately’. Target only politicians and their staff, and leave regular citizens alone.” The blog,TJICistan, is no longer accessible, but affiliates have emerged.

“We certainly take this as a credible threat, and credible until we prove otherwise,” said Arlington Police Capt. Robert Bongiorno. Officers confiscated a “large amount” of weapons and ammunition, he said, without offering specifics. A source told WBZ-TV 11 guns were taken.

Corcoran, 39, who runs the online comic site HeavyInk and calls himself an “anarcho-capitalist,” has not been arrested or charged with any crime. Local and federal authorities are investigating.

I don’t know how specific his threats became. Personally, I don’t think what Corcoran wrote above should be criminal, but it’s certainly stupid, ill-advised and, frankly, immoral.

Corcoran calls himself an anarcho-capitalist. Which is fine I guess. I’ll leave it to anarcho-capitalists to figure out if they want him. But he isn’t remotely libertarian, an ideology where the non-initiation of force is a pretty fundamental principle.

That said, someone under the handle “TJIC” has posted comments here numerous times. I vaguely remember deleting some comments under that handle in months past, and I know I ultimately banned the user “TJIC” last month after an inflammatory comment he made to this post. (I deleted that comment, too, although you can see it referenced by someone else in the thread.)

But I will say this case is illustrative of the dangers of trying to draw connections from idiots like Corcoran to the people they read, follow, or claim as an influence. Cue this post about Corcoran by Alex Seitz-Wald at the lefty site ThinkProgress. I obviously join Seitz-Wald in condemning Corcoran’s stupidity. But Seitz-Wald goes further. He also notes that on his Twitter account, Corcoran once re-tweeted another Twitter user’s comment about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and civil liberties.

He also appears to be a fan of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), re-tweeting a positive message about him in May: “Lefties: Before you start fringe-baiting Rand Paul, note that he’s better on civil liberties than most Democratic senators. And Obama.”

As it turns out, I’m the one who wrote that original tweet. It was a reference to Paul’s positions on the drug war, torture, indefinite detention, and a number of other issues–issues where Paul at the time was closer to leftists like those who work at ThinkProgress than Obama was. (Unfortunately, Paul has since walked back or abandoned his libertarian inclinations on many of those issues.)

So I’ll ask Seitz-Wald straight up: What exactly was your point in including that retweet in your post about Corcoran? Do you believe my praise of Paul for what I thought at the time were admirable positions on civil liberties was “dangerous rhetoric”? Do you think the positions I take on civil liberties are extremist, and prone to incite people to assassinate politicians? Do you think I should stop writing about and documenting government abuses of civil liberties, lest like Corcoran get angry and commit an act of violence? Do you hold me personally responsible for the fact that Corcoran followed my Twitter feed, once reposted something I wrote, then later called for the assassination of elected officials?

If your answer to all of those questions is no (and Jesus, I would hope it is), then I don’t see how to interpret your mention of Corcoran’s retweet as anything other than a cheap, partisan, and groundless attempt to link an idiot who endorses political assassinations to a prominent Republican politician.


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79 Responses to “Questions for Alex Seitz-Wald and ThinkProgress”

  1. #1 |  Matt | 

    “My point is that any libertarian who seriously advocates killing public servants …”

    Wait, could someone explain to me what a “public servant” is? I’m aware of public schooling – is the state now offering free butlers? Because I could get on board with that, my libertarian principles notwithstanding. Even if it’s a bad idea, the butlers can seek private employment – we don’t need to kill them.

  2. #2 |  Bill | 

    Okay, here is what bothers me. Obama can not only joke all day long about murdering American citizens with Predator Drones (Jonas Brothers) but also murder Americans all day with Predator Drones, and no one (except us) cares, but if one regular guys makes some unfortunate comments about killing politicians, he is treated like he is worse than Hitler.
    None of us should joke or make comments about killing people or kill people, but we need to hold our elected leaders to the same standard.

  3. #3 |  Bill | 

    Anyone who advocates violence should be suspected of being an agent of the FBI. Violence can be tempting to some, especially after a few cups of coffee and/or bottles of beer, but it is the tool of the State, evil, and counter-productive. We must reject it and be about human freedom and ideas alone.

  4. #4 |  Joe | 

    How can they just take your guns and licence without any sort of hearing? I am not defending what this guy wrote. If he was serious about targeting members of Congress for attack and taking steps to do so he deserves worse than firearm access. But there should be a hearing and a process for reviewing evidence against him.

