Q & A Human Rights

Talking to Sex Workers About Fighting for Their Rights, Feminism, and More

Lauren Rankin

Rewire recently spoke with sex workers Minnie Scarlet, Darby Hickey, and Violet Rose about what role they think feminism can play in sex workers' rights, among other issues.

Few issues are as contentious within the feminist movement as prostitution. This is certainly not a new divide—in fact, it dates back to radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon’s fierce opposition to pornography in the 1980s. But the issue continues to split feminists, and thus we lack a unified response in support of the human rights of sex workers.

Some radical feminists maintain that prostitution is inherently harmful and exploitative, regardless of the circumstances under which a woman enters the sex trade. Equality Now, a radical feminist organization that focuses on “ending violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world,” has a campaign to combat the United Nations recommendations that sex work be decriminalized.

Meanwhile, sex-positive and intersectional feminists emphasize the importance of agency and a deeper understanding of how class, race, and gender identity intersect in prostitution and openly advocate for sex workers’ rights. This conversation is an important one, yet it all too often ignores the voices and perspectives of actual sex workers themselves. If we as feminists claim to be about elevating marginalized women’s voices, why do many feminists continue to talk over and speak for sex workers?

Rewire recently spoke with Minnie Scarlet, a porn model and performer; Darby Hickey, a sex worker and transgender rights activist; and Violet Rose, a sex worker from the United Kingdom, to hear about their experiences with feminism, what role they think feminism can play in sex workers’ rights, and more. Below is a lightly edited version of that discussion, which took place via email.

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Rewire: Many people have a preconceived notion about what “sex work” is or looks like. What do you want people to know about the kind of work that you do?

Darby Hickey: I think what is really important is to listen to people with actual experience in sex trade, because those experiences are extremely diverse (just like many other activities in life!) and do not conform neatly with ideological assumptions about empowerment, abuse, gender equity, etc. Doing sex work is not just like any other job, but sometimes, for some people, it is, or it’s even better. And sometimes, for some people, it is nothing at all like a job. And a million other variations in between and beyond. At the end of the day, the people directly involved need to have their rights protected, have their choices respected, and get support to increase their self determination in whatever ways they deem necessary. By closing down websites, increasing criminal penalties, or telling people they have to identify as victims to receive help, people are reducing the options available to those engaged in sex trade, and that is the opposite of what feminism should be about.

Minnie Scarlet: I love that I’m in a position where people listen to me. Granted, with the stigmas in our society, some will immediately write me off as some “porn slut” ([porn actress] Bree Olson herself called me that one time—the inner misogyny is so real), but it has given me an audience that I would not have had otherwise. Growing up a conventionally attractive woman, I realized quickly that there were many things I could use my looks for and could really take advantage of it. I know that people will always speak badly on women who use their looks or girls who are too focused on their aesthetics, but as a woman, it’s the best bet you have to be heard sometimes. Kind of like the double standard of teenage girls taking selfies, yet the selfies are what get the most likes, if that makes sense. I realized I had a lot to say at a young age, and using my sexuality and job, I have an amazing fan base that appreciate what I have to say about specific issues. I love the work that I do, but I love when my followers can really appreciate me, aside from the content I have out. I love when they realize the work put into everything and the tribulations women in this industry endure. That’s what makes me love my job and makes me want to shoot more scenes and keep going.

Violet Rose: Having “sex” for money does not mean I do [penis-in-vagina] penetration all day every day. Lots of my clients want to chat, do some other sex acts, or do something else entirely. BDSM isn’t weird or wrong. My clients mostly aren’t creepy, old, unattractive men. Clients differ as much as the rest of humanity (but financial privilege to afford to see sex workers still tends to rest with the most privileged). Sex work isn’t going to end. Policies to end demand cannot work. And in a world where opportunities to work are increasingly small, policies to end demand are violence against the most marginalized. Doing my work doesn’t prevent me from having a valid opinion (I don’t have false consciousness), and I deserve labor, human, and civil rights at work. I call my work a feminist act.

Rewire: What has your experience been like as a sex worker in feminist spaces?

VR: I have had diverse experiences. Some feminist spaces I go to are full of sex workers, which is awesome. Sometimes I have been to feminist spaces and been talked over, ignored, othered, patronized, demeaned, and insulted. Since I am not fully out, I can inhabit political spaces without outing myself if I want to, so I can check the temperature of a gathering before I make myself vulnerable by exposing my identity as a sex worker. Sometimes though, it is good for me to out myself before people even start. Sometimes I prefer they say stuff behind my back rather than to my face unknowingly.

Mostly though, I feel unsafe. Feminists have driven some of the most violent and dangerous legislation against sex workers’ rights, health, and safety worldwide, and I can’t feel great about that. I have to wait for someone in a feminist space to not only declare themselves in solidarity but also to show they are a good ally with certain behaviors before I feel like I can trust them not to be oppressive to sex workers.

MS: I have mixed experiences with feminist spaces because the different feminists I have met all tend to have different views on the sex industry. There is nothing inherently comforting to me about the word “feminist.” I used to see or hear that word and think it was someone I could feel a tiny bit safer with or at least relate to on a basic level. Unfortunately, I’ve been told by some feminists that by being in the porn industry, I was degrading and hurting women. Most of those feminists have been white scholar-types, which made it hard to notice that feminism has extreme class and race issues. Feminism without intersectionalism is nothing, especially when we’re talking about sex workers’ rights, considering a lot of sex workers do sex work for survival, not for empowerment/liberation/fun.

