This is Barry West. He’s one of the County Commissioners of Coffee County, Tennessee. He’s also an asshole. He may or may not be a racist — I don’t know. But he’s most definitely an asshole.
Why do I think he’s an asshole? Because of the photograph below. Let me be clear; Barry West didn’t create that photograph. That’s not him in the photograph. He simply posted the photo on his Facebook page. He’s an asshole because he thinks pointing a firearm at Muslims is amusing.
When a local newspaper asked him if he was prejudiced against Muslims, Barry said “I’m prejudiced against anyone who’s trying to tear down this country, Muslims, Mexicans, anybody.” He didn’t explain why he thinks Muslims and Mexicans are trying to tear down this country, but maybe the reporter didn’t ask him. And really, that doesn’t matter.
Predictably, Barry West caught a HUGE amount of shit from people who found this photo offensive and decided Barry was an asshole. He removed the photo from his Facebook page eventually, but that doesn’t make him any less of an asshole. It just makes him an asshole who’s embarrassed to be recognized as an asshole.
Muslims, of course, were particularly offended. It’s important to remember that a lot of mosques and Islamic centers in Tennessee have been the target of arson and vandalism over the past half decade. Just a couple of years ago in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (in a county that adjoins Coffee County), residents attempted to prevent the construction of a mosque by every means possible, legal and illegal. They tied it up in zoning hearings, they filed frivolous lawsuits, there were numerous incidents of vandalism, and eventually an arson attack on the construction site. All that in a city with 140 Christian churches and only one mosque. So the concern of Tennessee Muslims was understandable.
But here’s the thing about Barry West: he has the perfect right to be an asshole. He has the right to post photographs other folks (including me) see as offensive and racist. I totally defend his right to be an asshole. The Constitution of the United States expressly protects his right to be an asshole and say stupid and offensive things. That’s why I’m talking about Barry West. It’s also why Bill Killian was talking about Barry West.
Bill Killian is the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Tonight he’s speaking at a seminar sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee. In recent days, though, Killian spoke to the news media about Barry West and the photo. He said, “We need to educate people about Muslims and their civil rights, and as long as we’re here, they’re going to be protected.” He also said, “If a Muslim had posted ‘How to Wink at a Christian,’ could you imagine what would have happened?” And then Killian added that one of his purposes in addressing the subject was to:
“…to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are.”
And that has set off a conservative shitstorm. A lot of conservative Christians seem to think any statement defending the civil rights of Muslims is somehow a threat against Christian conservatives. Politico.com proclaimed Feds suggest anti-Muslim speech can be punished. Well, no, the Feds didn’t suggest that at all. Breitbart.com says Posting Something Mean About Muslims on Social Media Might Be a Criminal Action Under Federal Civil Rights Laws. Well, no, it’s not a criminal action. GatewayPundit says Obama DOJ: Trashing Islam on Social Media Will Have Legal Repercussions. Well, no, there won’t be any legal repercussions. And my absolute favorite — one conservative blogger, in a post entitled Tomorrow the DOJ Plans to Repeal the First Amendment, wrote this:
Bill Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee will start educating people about the repeal of the First Amendment, only he want call it that… Instead he’s going to tell us if you criticize Murdering Islamic Terrorists, the DOJ might decide you’re violating their Civil Rights.
All this faux outrage (remember, Attorney Killian hasn’t even spoken at the seminar yet) is intended to do three things. First, it’s meant to make bigots feel justified in their bigotry. Second, it’s meant to change the subject from the actual verbal assaults against Muslims to imaginary assaults against bigots. And third, it’s meant to fuel the paranoid delusions of white Christian bigots.
So what did Killian really mean when he mentioned ‘what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are’? He meant this:
People are free to hate, as long as they don’t act on it. Hateful statements directed at another will be used as evidence in a hate crime.
So Killian was, in effect, saying Barry West is free to be an asshole and say hateful things (and post hateful photographs on Facebook — so long as Facebook allows it), but if he’s ever accused of a hate crime, those hateful things might be used as evidence against him.
Some day I’m going to do some research and try to figure out at what point conservatives became such whiny little crybabies.