- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2019

Some years ago, one of our neighbors attended a Neighborhood Watch meeting with the Prince George’s County police chief. He asked the chief whether he knew that the president of the National Rifle Association was a resident of the county. The chief didn’t, but expressed concern about our safety.

He gave my neighbor his card and asked him to give it to me with a request that I call if we were concerned about the threats I might be receiving as an NRA officer. We were indeed receiving threats; there was even a “game” on the Internet posted by gun control advocates called “Kill David Keene.” Ironically, my head would explode if “players” shot me.

No one seemed to care and it didn’t bother me because I know that those who make such threats aren’t likely to carry them out, so I didn’t take the chief up on his offer. Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner took a different view at the time, however, and wrote the Obama Justice Department about the “game.” As far as I know, he never received a response to his letter; there were certainly no demands that it be taken down for its contents for targeting me.

Such threats can be disconcerting, but those who make them seldom carry them out. Over-the-top rhetoric is and always has been an unfortunate part of the price one pays for engaging on controversial issues

As a University of Wisconsin student during the Vietnam War, I debated a campus radical who later served on the Madison City Council. When I finished speaking, he took the microphone and informed our audience that he wasn’t about to respond to my arguments, but wanted everyone to know that “come the revolution,” I would be “among the first shot.”

That was a long time ago, and like many who speak out on the left and right I have been the target of similar rhetoric in the years since. I’ve been called a racist, a homophobe and, yes, a terrorist. At one point, there were separate Internet campaigns calling me both pro-Jihadist and Islamophobic. If I took any of this very seriously or believed that everyone with whom I disagree wanted to kill me, I would have abandoned politics and writing for safer pursuits decades ago.

Those who speak up know that there will be those who disagree with their views and some who detest them for expressing them. Some years ago, my wife arrived early at a reception and ran into an old Harvard friend she hadn’t seen in years. When I arrived later to speak, he nodded in my direction and observed that “A lot of people really dislike that guy.” My wife simply smiled and said, “I know, I married him.”

That happened a few years ago and I got off easy. In today’s world conservatives are often either shouted down by those with whom they disagree or, in many instances, actually driven from the public square. Their opponents sometimes go after them via social media, picket their homes and attack their families or harass those who dare to publish their work or give them a platform. When conservatives are the target of such intolerance, it goes largely unnoticed by what has come to be known as the mainstream media, but when similarly outrageous behavior targets leftists and progressives it is both noticed and blamed not on extremists, but on conservatives.

Recently, CNN’s Chris Cuomo said he has received death threats because of President Trump’s criticism of the media. He argued that this is a totally new phenomenon and is Mr. Trump’s fault. Using that logic, President Obama and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer were personally responsible for the threats I received as NRA president. They weren’t, and neither is Mr. Trump.

Yet, freshmen members of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar whine that their offices receive threatening phone calls and their lives are in jeopardy from extreme right-wingers who don’t like what they say. Real threats from extremists of whatever stripe should be reported and the FBI will investigate, but blaming the actions of a few on folks they simply don’t like tells one more about them than the people they blame.

They were complaining, I suspect, not out of real fear, but to portray themselves as victims and to demonize those with whom they disagree. The key to surviving in the political world is to stay on message despite the threats, and to carry on with the best possible arguments for your point of view while giving those with whom you disagree the same respect they owe you rather than blaming them for every insult emanating from the fever swamps of the left or right. Life would undoubtedly be far more pleasant if political disagreements were all carried on civilly, but that’s not going to happen any time soon in part because of the sort of name-calling these two engage in on a regular basis.

• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.

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