Gabriel Sterling, a high-ranking elections official in Georgia and a lifelong Republican, has just set a rare and valuable example, by condemning dangerous speech among fellow Republicans. That’s a response to dangerous speech that is much more likely to be effective, than denunciation from the other side.
“Mr. President…” Sterling said into a row of microphones in the state capitol yesterday, “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed, and it’s not right.”
Sterling was trembling with emotion over threats that are “too much” in Georgia, he said, including against a 20-something elections worker whose name, photo, and address were spread online with the blatant lie that the worker was helping to steal votes from Trump. The man and his family have received death threats, including a noose with his name on it, and the message that he ought to be hung for treason.
“It has to stop!” said Sterling, who was in charge of conducting the November 3 election correctly, as Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager, and who has been threatened himself, along with his boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who is also a Republican, and Raffensberger’s wife. Sterling spoke eloquently and angrily, without any notes, with the incongruous backdrop of an elegant curving staircase and a Christmas tree.
He said threats against the young elections worker were different from threats he and Raffensberger had received, since they had exposed themselves by taking senior positions with public visibility.
Those who hold such senior positions must also show courage publicly, Sterling said.
He demanded, wisely, not only that Trump stop spewing dangerous speech, but also that other Republicans join Sterling in denouncing it. They share responsibility for the threats and increased danger of violence, just as he said.
“This is elections, this is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word, are complicit in this.”
He demanded not only that Trump stop spreading dangerous speech, but that Georgia’s two Republican U.S. senators denounce it, and its harmful consequences. “Mr President you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions.”
It isn’t surprising for a man whose own life has been threatened to denounced dangerous speech, but it takes courage to denounce one’s own political comrades. We hope Sterling’s example will be followed, now that he has broken the ice in Georgia. It will be especially important in that state, which isn’t finished with elections for the moment: that state will hold a runoff election in January, which will determine whether Republicans or Democrats hold a majority in the U.S. Senate. Such high stakes render inflammatory speech even more dangerous.
As Sterling said to Republican leaders, “We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”