Friday, December 8, 2023

Leftists Fired Up over Missouri Republican’s Use of Flamethrower on Campaign Trail

'If the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material ... is me burning, bulldozing or launching [books] into outer space, I’m going to do that...'

(Headline USA) A longshot candidate for Missouri governor and his supporters describe his use of a flamethrower at a recent “Freedom Fest” event outside St. Louis as no big deal.

They said it was a fun moment for fellow Republicans who attended, and that no one talked about burning books as he torched a pile of cardboard boxes.

But after the video gained attention on social media, state Sen. Bill Eigel said he would burn books he found objectionable, and that he’d do it on the lawn outside the governor’s mansion.

He later said it was all a metaphor for how he would attack the “woke liberal agenda.”

“From a dramatic sense, if the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material like that getting in their hands is me burning, bulldozing or launching [books] into outer space, I’m going to do that,” Eigel said in an interview with the Associated Press. “However, I would I make the point that I don’t believe it’s going to come to that.”

Despite having embraced violent and unhinged rhetoric about burning things down during the 2020 election—and, indeed, having regularly engaged in “mostly peaceful” arson as part of the George Floyd-inspired race riots that year—leftist critics claimed Eigel’s use of the flamethrower was a sign that rhetoric and imagery previously considered extreme were now being treated as normal in American politics.

“The slippery slope is that everything is a joke—everything can be kind of waved away,” said Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of public communications at American University in Washington. “Everything can be seen as just rhetoric until it can’t anymore and people start using it as an excuse to actually hurt people.”

When it comes to so-called progressive extremism, of course, Braddock himself is quick to dismiss it a s fringe threat and to write off the growing anti-Semitic movement within the leftist ranks, despite evidence showing it has become more normalized with politicians like Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. openly attacking Jews on the floor of the U.S. House.

Meanwhile, it was Eigel, an Air Force veteran, devout Catholic and father of two who Democrats saw as the true terrorist threat, becoming immediately triggered by the viral post after his political affiliation became apparent.

The 30-second video that put Eigel at the center of a social media storm came from a Sept. 15 event for Republicans at a winery near tiny Defiance, Missouri, about 30 miles west of St. Louis. He and another state senator shot long streams of flame onto a pile of cardboard in front of an appreciative crowd.

The video posted on Twitter, caught the attention of Jonathan Riley, a left-wing activist in Durham, North Carolina, who dishonestly posted Sunday that it showed “Missouri Republicans at a literal book burning,” though he’d later walk that statement back to a “metaphorical” book burning.

“It fit a narrative that they wanted to put out there,” Freedom Fest organizer Debbie McFarland said about claims that Eigel burned books. “It just didn’t happen to be the truth.”

Some of Republicans’ skepticism over the online outrage stems from Eigel’s status as a dark horse candidate to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Mike Parson.

The best known candidates for the August 2024 GOP primary are Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

The Ashcroft campaign declined to respond to the video, the uproar it caused or Eigel’s follow-up statement.

Kehoe’s campaign had no official comment, but Gregg Keller, a GOP consultant working on Kehoe’s campaign, said Eigel’s promise to burn objectionable books is “typical electioneering hyperbole.”

He added, “I would challenge you to find me any non-psychotic Republican who has actually burned” a book deemed objectionable by conservatives.

Eigel posted on Twitter that his flamethrower stunt was meant to show what he would do to the “swamp” in the state capital of Jefferson City, but “let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too—on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Republicans across the U.S. are backing conservative efforts to remove sexually explicit and pornographic books from school libraries and the children’s section of public libraries amid a growing anti-groomer movement that has seen strong grassroots political success..

The issue resonates with Republicans in Missouri. An AP VoteCast survey of Missouri voters in the 2022 midterm elections showed that more than 75% of those voting for GOP candidates thought the K-8 schools in their community were teaching too much about gender identity or sexual orientation.

Large guns have been a popular prop for some Republicans. In Missouri in 2016, GOP candidate and ex-Navy Seal Eric Greitens ran an ad featuring him firing 100 rounds from a machine gun on his way to winning the governor’s race.

Flamethowers also have popped up previously. In 2020, a GOP congressional candidate in Alabama showed her support for then-President Donald Trump by torching a mockup of the first articles of impeachment against him. She finished third in the primary. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem’s staff gave her a flamethrower last year as a Christmas gift.

Experts who study political extremism said images involving fire or bonfires have long been associated with extremist groups. Eigel’s critics quickly posted online images involving the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi book burnings before World War II.

Braddock, the American University professor, said that after portraying a flamethrower as a weapon against “the woke agenda,” Eigel’s supporters don’t need “that big a leap of logic” to see it as a tool for settling actual political grievances. Talking about book burning enough can plant the idea in people’s minds so that ”people think it’s actually a righteous thing to do.”

Eigel said he’s not worried the video will inspire violence in “reasonable, everyday Missourians,” which he said is the majority of people. But he said he’s concerned about the number of threats he, his family and his staff have received as a result.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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