  5. #5 |  CyniCAl | 

    #39 | cApitalist — “Also Cynical, you’ve made the above comment before equating all violence with being a statist. Can you please explain how you, or someone else, derived this position? It seems to me you’re contending pacifism is a necessary condition for being an anarchist. I don’t believe this is correct.”

    First let me say that I thought the rest of your comment was excellent, Capitalist.

    I set a very high bar on the use of any violence, even defensive. While I cannot justify pacifism as a necessary precondition of anarchism, I do believe that only through the complete refusal to resort to violence under any circumstances can humans make the leap from violent control to voluntary cooperation.

    Resorting to violence — even defensive violence, as necessary to survival as it may be — is a continuation of the State. Should the individual have moral recourse to violence in pursuit of self-preservation? I cannot argue against it, but I cannot argue for it either. That is the essence of individual sovereignty. There are consequences when one resorts to violence, even defensive violence. Gandhi and MLK understood this. Responding to the State with violence only strengthens the State and it is atrocious game theory for the individual.

    There are non-violent tactics that an individual can use to counter Statism. Shunning is one. Association with like-minded non-violent individuals in a defensive league is another.

    I think it’s important that sovereignty rests with the individual, even if that individual resorts to aggressive violence. Human nature appears to be constant — violence is an integral part of the system of survival. Humans are an extremely violent species by design. The basic principle of survival is control of the environment. It was only a matter of time before humans began regarding each other as part of that environment to be controlled — the birth of the State.

    The State concentrates violence in the hands of the few and amplifies it out of all proportion. Eliminate the mega-State, distribute power back to the individual and create 6 billion mini-States, and the violence in the system remains constant, but the dangers that attend with the mega-State vanish. Of course, an individual in this system would spend quite a bit of time and energy defending oneself.

    Over time, violent collisions between sovereign individuals will either lead to a system where individuals recognize the true costs of violent conflict and learn to cooperate peacefully or it will lead right back to where we are with rampant mega-States and the threat of permanent global war. But it couldn’t possibly end up worse, could it?

    Anyway, sorry to ramble, but I believe in individual sovereignty, which is predicated on free will to choose violence or non-violence, more than anarchism. And it is paramount that each individual should bear the direct consequences of his/her decisions (an idea that the mega-State subverts). I am a pessimistic person and I believe that violence is a human core characteristic, but I see this as the only way that has any chance of leading to a truly peaceful future for mankind. But I do concede that when humans aggregate, all roads seem to lead to the State.

  6. #6 |  Athena | 

    All of this, “He doesn’t belong to my political party, the crazy whack job belongs to you” is pretty pathetic, whether it be Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian. I don’t subscribe to ALL of the ideologies of any political party, and if I did I wouldn’t be a free thinker would I? I would be a follower. Let’s do this. If there is an apparent need to place whack jobs with a political party, we will just form the Whack Job Party and throw them all together. There, done!

    Who cares? Whack jobs are whack jobs, I am me and you are you. Get over it!

  7. #7 |  cApitalist | 

    #54 CyniCAL,
    Thank you for this response. I especially appreciate the bit about humans regarding one another as part of the environment. This is incredibly insightful and I’m in damn near total agreement with everything you said. But, here’s where I take issue:

    “Resorting to violence — even defensive violence, as necessary to survival as it may be — is a continuation of the State.”

    I don’t think this is correct. The defining characteristic of the state is its geographic monopoly on the legal initiation of violence against others. The crux of the morality of violence is “Who started it?” Don’t get me wrong, its horrible when any kind of violence occurs, but we can’t confuse things which are sad with things that are immoral. Resorting to violence is sad, while initiating violence evil. So, I don’t think you can go so far as to say its “a continuation of the state.” I could get behind something like “its a continuation of a sad and unevolved state.”

    Anyway, don’t take this the wrong way, I enjoy your posts immensely and I appreciate the discussion.

    #42 Mr. Balko,
    “If you know a libertarian who thinks it’s morally justified to shoot a politician who isn’t actively in the process of killing someone else, then you don’t know a libertarian.”

