In keeping with his party’s new standard — shocking, but not surprising — Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted an anime video last week that appeared to depict him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword as well as attacking President Joe Biden. The animation is the kind of cheesy misogynistic violence standard on men’s rights subreddits and right-wing Facebook groups. But casual threats of violence against a colleague are not standard on the social media pages of sitting members of the House of Representatives (at least, they didn’t use to be), which is what led the House to vote to censure Gosar and strip him of his committee assignments yesterday.
Evidently far from chastened, Gosar immediately tweeted the video again, which he had previously deleted. What a shock. Like so many men before him, Gosar has excused his threat by reframing it as a joke. And the Republican Party (excepting Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) is laughing along.
In her own speech on the House floor regarding the motion to censure Gosar, Ocasio-Cortez asked Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy what was “so hard” about saying that this video was wrong. She further stated that to let Gosar’s video go unpunished was to say that the work of Congress and what Representatives say to the public does not matter. In retweeting the very video that earned him the censure in the first place, Gosar seems to have proven her point.
Make no mistake: This was a threat, despite Gosar and all his supporters’ claims that it was “just a joke”. And if it was a joke, it’s really difficult to imagine the punchline. Was it the idea of Gosar beheading Ocasio-Cortez with a sword? Was that the funny part? Because if so, there is a plethora of studies showing that men who make sexist jokes are more likely to not only hold sexist attitudes but also to act on those attitudes.
But it’s still hard to see the anime video as a joke, even a sexist or violent one. It does not have the structure of a joke. There is no obvious satire or even absurdist humor. It looks more like a childish piece of political fan-art or call-to-arms.
Perhaps this would seem like an overreaction if the past two years have not been full of political violence, particularly against women, spurred on and inspired by internet memes. There was the kidnapping and murder plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. There was the January 6 insurrection, and the curious focus on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But this does not begin to cover the sheer volume of death threats politicians, particularly women politicians, and even more particularly Ocasio-Cortez herself, receive on a daily basis.
As California Democrat Jackie Speiers, who sponsored the motion to censure Gosar, said on the House floor, “Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the go-to subject of the radical right to stir up their base, as too often is the case for women of color.” After citing statistics, Speiers continued, “The intent of these online threats against women is clear. Silence them. Strip them of their power. And discourage them from running for office.”