In the days to follow Thursday’s shooting in Alexandria, debates over whether and when political rhetoric goes too far will likely be on the table, especially after suspicions arose that shooter James T. Hodgkinson may have been politically motivated when he fired at Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game.
Similar debates sparked in the aftermath of the 2011 shooting attack on Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabby Giffords and several others gathered outside a supermarket.
Sam Fisher, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of South Alabama, says the free speech debate is deeply complex.
“There’s no neat line that I can point to and say, ‘Here’s the point you need to stop and that’s unacceptable,'” Fisher said.
Fisher said he’s noticed a shift in more hostile political rhetoric as political parties take more polarizing stances towards each other.
“Compromise has always been seen as [not good], but it’s actually something that makes the system work,” Fisher said. “Now, we have this real increase in harsh rhetoric that I think is an outcry of ‘My side is the only right side, and therefore I have to win. If I don’t, I’m going to make life miserable for everybody else.'”
After instances like comedian Kathy Griffin posing with a fake severed head of President Trump and a New York public theater performing a version of Julius Caesar that features a mock execution of a Trump-like character, online debates have come alive over whether that kind of rhetoric is going too far.