    I hope this is just a flippant comment and not a representation of your actual position. Suppose Mao or Stalin never actually killed anyone with their own hands. Does that mean no one should have advocating killing them? You can’t be a libertarian if you think someone should assassinate Kim Jung Il? This is preposterous. The moral acceptability of tyrannicide is well established, even among statists. If a private citizen were responsible for murder and plunder on this kind of scale (which they couldn’t be), everyone would shake the hand of the individual who eliminated him. The difference between an American politician and an African warlord is merely one of degree. Both are responsible for murder and theft. Again, I’m not saying any of this is advisable and I’d rather everyone throw pies and rotten fruit instead of grenades*, but you’re no less a libertarian for defending the morality of tyrannicide. I realize this position is incredibly unpopular and lends itself “look how crazy the libertarians are” comments, but when did we start trading logic for popularity?

    *disclaimer: no one should throw anything, but booing and mockery are strongly encouraged

    Thanks to all for the discussion.

  8. #8 |  Ken Hagler | 

    cApitalist, the popularity of that position depends on which politicians exactly are in question. I’m fairly sure, for example, that nobody who went to see “Valkyrie” (or read about the historical events it was based on) was criticizing how terribly immoral the would-be assassins were for trying to kill a politician who wasn’t actively in the process of killing someone else when the bomb went off.

  9. #9 |  Windy | 

    Slightly related, an idea I think needs spreading around:
    http://bumpyroads.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=politics&thread=262&page=49#29842

  10. #10 |  CyniCAl | 

    #57 | cApitalist — “The defining characteristic of the state is its geographic monopoly on the legal initiation of violence against others. The crux of the morality of violence is “Who started it?” Don’t get me wrong, its horrible when any kind of violence occurs, but we can’t confuse things which are sad with things that are immoral. Resorting to violence is sad, while initiating violence evil. So, I don’t think you can go so far as to say its “a continuation of the state.” I could get behind something like “its a continuation of a sad and unevolved state.”

    Thank you very much for the kind words, Capitalist. I enjoy getting these ideas out every once in a while, and I appreciate the viewpoints of others in correcting my errors. I admit that the real world imposes limitations on the application of pacifistic ideas. I tend toward philosophical idealism and practical pessimism, a bit of a duality and a contradiction.

    Practically speaking, I agree with your contribution above. The only correction I would offer is that the State is that entity which has a monopoly on initiation of violence in a given territory, without reference to legality, for the “legality” of the State is tautological (the biggest gang on the block gets to make the laws).

    In individal sovereignty, each individual would have to decide if resorting to violence, initiated or reactionary, is warranted. Most people I know abhor violence, except for the State-sanctioned anonymous violence of voting or general political participation, so this would present little trouble. The costs of violence are very expensive, but no doubt there would be those who would resort to violence. Could a non-violent society deal appropriately with violent individuals? Well, there’s the rub, and frankly, humans are too fearful and superstitious a lot to find out the answer to that. So, back to square one it is.

  11. #11 |  Roberta X | 

    cApatalist writes “…The moral acceptability of tyrannicide is well established, even among statists.”

    It kind of isn’t. In fact, the very same FedGov that claims the right to assassinate U.S. citizens has a history of promising to not bump off tyrants. (See http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RS21037.pdf Linked for some info).

    Professional courtesy, perhaps?

    The message is clear: we are nothing. The powerful and their pets are everything.

    Are you on the side of blind power or individual freedom? –Are you sure?

  12. #12 |  cApitalist | 

    #61 Roberta
    I should have been clearer. Tyrannicide is generally accepted by statist philosophers and by various world religions. You’re right about the US government’s position and I dig the professional courtesy bit.

    #57 CyniCAL
    “Legal” does muddy the waters. Maybe “generally accepted?” One has to account for the fact that private criminals can initiate violence as well, but when they do people appropriately condemn it. I’m not sure how to do that.

  13. #13 |  J.S. | 

    Radley: “But he isn’t remotely libertarian, an ideology where the non-initiation of force is a pretty fundamental principle.”

    Sigh, and this is where I break away from libertarianism or whatever the proper term is. When is it ok to initiate force? When they’ve bashed your own door in after all your neighbors? We have a government that has said its legit for them to assassinate citizens without a trial. To specifically go after them.

    Anyway, after reading this story any idea of writing my Dem congressman in response to his publically calling Limbaugh and Beck hate mongers and people angry with his policies “whack-jobs” seems pointless.

    I figure just quoting Virginia’s state motto or mentioning it would get me a visit by the local constabulary. Sic Semper Tryannis.

