It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes after the first reports of “suspicious packages” sent to high-profile Democrats before some on both sides began pointing fingers.
To some on the left, the bomb-like devices were the obvious result of President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric; to some on the right, the whole scheme was a “false flag” operation designed to embarrass the president and his most ardent supporters.
Both groups were wrong, and in more ways than one.
First, they jumped to conclusions within mere moments. Whether the conclusion was incorrect or not is largely immaterial; the process is wrong. It doesn’t matter if you happen to have been correct in your assumptions — in fact, being correct might be worse, as it would tend to reinforce to you and others the illogical “reasoning” (and I’m using that term very loosely) behind the determination you cannot possibly have proven so early on.
Second, if you feel the need to opine on such events within moments of their occurrence — and I know, in the social media-driven world we now inhabit, it can be very tempting — you are either attempting to drive the narrative, rather than observe and describe it (I’m looking at you, establishment media) or you have a strong motivation to prove yourself smarter than those around you (I’m still looking at you, establishment media).
Unfortunately, I’m looking at a lot of folks I consider my friends on the right, as well. And I’m going to get some nasty email from some of those friends for what I’m about to say next.
This was not a false-flag operation. I’m a U.S. Army-trained psychological operations specialist, so you can take that to the bank. All of the “obvious” signs that Sayoc is a patsy or a plant of some sort are just that — obvious. They’re precisely the sorts of things that a professional propagandist or dissension-sower would avoid.
Unless you think the DNC has hired a handful of teenage Antifa-wannabees and charged them with perpetrating a massive propaganda campaign designed to implicate Trump and the right, because this is just the kind of thing they’d come up with.
Otherwise, the most obvious suspect — whether Cesar Sayoc ultimately proves to be the guy responsible or not — is a deeply troubled individual, probably one who thinks his actions will earn him positive attention from someone he admires, like Trump. (It has not.)
And Sayoc has at least two decades of arrest records — including a charge from 2002 related to making a bomb threat. Nothing Donald Trump or anyone else has said caused Sayoc to do anything. Some sort of trigger might have been his excuse for his alleged actions, but they weren’t the reason for them.
On the other hand, the left has been just as fast — perhaps even faster — to blame Trump and others on the right for inciting violence. While I wholeheartedly agree that Trump sometimes says things I wish he would rephrase, that’s a far cry from encouraging physical attacks.
Assuming for the moment that Cesar Sayoc is the man who committed these acts, there’s exactly one person responsible for them: Cesar Sayoc.
I understand the temptation to blame others. On the left, it’s an easy swipe at a president you hate. On the right, we don’t want to be associated with someone who would do something like this.
But I suspect it goes deeper than that.
We jump to conclusions because the implications of really thinking this through are unpleasant. Do I know someone who could have done something like this? Have I ever said anything that someone might have taken to mean that I’d endorse actions like these?
Or worse: Is Cesar Sayoc driven by the same things that drive me? Fear? Anger? Powerlessness? Frustration? Loneliness?
If it weren’t for the grace of God, could I be a Cesar Sayoc?
Few of us have the courage to contemplate such questions, or to do so for very long.
The answer to them all, by the way, is yes. It’s a wonder we don’t all jump to conclusions every day about everything. (Which, now that I think of it, is pretty much what we do most of the time.)
The term conclusion, I should point out, derives from a word that means to shut up or enclose — in other words, after we reach a conclusion, we’re finished examining the matter. Further discussion is pointless.
If you were finished examining the roots and reasons behind the motivation of whoever sent these packages two minutes after you found out about them, you’re — how can I put this kindly? — not part of the solution. In fact, if you’re finished now, today, as you read this, it’s probably still too early. I beg you to reconsider other possibilities.
Because the only thing that might be shut or enclosed at this point in the investigation is your mind. There is certainly a time for conclusions, but we’re not there yet.
Meanwhile, you might do yourself some good by thinking hard about what it is inside you that doesn’t want to believe that one man is responsible for his own misdeeds.
Maybe it’s because, like me, you don’t ultimately want to be held responsible for yours.
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