Wednesday, March 20, 2024

When public officials threaten private citizens

  Four members of Alabama’s congressional delegation attacked a private citizen last week.

  And now we’re all in danger.

  See, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville; Gary Palmer of Hoover, and Dale Strong of Madison went after someone who works at Space Camp.

  Not a person accused of harming anyone, much less committing a crime. Not a person who, by any rational standard, counts as a public figure.

  This person is transgender. That got someone on Facebook very upset. The state’s conservative media launched a wave of attacks on this person. Libs of TikTok followed suit.

  And Aderholt, Palmer, Strong, and Tuberville joined in the howling. Strong even said outright that this person should be removed.

  Again: the “issue” is that a transgender person has a job. That’s it.

  And now Space Camp’s workers are getting threats.

  In Alabama, you learn not to expect much from your congressional delegation. In another state, perhaps, a person could assume that a member of Congress would not launch a baseless attack on a constituent. But Strong did.

  Perhaps in another state, leaders aren’t so easily baited into denouncing people who don’t live in their districts. But not in Alabama.

  Aderholt, whose career focuses on bringing the bacon home to the 4th Congressional District, and Palmer, whose news page for the 6th Congressional District contains lots of links to reactionary media, took time away from the nation’s business to become reply guys.

  Tuberville? Personally, I think my children are far more safe with a person who’s transgender than a person who had a really hard time saying that white nationalism is racism.

  Look, I’ve learned not to expect brilliance from the people we send to Congress. Or even above-average performance.

  Alabama doesn’t elect Charles Sumners, Barbara Jordans, or Mike Mansfields. For 200 years, it’s been a long gray line of backbenchers, most of whom have few talents beyond obeying the dominant party. Who more often than not become the worst versions of themselves.

  Very occasionally an independent thinker who cares about the state’s welfare gets through. But the system corrects that before Alabama politics veer too close to human decency.

  Still, the people of this state should expect our elected officials to not make things worse.

  Yet they do. Repeatedly. Cheerfully. Stupidly.

  And things are bad for LGBTQ+ Alabamians right now.

  Alabama Republicans are in the third year of a crusade to drive them out of public life. Particularly transgender people.

  They’ve banned critical medical treatment. They’ve forbidden transgender youth from playing sports and using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, justifying these measures with highly distorted anecdotes.

  Now their bile has risen high enough that they want to choke off any discussion of gender in public schools. Rep. Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) who wants to extend the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to Space Camp, says he wants to “purify” the places our children learn.

  You may be surprised to learn that your local first-grade reading corner is actually a den of iniquity. But our lawmakers see civic life as a giant pagan altar that must be overturned.

  Alabama isn’t the only place where the second Lavender Scare has taken hold. It’s contributing to a surge in attacks on LGBTQ+ youth around the country, one that’s particularly bad in states like ours where politicians and right-wing media have stopped at nothing in demonizing and dehumanizing our neighbors, whatever their age.

  Last year, F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, the mayor of Smiths Station, had his personal life, which included photos of Copeland in women’s clothing, exposed by a conservative outlet. Copeland, who had helped lead his community through a devastating series of tornadoes in 2019, died by suicide on Nov. 3.

  In this dangerous climate, you would hope that elected officials wouldn’t be so dumb as to amplify attacks on a person who has never been in the public sphere.

  But they did.

  These four members of Congress gave their blessings to attacks on a person whose “crime,” it appears, is their existence.

  If you have any shred of human empathy or conscience, you should worry.

  But if you don’t, turn to your interest in self-preservation.

  If these four men are willing to attack a private person — and indulge the most vile instincts of their voting base — what’s stopping them from attacking you?

  They’ve shown that if they can gain from it, they will.

  So what’s restraining Aderholt, Palmer, Strong, and Tuberville from finding one of your old Facebook posts and telling their tens of thousands of followers that you should lose your job?

  What’s stopping them from doxing you and putting you in the crosshairs of violent people if it means a conservative outlet can get clicks?

  They act like gullible opportunists. They have less understanding of consequences than a toddler. And they don’t care about what happens to the people they represent.

  If these “leaders” are willing to be the tools of thugs and bigots, every Alabamian is potentially an issue.

  And when every Alabamian is an issue, no Alabamian is safe.

  About the author: Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006 and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register, and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.

  This article was published by Alabama Reflector. 

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