Sen. Tom Cotton

We mentioned last week that Sen. Tom Cotton is once again indulging in violent vigilante fantasies against protestors he doesn’t like. This lust for violence, at home and abroad, has been the guiding light of his entire career.


In response to protestors calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, who took to the streets and interrupted traffic during rush hour in a number of cities, Cotton said that if that happened in Arkansas, people would throw protestors off a bridge. It got weirder. He imagined a protestor with hands glued to a car.

“It would probably be pretty painful to have their skin ripped off,” Cotton mused. “But I think that’s probably how we would handle it in Arkansas.” No law enforcement would be necessary to carry out the torture, assault and potential murder, he was quick to clarify. He encouraged people to “take matters into their own hands.”


In addition to being bloodthirsty, his comments were also just … wrong? It’s true that in every corner of the world, not just in Arkansas, some fools may choose to ratchet up violence. But most people in Arkansas, like most people everywhere, are not fools.

Alan Elrod, writing in Liberal Currents, took offense to Cotton pinning Arkansans as violent dimwits determined to rip people’s skin off and throw them off a bridge:


As one of the Arkansans Mr. Cotton represents, I take issue with his assertion on Fox News that “If something like this happened in Arkansas, on a bridge there, let’s just say I think there’d be a lot of very wet criminals that had been tossed overboard—not by law enforcement, but by the people whose road they’re blocking.” I do not think my fellow Arkansans would, en masse, physically throw protesters into the Arkansas River.

But I also think his comments speak to a wider phenomenon on the American right, one where a kind of unreasonable, even anti-social, thinking has become commonplace but is presented as common sense and normal.

Elrod, an adjunct faculty member at Arkansas State University-Beebe and president and CEO of the Pulaski Institution, has previously written about an expat living in Panama who shot and killed two climate protesters who were blocking the road.

“I do not think the impulse to kill protesters—much less the act of following through on such a thought—is typical,” he writes. “The murder of innocent people over inconvenience is neither trivial nor, one would hope, particularly relatable.”


Elrod noted that the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh attaboyed Cotton but lamented that “if someone does take matters into their own hands, there’s a very good chance they’ll spend the rest of their life in prison. The Biden DOJ will destroy them. They will do nothing to protect innocent people from these terrorists.”

Here’s Elrod:


This is a comical inversion of reality. For Cotton and Walsh, protesters are “criminals” and “terrorists” and anyone who exercises vigilante force against them is an innocent. In this light, not only is enacting violence against protesters morally good, it’s the tyranny and lawlessness of Biden’s America that unjustly constrains the actions of decent, everyday Americans.

I agree, of course, with Chris Hayes’s assessment that “Even by the debased standards of the day, this is just crazy…” But what’s even more mad is the way in which human behavior has been forced through the cockeyed ideological framework of the new American right. If the average person truly does harbor the instincts being encouraged and even praised by figures like Cotton, Walsh, Knowles, and others we would be walking down city blocks full of Arthur Flecks. Insanity would be the norm. We would be turning the agora into an asylum.

Cotton is a thirsty man. The only thing that can quench his thirst is attention, and the only way he knows how to get attention is via expressions of violence. He will never be president. It’s sad. And here I am, giving him attention.

But. He’s also a senator. This level of utter depravity, this quasi-fascist ethos, is truly despicable and dangerous. He is going to get someone killed. Because Cotton isn’t saying that he is going to throw anyone off a bridge or rip their skin. He’s trying to rile up other people. This is the way of the demagogue. He would welcome death and violence. He would make a mockery of decency and American values. All for even the sliver of a chance that it might lead to more power for himself.


Luckily, most Arkansans — and most Americans — are decent people. Most would never act out Cotton’s florid fantasies.

“What’s worthy of special attention here,” writes Elrod, “is the way an entire political party and associated media ecosystem has begun normalizing what ought to be seen as breakdowns in socialization—behavior that is anti-social, marked by paranoia and rage, and at times perhaps even pathological—and presenting it as sane and reasonable.”

Read the whole thing.