Does Talk By Trump Constitute a Threat?

This post is based on an article by the same title written by Colby Itkowitz in the 1 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post in the Metro Section.  This article is about a winner of a MacArthur Award, which is better known as the “Genius” Award.  She used her award to fund the Dangerous Speech Project.  Her name is Susan Benesch, a law professor at American University, who also is a Harvard University faculty associate.

As a young lawyer, she did international work in the aftermath of the ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s.  Beseech was drawn to the question of whether one could detect warning signs for genocide before one occurred.  She did her first field study for the Dangerous Speech Project in Kenya leading up to its presidential election held in March 2013.  While there she helped oversee several projects that sought to diminish the impact of dangerous-speech, including one writing four episodes of a popular Kenyan courtroom comedy in which the actors discredited inflammatory statements.  This election produced little violence.

According to Benesch, to rise to he level of dangerous speech, at least two of these five indicators must be true:

A powerful speaker with a high degree of influence over the audience.

The audience has grievances and fears that the speaker can cultivate.

A speech act that is clearly understood as a call to violence.

A social or historical context that is propitious for violence, for any of a variety of reasons, including long-standing competition between groups for resources, lack of efforts to solve grievances or previous episodes of violence.

A means of dissemination that is influential in itself, for example because it is the sole or primary sources of news for the relevant audience.

She concludes that Trump does not meet these criteria.  HM disagrees.  He thinks the first two have clearly been met, and that Fox News could constitute a third indicator.  She rightly concludes that what appear to be calls to violence have been presented in an ambiguous manner.

There will be a data point in several days, which should tell us who reached the correct conclusion.  HM sincerely hopes he is wrong.

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