Joking About Violence Is Funny When WE Do It

ATTENTION, CITIZENS: jokes about violence aren't funny. That's why Justin Carter spent months in pretrial confinement for a clearly mocking rant about a video game, and why Caleb Jamaal Clemmons spent six months in jail for an "experimental literary piece."

Now, of course, jokes by law enforcement are different. They are funny, and not threatening at all! Even though United States government asserts a privilege to detain and/or kill, without review or rebuke, any human being on the face of the earth, and even thought the United States government and the governments of the states maintain a monopoly on force and exercise it often, and even though you are eight times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist, law enforcement jokes about violence must be taken in context as just gallows humor. Take those hilarious jokers at the ATF, for instance:

[T]he Justice Department finds itself on the defensive after a training manual surfaced that suggests federal agents could face a firing squad for leaking government secrets.

The online manual for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — complete with a photo of a turn-of-the-century firing squad — was obtained by The Washington Times from a concerned federal law enforcement official, and it immediately drew protests from watchdogs who said it showed a lack of sensitivity to gun violence and the continuing hostile environment toward whistleblowers.

See! Just a joke! It shouldn't be treated as threatening. Sure, law enforcement kills and brutalizes people all the time and Justin Carter and Caleb Clemmons haven't killed or brutalized anyone, but everyone knows you can trust law enforcement. We know they won't execute whistleblowers! They'll just retaliate against and prosecute them. Whistleblowers are perfectly safe from the ATF and FBI! I mean, unless the whistleblowers are kids living in a religious group's compound and they aren't fireproof.

Thanks to tipster Ian.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Richard says

    As a Canadian, I would point and laugh at your police system, except that ours isn't much better.

    Can we stop using the phrase "turn-of-the-century" to refer to those years immediately preceding and succeeding the year of 1900?
    A different century has turned since then.

  2. ChicagoTom says

    Obviosly I am no lawyer but I seem to remember hearing/reading about a way to invalidate a law or maybe overturn a conviction, if you can show that the law isnt being applied equally? Or am I completely off base?

    On a thread-jack note: Ken — if you would indulge me in some gratuitous begging — I would love to hear your take on the 1st amendment implications of California's "revenge porn" ban. Especially since I have heard other states are trying to pass similar laws. To my untrained eye it seems like the law would run afoul of the 1st amendment. I would love to see a more thorough analysis of the law. I also wonder how/if it would apply to people who don't live in California.

  3. Xenocles says

    Obviously the reason is that we can't be sure of the motives of your average citizen, while police are beyond reproach.

  4. melK says

    Correcting the link above (which did not work for me out of the box):
    inquest link

    As I have no other comment to make, this post may be removed if the link in the original post is repaired.

  5. Dion starfire says

    @Ken you do realize police are bipedal and hooveless, don't you? Or have you been sampling Clark's liquor cabinet?

    Also you really should spend an evening drinking with miltary (and former miltary) folks. You'll see the same attitudes towards weapons and violence you decry in the police. I imagine doctors make the same sort of jokes about deadly diseases and conditions. This is just an example of the old saying "Familiarity breeds contempt."

  6. Woff1965 says

    I just visited a site called the Agitator which was linked to from CATO liberty. He has a quiz called Soldier or Cop

    without giving too much away there was one photo of a cop in a armoured Humvee equiped with an M60 machine gun AND an AT4 anti-tank rocket. I can't think of any reason why a member of law enforcement would need either a machine gun or a bazooka in the US unless the local NG unit gets real rowdy on drill nights. It's not as if an AT4 is likely to be of any use in the forthcoming Zombie Apocalypse unless the undead are unsporting enough to be driving tanks.

  7. En Passant says

    Woff1965 wrote Oct 16, 2013 @9:14 pm:

    I just visited a site called the Agitator which was linked to from CATO liberty.

    I'm gonna hazard a guess that you're new around these parts.

    So, c'mon in, shake the cornstarch off your muckluks, and set a spell.

  8. says

    @Dion starfire: "Also you really should spend an evening drinking with miltary (and former miltary) folks. You'll see the same attitudes towards weapons and violence you decry in the police."

    Since I've been both LE and mil, allow me to point out that 1) there is a difference between a few guys making private jokes and an agency publishing said "jokes" in an official document as implied policy, and 2) a generally tendency in cops — even off duty — to joke about killing law-abiding civilians isn't exactly a good thing. On duty is worse. (I turned in my badge many years ago for several reasons. One contributing factor was the time the department decided to create a riot/tactical squad. I was asked to join; they officially told me it would be great fun because we'd get to beat up people with impunity. I declined. Not not after, I resigned.)

