As more and more people beg for civility, it seems that verbal abuse continues unabated.
Think back on the reprehensible display of hateful comments by Jason Robo at the Nov. 2 San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Addressing supervisors Nora Vargas, Nathan Fletcher and Terra Lawson-Remer, Robo called Vargas “fat” and said, “I can’t wait for your arteries to clog; they’re not doing it fast enough. And Nathan, you should kill yourself. A dishonorable discharge would be you blowing your brains out. Let’s see you tweet that, blowing your birdbrains out. And then lemur, as I like to call you Lawson-Remer, you little monkey, I’d like to see you hang from a tree.”
It was when he called San Diego’s Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten “Aunt Jemima” that Vargas interrupted angrily, demanding an apology.
One offensive human abuses the system. We all know a few people who have lost their marbles. But why are people applauding bad behavior and cheering for speakers making odious ad hominem attacks?
Heckling a Student
Objections last year over masks, vaccines and other health orders soured the free speech guarantee, as protesters came out to condemn, vilify and even threaten public officials.
Last year in Poway, school board members and staff feared for their lives after malicious public verbal attacks went well beyond accepted norms of civility and proper decorum.
A Clovis Unified student was booed and heckled by adults at a school board meeting last year after speaking in favor of a mask mandate.
The student came back to a second board meeting to speak, and this time his words were preceded by a warning to the audience from school board president Steven Fogg.
“It’s inappropriate for you to be speaking while someone else is speaking, be it a member on the dais or a person giving public comments,” Fogg said. “In the unlikely event that there is a disruption, we do have officers that will escort you out. But I’m asking you not to do that.”
Bad to Worse
In the San Dieguito Union High School District, the situation has intensified to a point where officers may soon be needed to clear the room.
Many members of the public have disrupted recent board meetings by shouting out at board members, particularly trustee Michael Allman, during the course of the board’s business.
The San Dieguito teachers union has targeted Allman relentlessly since his election in 2020 for his independent views, beginning with his support for reopening schools in early 2021, contrary to the union position. It has escalated since then.
SDUHSD’s Aug. 25 and Sept. 14 board meetings were at times out of control. The issue this time was Allman’s supposed support for a negative post on the SDUHSD Families for Students First Facebook page in a discussion on pronoun usage, suicide and transgender concerns.
The controversial message in the discussion read:
“People who are not male or female have gotten a raw deal and will never be able to live their best life. If they choose suicide as an answer then it is on them. Personally, there are some groups of people out there that I approve of suicide as their answer. Rapists, murderers, pedophiles, and this group. I’m not trying to be funny or unsympathetic, but rather humane.”
Over the shouts of an angry crowd, Allman explained that he did post laugh emojis to an earlier comment by this individual, but they were not connected to the suicide comment.
He also said he disagreed strongly with the content of the derogatory post and immediately asked the page authorizers to remove it after reading it.
While he was attempting to respond to the charges, Allman said trustee Katrina Young was claiming a response to public comment on non-agenda items is not allowed by the Brown Act.
But the district’s own bylaws — number 9323 — state that board members “may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by the public about items not appearing on the agenda.”
If ever there was a need to hear Allman’s side, this was the time. But respect for whoever has the floor apparently doesn’t work both ways, with an angry crowd engaging in organized disruption while demanding that Allman listen to them.
At the Aug. 25 meeting, 23 public speakers made comments on non-agenda items covering a variety of issues, but dominating the comments were those made against Allman for the transgender/pronoun issue.
Many were nasty, even angry, and some called for Allman’s resignation. All were tolerable, if extremely vicious, but one commenter’s words sunk to the lowest depths.
Chuck Leek is a self-described former neo-Nazi who, according to KPBS, now works with Life After Hate, which seeks to guide people out of the white supremacist movement.
But you’d never suspect Leek was distanced from the hate movement by his words at the board meeting.
He began civilly enough, saying that the Facebook posts “crushed my soul,” adding that he has a transgender son and one who committed suicide. He said he currently works “on violent far right extremism and deradicalization.”
But then he became more hostile.
He accused Allman of being anti-LGBTQ and said, “You are encouraging Nazism — that is Nazi behavior.”
He then said, “I know people, they’re gonna come for you.”
He ended with this: “You are no Christian sir, and that is what I have to say.”
Guilt by Association
It’s chilling and seriously threatening when a former neo-Nazi says he knows people and they’re “going to come for you.”
And asserting that someone is engaging in Nazi behavior when it’s not even close to that is a perfect example of Godwin’s Law, which states that in any discussion, online or in person, there’s the real probability that the speaker’s words will eventually degenerate into a comparison to Nazism or Hitler.
It’s related to “Reductio ad Hitlerum,” or “reduction to Hitler” — also known as playing the Nazi card. It’s an attempt to invalidate someone else’s position on the basis that the same view was held by Adolf Hitler or Nazis.
“Reductio ad Hitlerum” takes its name from “reductio ad absurdum,” a term used in logic referring to a reduction to the absurd.
The purpose for invoking such references is to convey guilt by association and is often used to distract and anger targeted individuals.
Finally, Leek implied that only Christians behave properly — i.e., believe as he believes — which is insulting to non-Christians. He also conveniently ignores the fact that many Christian sects openly oppose LGBTQ rights.
To those vocal opponents of Allman who speak against him at every board meeting, it’s shameful to use transgender issues to promote your own political agendas.
And lest anyone think I am anti-LGBTQ, know that I fly a transgender flag outside my house every day in support of a close transgender family member whom I love with all my heart.
It’s unconscionable to take an issue that’s very personal for many of us and distort it to make political points against your opponents.
Marsha Sutton is an opinion columnist and education writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.