    Not that the staffers would bother to look up its meaning. Hell, our Oregon state motto works even better, “She Flies With Her Own Wings” to argue against more state power/involvement.

  14. #14 |  Les | 

    When is it ok to initiate force? When they’ve bashed your own door in after all your neighbors?

    You wouldn’t be initiating force at that point, but responding to it. There are, of course, a variety of responses. Some are reasonable and some are not.

  15. #15 |  Gordon | 

    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Virginia’s State Seal.

  16. #16 |  Brandon | 

    This is an absolutely fascinating discussion.

  17. #17 |  CyniCAl | 

    #62 | cApitalist — “#57 CyniCAL — “Legal” does muddy the waters. Maybe “generally accepted?” One has to account for the fact that private criminals can initiate violence as well, but when they do people appropriately condemn it. I’m not sure how to do that.”

    I offer “tolerated,” or “accepted as a fact of life, much as forces of nature are accepted as a fact of life.”

  18. #18 |  RWW | 

    Radley’s position here is an untenable, gross absurdity. Others have been doing a pretty good job of pointing that out, but I am still a little taken aback. Sadly, this has been happening more frequently lately.

  19. #19 |  Greg C | 

    I just find no reason to label myself as a “libertarian” any longer. While I am in philosophical agreement with libertarianism, I haven’t had anything to do with “Big L” Libertarian Party or any other politics since 2004.

    This post with all the arguments about political killings being consistent with libertarianism shows just one of the many reasons there is no point. I can’t spend 23 Hours a day explaining why I am not one of those libertarians who ( pick one or more) is: blue, racist,anti-semitic, truther, birther, stockpiles weapons, and/or advocates killing politicians.

    I dont need a label to support the work that Radley does. The positions advocated by “The Agitator” aren’t necessarily libertarian- they are correct, just, humane. Hell, there are celebrated “libertarians” who SUPPORT police brutality. Why even take the chance of being mixed up with those nuts? If anything, I’ll just say I’m “liberal”- I just won’t spend any time arguing who the “real” liberals are. It’s not like anyone can really smear me as a “commie” or anything stupid like that. Politics is bullshit, anyway.

    As far as the “anarcho-capitalist” nutjob with the guns. Yes, he should be allowed to say what he did. He should be allowed to keep his guns. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for me to say it’s stupid. I can support the KKK’s right to speech, but that doesn’t mean I can’t protest them, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to march with them.

  20. #20 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    This is the Internet! Why isn’t everyone an expert on Ancap?

    Just to get it clear, it appears to be acceptable (widely) to be pro-war and against any violence against the state. But the reverse marks you immediately as crazy. This from a state that has a long history of conducting political assassinations. Have we forgotten all of politics is theater…all of the time with no exceptions?

    I wish a rational discussion could take place, but it seems to be not allowed in the USA outside a very few places.

    BTW, violence just never gets you what you want in the long run…much like torture.

  21. #21 |  Davebo | 

    Radley,

    If you ever needed an example for why no Libertarian will ever be elected to a position beyond perhaps House of Representatives this thread should provide it.

    There is a reason why Ron Paul is a representative and Rand Paul sold his soul, if he ever had one, to be a Senator.

    I’d never vote for Ron Paul but I respect him. Sadly he can’t say the same for his own son.

    (To say Rand walked back his alleged libertarian principles is such an understatement as to be laughable).

  22. #22 |  Weekend reactionary link round up « Foseti | 

    […] I doubt Borepatch considers himself "libertarian." But this seems much more libertarian to me than this. […]

  23. #23 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Davebo, as I look at the $14trillion debt I say the USA doesn’t deserve a libertarian. Take that how you want.

  24. #24 |  David | 

    Radley: If you know a libertarian who thinks it’s morally justified to shoot a politician who isn’t actively in the process of killing someone else, then you don’t know a libertarian.

    That’s a remarkably facile statement coming from someone of your sophistication. This philosophy would condemn the American Revolution.

    Now, I don’t want to suggest that one should kill politicians over any perceived injustice. But you are claiming that ANY exercise of political power is of less import than a single act of murder. You imply that violent resistance to any political act, no matter how heinous, cannot be justified. I think that is not a reasonable position. The Declaration of Independence provides an excellent argument that sufficient political abuse is just cause for insurrection:

    …to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…

    Violence is fundamentally unavoidable in society. According to your philosophy, only the government is permitted violence (except in cases of immediate defense); everyone else must resort to discourse. That is a statist philosophy. A society based upon these rules will devolve into tyranny, since uncivil violence trumps discourse as a means of persuasion. Relying solely upon the benevolence of government to ensure government’s benevolence is folly.

