Those who justify anti-government violence

THOSE WHO JUSTIFY ANTI-GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE…. CBS News conducted a poll this week — after the massacre in Tucson — and included a provocative question: “Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?”

Given that the American mainstream strongly rejects these kinds of attitudes, I expected the results to be entirely one sided. For the most part, they were — overall, 76% of Americans said such violence is never justified, while 16% said anti-government violence can be acceptable.

Markos Moulitsas, however, emphasized an important angle to this: the partisan breakdown.

Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?
Republican 28% yes, 64% no
Democrat 11% yes, 81% no
Independent 11% yes, 81% no

The 11% of Dems and self-identified Independents is still much higher than I’d like to see, but it’s the GOP numbers that are especially disheartening. More than a fourth of rank-and-file Republicans are prepared to justify violence against their own government? That’s not a tiny, obscure fringe; that’s a sizable chunk of a major political party.

The only solace I can take from this is the wording of the question is open to some interpretation. For example, respondents weren’t asked specifically about Americans and the U.S. government — in the abstract, a citizenry somewhere in the world suffering under the rule of an authoritarian dictator may be justified in “taking violent action” against their government, and maybe some folks thought of that when participating in the poll. For that matter, if we’re willing to entertain fantastical imaginations, maybe some respondents could envision a day in which the existing U.S. government is dissolved and replaced with some kind of autocratic tyrant, at which point a rebellion could be warranted.

But really, this is quite a stretch, and I’m probably just trying to make myself feel better about what appear at face value to be outlandish results.

I’m well aware of the contemporary Republican Party’s sharp move to the far right, but when 28% of the party’s voters are prepared to justify anti-government violence, it’s a reminder that GOP leaders have some work to do to lower the temperature — if they’re inclined to help.