Never glory in the death of your enemy
The response to Ryan Carson’s murder shows the worst of the right
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It used to be that a man could get stabbed to death on the street, and nobody would know about it except family or friends. But in the age of social media, those days feel like a distant dream.
In early October, one man’s grim murder became viral clickbait fodder as X (formerly known as Twitter) users replayed the last surveillance-captured minute of his life over and over. At the beginning of the clip, New York City political activist Ryan Carson is sitting on a bench with his girlfriend when a young black man in a hoodie walks past them. As they get up and walk in his direction, he suddenly begins shouting incoherently, then turns around and makes an aggressive approach. Within seconds, Carson is collapsed on the pavement with a fatal chest wound. (Suspect Brian Dowling has been arrested and is currently being held without bail.)
Numerous cruel comments mocked Carson’s naivete and weakness in confronting the attacker. Instead of either fleeing or disarming the young man, Carson repeatedly tells him to “chill.” As it emerged that he and his girlfriend were left-wing Antifa activists who pushed for softer crime policies, the comments from alt-right quarters became even more savage. A bleeding-heart white liberal, viciously stabbed to death in front of his equally liberal girlfriend by a violent young black criminal? What could be more deliciously ironic?
Not everyone joined in the mob. Conservative writer Nate Hochman suggested that so far from being mocked, Carson should be praised for at least trying to place himself between the attacker and his girlfriend, however tragically unable he was to neutralize the threat. Foolish mistakes were certainly made, but the whole bloody incident is over in the blink of an eye. It’s one thing to “chirp from behind your keyboard” about what you would do if you had to confront a violent maniac on a dark street. It’s quite another thing to actually do it, with seconds between you and death at knifepoint.
But sympathy and nuance were thin on the ground in alt-right spaces because, to them, Carson was the “right” sort of victim. Of course, this sort of callous delight in the death of the “right” people isn’t limited to the alt-right. Just this year, we saw left-wing social media mocking the death of the “rich white men” on the Titan submarine. No death is too cruel to be converted into celebratory meme fodder. In fact, the crueler the death, the more memes it seems to generate.
While human cruelty is nothing new, our ability to consume evil and tragedy as “content” is. How many clips of people dying will float through our feeds in an average month? An average week? To those gleefully replaying Carson’s death, he might as well have been a videogame character, a non-person. Even those of us who still want to be compassionate may struggle to have a strong emotional reaction, because we’ve been so desensitized.
But some will argue that compassion is wasted on our political enemies anyway. Self-styled conservative pundit Gina Bontempo makes this case explicit. After all, Carson and his girlfriend were among those who demand abortion on demand, side with violent criminals against cops, mocked the vaccine-hesitant as they died, and want to hound conservatives out of the public square. They wouldn’t show us mercy. So why should we show them mercy? Perhaps “on a personal level, in private, we can pray for them and their souls.” But whenever we see an “enemy” like Carson suffering the consequences of his activist choices, Bontempo proposes we shouldn’t “act surprised or upset.” Such calls for “peace and unity” are “one of the reasons we keep losing,” after all.
Of course, Bontempo’s whole post is a strawman argument, since nobody is demanding we “back down” or “give ground” to people advancing evil or foolish policies. We’re simply suggesting that, yes, it’s actually normal to feel “upset” when we see a man, any man, get murdered in real time. Even if there’s some indirect sense in which Carson’s activism helped create the conditions for crimes like his own murder, that doesn’t make the crime just.
All of this should go without saying, but apparently, it still needs to be said. And in an increasingly secular age—on left and right alike—it will fall to Christians to say it. Not because we’re seeking to “virtue-signal” or gain approval from our political opponents, but because we are human. And so are they.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.