Editorial: Shooting shows high cost of cheap hate
Words have a high price. Thoughts have a cost.
We make a mistake terming these things “free” when we really mean “unrestricted.” Nothing valuable comes without cost.
Like guns, ideas can be valuable tools or deadly weapons. Like bullets, words can hit with pinpoint accuracy or spray like a hose, depending on the aim.
Too often people seem to treat them both like dirt — something plentiful under our feet, something we don’t need to weigh or measure.
Something we can shovel into a pile that becomes a hill that becomes a mountain.
We forget that a loud word near an unsteady mountain can cause an avalanche.
In a live-streamed massacre, playing a soundtrack of genocidal music, Australian native Brenton Tarrant, 28, fired more than 100 shots at worshippers.
Two of the weapons used in the attack were rifles blanketed in white-supremacist messages. Just as dangerous was the 73-page manifesto that drove the shooter, who used imagery rife in the ugly crevices of the internet, where hate speech is the only speech, and cited other mass killers’ work.
Tarrant referenced Dylann Roof, who murdered congregants at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. He used the same “they will not replace us” rhetoric as the white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville in 2017.
His posting of a final digital message before picking up a gun and heading to a place of worship echoed the steps police say Robert Bowers took before the October massacre of 11 Jewish Pittsburghers at the Tree of Life synagogue.
When words are treated without value, they can easily become weapons, and between a worldwide epidemic of violent hatred and political divisiveness that makes every interaction a war with a winner and a loser, there is no shortage of enemies to target.
The answer can’t be to make speech more restricted or thoughts criminalized. We are too opinionated and diverse a society for that.
What we must do is recognize the cost. The price we pay for this freedom is high. It’s responsibility and reckoning, sometimes blame and sometimes blood.
And if we feel the price is too high, we have to stop rewarding the people who sell hateful words dirt cheap and bury us in an avalanche of consequences.