    I maintain that violence imposed by government has no such special legitimacy.

    If a despot orders his military to confiscate all food in a province in order to starve the populace, is he really untouchable according to your philosophy? I think there is a very reasonable argument that he has initiated violence, as have those who enable the order to be carried out.

    Perhaps instead the despot were to increase taxes in this province to the point that the populace is malnourished. At what level of starvation are the people entitled to fight against their oppressors?

    If you delay in responding with violence until a corrupt government reduces life to serfdom and rounds up the undesirables, then you have waited too long. If you only use force against the agents that break down your door, you will lose. A philosophy which requires such pacifism has limited utility and virtually no ability to effect social change. And such a philosophy does not encourage liberty, no matter what name you call it.

  25. #25 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #69 Greg C:

    “I dont need a label to support the work that Radley does. The positions advocated by “The Agitator” aren’t necessarily libertarian- they are correct, just, humane. Hell, there are celebrated “libertarians” who SUPPORT police brutality. Why even take the chance of being mixed up with those nuts? If anything, I’ll just say I’m “liberal”- I just won’t spend any time arguing who the “real” liberals are. It’s not like anyone can really smear me as a “commie” or anything stupid like that. Politics is bullshit, anyway.”

    Thank you for that response, Greg. I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. I don’t have to try, because you pretty much summed up how I feel about this thread and many discussions on The Agitator these days.

    What you said above also should be a lesson learned by people who read this blog. Politics IS bullshit. Labels are, by and large, bullshit. Often times these labels–libertarian, anarchist, progressive–are utilized as an excuse to stop thinking or, worse, stop learning. They are used as a bludgeon: “I am a liberarian/anarchist and your are a filthy scum sucking statist. I don’t have to listen to your kind. You aren’t worth my time, etc.” In other words, I am going to deny you my time, as well as your humanity and your dignity because you have not accepted my creed or because support more gubmint than I do or because you work for the goddamned gubmint (grrrr).

    Anyway, Greg, I call myself a liberal to for many of the reasons you discussed. Thanks again.

  26. #26 |  albatross | 

    The most common use of political labels is in a kind-of magic-word argument, to demand that the other side stop thinking/arguing in whatever evil or wrongheaded ways they’re thinking/arguing in. You label their argument as liberal or neocon or racist or unscientific or whatever. The best outcome from there, for the labeler, is that you shut up. The second best outcome, still good, is that the argument stops being “is this stuff you’re saying true or not” and becomes “are you really a liberal or are you still one of us?”

    Tribalism came with us out of the trees. It turns every question into one of “whose team are you on?” That’s a spectacularly dumb way to actually understand the world you’re living in, or to communicate usefully about any ideas.

  27. #27 |  Matthew Brown | 

    I’ve followed Travis Corcoran’s blog for some time. I disagree markedly with him in several respects, but law enforcement agencies taking his blog posts to mean that he intended to commit any crime involves a lot of either not bothering to read them, over-reaching and grandstanding, or simply using it as an excuse to harass someone they don’t like.

    Probably something from all three columns.

    Eleven guns is not “an arsenal”, either. It’s a pretty normal amount for someone who likes firearms and has the money to pursue their hobby, especially if they like to shoot in several different ways, since different specialties require different weapons. Someone who likes to both hunt and practice their pistol marksmanship, for instance; or someone who legally carries concealed and has gone through several pistols in turn looking for one that’s easy to carry and effective.

  28. #28 |  The Travis Corcoran Saga - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine | 

    […] On Friday, I put up a post on my personal blog about Corcoran and about the reaction from ThinkProgress blogger Alex Seitz-Wald. Seitz-Wald and I discussed Corcoran, partisanship, and violent rhetoric yesterday on The Alyona Show. You can watch video of our discussion below. […]

  29. #29 |  The Travis Corcoran Saga | 1ST Amendment Domain Revenue Recovery Services | 

    […] On Friday, I put up a post on my personal blog about Corcoran and about the reaction from ThinkProgress blogger Alex Seitz-Wald. Seitz-Wald and I discussed Corcoran, partisanship, and violent rhetoric yesterday on The Alyona Show. You can watch video of our discussion below. […]