Off with your head! Is this really what we’re coming to?


We’ve gotten so comfortable with violence. So-called Christians wishing for atheists to die horrible deaths. People calling upon others to do violence to trans people just for existing. The way officials strive to build “cop cities” to train police to do harm to citizens in ever more blatant ways, not just for crimes (that rarely deserve that level of violence—yet how many call for looters to be shot dead?) but for peacefully protesting. We’re moving backward, back to times not so many decades past when beating and shooting and harming and killing people for holding different views or just being different was seen as just fine.

And now a middle-school teacher in Georgia threatening to decapitate a 13-year-old Muslim student who expressed discomfort that his display of the Israeli flag—at a time when mostly innocent Palestinians are being killed in droves in retaliation for the actions of Hamas.

I understand how tensions run high on both sides of the Gaza issue. But why is a teacher displaying something potentially inflammatory at a time like this? Beyond that, why did he feel entitled to so brazenly and horrifically threaten a teenager for expressing a view?

Online, we see women threatened with rape and death for expressing valid opinions or standing up for themselves. We see Nazis allowed to post vile hate online and recruit more to their cause without much pushback. We see a former president and likely future candidate again who calls to do the worst he can imagine to migrants and asylum-seekers.

And it’s all normalized. So many of us accept it. Or fear to push back openly against it.

Not just bullies but people openly threatening to kill people for disagreeing with them.

I’m not pacifist. I think that there are plenty of Nazis and white supremacists, for example, who have earned being punched on-camera. Those who commit or sow senseless racial and other oppressive violence and people who promote spreading it warrant being met with controlled violence.

But threatening to cut off someone’s head for saying a displayed flag makes them uncomfortable?

This is not right. It might have become some kind of “norm” as extremists—mostly those in the right wing, it turns out—are ever emboldened to not just threaten people online or to spread hateful ideology, but to publicly be more than bullies. To publicly be sociopaths. To be killers who go out with guns looking to kill protesters and then get sympathy from the media and probably a quarter to a third of the country’s inhabitants. To beat people senseless or crippled or dead for not being cishet. And so much more.

There is no excuse for this. We need to stand up and say we won’t tolerate treating civil discourse, and legitimate discomfort over policies that directly harm huge swaths of people, being met with threats of violence—or actual violence. People like this teacher—an alleged criminal for now but it seems pretty clear he’s guilty given the number of witnesses to his actions—need to be met with criminal penalties, They need to be made uncomfortable and not lifted up. They are not rational; they are not productive—they are destructive. They are the ones who are trying to silence dissent and critical thinking.

The sad truth is that many will forgive and condone this teacher’s actions. Just like so many want to paint every Palestinian as a terrorist or sympathizer, or every Jewish person as genocide-lovers, many will look at this man and his threats of decapitation and just nod in agreement. They’ll say this student deserved not just the threat but actual death. This is how society crumbles. This is how dystopia rises. This is how authoritarian states are formed—starting with allowing our anger and our hate to rule our instincts. It needs to stop, and it only stops if we stand together against it.

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