There have been feminists who have spoken over my sex worker peers and myself about how degrading porn is because you can’t prove what is consensual and not. They know this because of things they have read and they “know a couple of girls in the porn industry.” Hello! I’m a sex worker who works in porn! And I happen to know reputable companies generally give you a release to sign—a form that says you aren’t pressured to do anything you don’t want to—and even film you saying that before you do anything.

Obviously, there are flaws because the industry is run by humans, and I will never deny the incredible amount of terrible things in porn that need to be reformed. My point is, I have felt dismissed and silenced by feminists who thought their research was more credible than my first-hand experience. There is room for both opinions and both things to be talked about, but the moment their research is given more representation than my voice, it’s a problem. That’s my main concern.

The feminist spaces that have made me feel completely safe as a sex worker are usually accepting of trans/queer peoples and have little to do with what mainstream feminism focuses on.

DH: My experience with feminist spaces predates my involvement in sex trade/sex work, and it was already complicated. As a trans woman who grew up poor, the many ways in which what we are calling “mainstream feminism” failed me and my communities were obvious. On the other hand, like Minnie alludes to, feminism, feminist spaces, feminist individuals (whether friends/colleagues or writers/activists) helped me develop my own analysis a lot and changed how I look at the world.

There have been times when I have disavowed the label feminist, but I also used it to help organize a conference in D.C. that centered the intersectional feminism we are discussing here, that centered the experiences and thoughts of women of color, trans folks, and sex workers (shout out to Visions in Feminism). I was recently at a multi-generational gathering of academics and activists reflecting on the history of reproductive and sexual health and rights, and some of the speakers introduced me for the first time to the idea of “power” or “governance” feminists/feminism [Ed. note: “governance feminism” refers to the strategy of implementing feminism through the law.] I like this term better than “mainstream” because it really highlights how one set of folks in the feminist world prioritize gaining specific types of power and using the tools of that power (for example, government) to further their agenda. I think that stands in stark contrast to the more complicated approaches that many of the feminists who I stand with, feminists who focus more on dismantling power and creating alternative structures for holding those in power accountable. It is governance feminism that got us “feminist groups” advocating war in Afghanistan, for example, as well as of course anti-sex trade laws.

Rewire: Given that you’ve all had such diverse, and often contentious, experiences with feminists, what role, if any, do you think feminism can play in sex workers’ rights and advocacy?

MS: My wishes are for people in general to gain the knowledge necessary so that women wouldn’t have to elaborate their choices to such an extent, or at all, anymore. Most of the slut-shaming, whore-phobia, and other problems that contribute to the stigmatization of sex work manifest because of ignorance. Feminism has always been a learning process for me. My personal feminism stems mostly from wanting to understand normalized sexism and how it affects the big picture. In this situation, the normalized sexism can be something as common as casual slut-shaming, but in the bigger picture it adds to a problem that actually makes it physically unsafe for sex workers in certain situations.

If feminism has any role, it would be to educate people in general that women, whether you agree with their choices or not, are people who are capable of making their own decisions. By teaching people that, it would show people that things like calling a girl a “slut” actually is detrimental in ways that are much bigger than just the word. With that mentality, I think it’s easier for other changes in the industry to happen like better treatment to women on sets, better representation for what women want, less hate for the industry.

Feminism has so much power to change the industry by changing things that affect the industry. Feminism is about women’s rights and is much bigger than just how porn girls are treated, but I feel it definitely has an indirect place in the industry.

VR: Mainstream feminism has power—much more than the sex workers’ rights movement, and I think more political power than the sex industry itself, regardless of the financial disparity. I think feminism has the capacity to evolve an understanding of how power, sex, and gender affect people in an intersectional way, and I hope that when it does, the only acceptable standpoint within feminism will be for sex workers’ rights. I feel like feminist ideals like the right to vote are part of a wider understanding that minority groups need to represent their own interests. Feminists could support sex worker organizing and help amplify sex worker voices for their own representation at policy level.

DH: I think that Minnie and Violet really hit the point here already: In as much as some feminists and their sectors, organizations, and movements have more resources or credibility than those of us working for social justice for people in sex trade/sex work, they really need to step up. They are the ones better suited to go toe-to-toe with the anti-prostitution forces who cloak themselves in feminism. But I also am disillusioned that the “governance” feminists would ever change their tune, so I think we need to focus more on the sectors within feminism that are committed to grassroots movement building and alternatives to the current power structure, as well as seek cross-movement allies in the fights around immigration, criminal justice, or LGBT issues.

I think I would also disagree slightly with Violet—I think some of the most dangerous legislation regarding sex work has actually been driven by people who are not feminists, who are anti-feminist even, but who jump at the opportunity to work with “governance” feminists when they can. For example, the “anti-crime” or “social cleansing” people push for increased punishment for sex workers, “prostitution-free zones,” and so on, whereas the “feminists” push for increased punishments for clients, which we know also affects sex workers. But I do see a difference there. And while I’m not sure that one is worse than the other, if I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I would say that the law that claims to penalize clients is the lesser of the evils. It’s still not good by any means, and I want to fight it against such laws, but we should have a complex analysis.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

Commentary Politics

It’s Not Just Trump: The Right Wing’s Increasing Reliance on Violence and Intimidation as a Path to Power

Jodi Jacobson

Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.

This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.

To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”

Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.

Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daeshitself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of powerthey are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.

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Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.

Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.

Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.

The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.

A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.

Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.

In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”

In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”

One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.

Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.

These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.”  To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:

Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.

“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]

These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have gone unpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:

“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.

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