The news about the four old codgers who were accused of wanting to bomb government buildings and kill a "bucket list" of people, including media personal, broke on a Tuesday. The story of their arrest was on the front page of The Times on Wednesday, and by Thursday it was in the New York Times.
It just so happened that I spent most of that Thursday in a government building, and as a columnist for The Times, I suppose I qualify as "media personal." Suddenly this terrorism business was getting up close and personal.
I was in court Thursday as a CASA, a court-appointed special advocate for children. Here are a few of those who would have been hurt if someone had bombed the building: An adorable 3-year-old girl sitting next to me; several sets of grandparents and at least two foster parents, the kind of people who step in to comfort and care for frighten children when the Department of Family and Children's Services is forced to take them into custody; a number of overworked, underpaid advocated coordinators from DFCS; and a handful of CASA volunteers.
And this is just a partial list of the good people who work for positive change though state and federal programs. I wonder if anyone thinks about this in their quest to bring down "da gub'ment?"
I don't know what will happen to those four old men, all younger than me, by the way. Their arrest was some sort of sting operation by the FBI, and the newspapers kept referring to the testimony of "... a confidential source, currently on bond for pending felony charges."
That certainly gives me pause, but I have run into this type of blowhard before.
Not too long ago, I encountered another "old codger" expounding on politics, government and the media in our local coffee shop. He was loud, rude and thoroughly obnoxious. "Yes," he announced making sure everyone around him could hear. "I'm opinionated and proud of it.
"This country is going to hell, and it's the fault of ..." and he launched into a long list of perceived miscreants in language I can't use in the papers."
Unpleasant but probably harmless, I thought at the time. Now I'm not so sure.
I believe in free speech and the right to voice one's opinion as much as the next person. It is the mark of a civilized nation, but a nation where people have no respect for others or for the rule of law is not civilized.
Furthermore, words become weapons when they spread fear and distrust.
Our government is not perfect, not by a long shot. We need basic reform at every level, but somebody needs to stand up and defend government on general grounds. The opposite of government is anarchy, and anarchy is an untamed beast.
Today the world is in crisis, but then it always has been. It's just that in the past we didn't have television and the Internet to hype every conflict and every injustice.
You've heard the old adage: You are what you eat. A strong healthy body is not build on junk food and soda pop. In the same vein, a strong healthy mind is not build on angry words and bombastic rhetoric.
It is not such a big step from blaming the government for every possible problem to justifying bringing the government down with violence.
I don't want vengeance. I do want people to pay attention to what they say in public, and in private. Hate is a cancer and it's contagious.
Opinions are not benign word play. They can be the vector of the cancer.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.