  9. Dan Weber says

    ha ha, only serious. Tribalism etc etc.

    Corporate America has internalized "how will this learn out of context on the front page of the New York Times?" and mostly learned not to do stupid stuff like this. It may have a chilling effect on some speech, but them's the breaks.

  10. Zazlo says

    @Dion starfire

    I don't believe he's decrying the use of dark humor, but the hypocrisy of punishing some for it and not others. Of note is that this was in an official publication, as Bear noted. Though the implication here could be seen as "these people should be charged too," I have a hunch, due to the general pro 1st amendment tenor around here, that the desired non-hypocritical outcome is not charge them both, but charge none of them. The important part is the double standard – which, while a ubiquitous feature of government in general, is highlighted here in law enforcement as being particularly pernicious and troublesome.

  11. SPQR says

    The ATF has a long and well documented history of rather brazen retaliation against agents that piss off management.

  12. Ross Judson says

    It's just surreal reading over the search and arrest warrants. "Detective Joe Tovar" appears to be completely unaware that he is committing the same crime he is arresting Justin Carter for. Here is a context-free quote from Tovar's own arrest warrant statement:

    I'm fucked in the head alright, I think I'ma SHOOT UP A KINGERGARTEN

    Joe Tovar needs to be immediately arrested for making terroristic threats! And in a spectacular display of metacircularity, I too have apparently committed the same crime. Except that I am not in Texas. And thankfully this thread will retain the context.

    The context of Tovar's statements shows he had no intent to cause any of the effects listed in the Terroristic Threat statute.

    How is the state proving that Justin Carter had intent? The statute specifically requires that there be an intent to cause a serious effect. So you have to prove intent. Which means that the words, on their own, are not sufficient.

    It's seriously crazy that the kid ever went to jail. Whoever authorized this prosecution should have their head examined, and should be shamed in public.

  13. Manatee says

    On one hand, the idea that a legitimate whistle-blower might be executed for exercising his conscience, even if it violates some law or policy governing his agency that he swore to obey, is very troubling to me.

    On the other hand, the suggestion that a law enforcement officer will suffer some sort of sanction or punishment for violating the law or some policy his agency is clearly a joke, and shouldn't be taken too seriously.

  14. Manatee says

    @Dion Starfire:

    I've never met any military folks (active or not) who advocated for/implemented/enforced with great pleasure laws against other people expressing the same attitudes towards violence you speak of. That's the key difference.

    A lot of people who have no inherent problem with responsible, recreational marijuana use or casual gay sex between consenting adults are happy to jump on the shame-wagon when a vocal politician gets caught doing it in the airport bathroom for the same reason. Being a hypocrite is one thing. Being a hypocrite with the power to deploy state-sanctioned force against others engaged in the same activity is a whole other level of messed up that should be condemned with every tool at our disposal.

  15. DRJlaw says

    Whether it is funny has very little to do with it. Whether it's "us" has everything to do with it.

    A detective threatened to burn your house down? That'll be $19000 taxpayer dollars and a letter of reprimand.

    That's the admitted conduct. The detective's threat to kill the man wasn't proven in court, but the settlement amount is suspicious.

  16. Castaigne says


    there was one photo of a cop in a armoured Humvee equiped with an M60 machine gun AND an AT4 anti-tank rocket. I can't think of any reason why a member of law enforcement would need either a machine gun or a bazooka in the US unless the local NG unit gets real rowdy on drill nights.

    I've got a theory about that which dates from my high school.

    Remember when Predator 2 came out? The opening scene is downtown Los Angeles. The police are severely outgunned by Columbian drug dealers, who are sporting AKs and armor-piercing ammo and body armor. After one point, they retreat into a building to refortify…and are pulling out .50 machinguns, bazookas, SAMs, and dipping their heads face-first into bags of cocaine. The lead guy has just said, in the most atrocious accent ever, "Come and geeeet it, gringos! El Scorpio is waaaaittting!" And then they all fire their weaponry, which is enough to outfit 4 Bay of Pigs, into the air.

    (Enter Predator at that point and hilarity ensues.)

    All throughout high school, it seemed like everybody believed that was reality. The streets are swarming with militarily-armed Columbian Drug Dealers and Jamaican Voodoo Posses! You can't go into the city with anything less than a Humvee! What do you mean you're not solely using Desert Eagles? Our cops are out-gunned, out-numbered, and overrun!

    The first consequence of this was the Ultimate Zero Tolerance you see in schools nowadays. The second was that police departments starting arming like fucks, as people apparently believe action movies dictate reality.

    And that armament continues today. It really seems as if people believe that '24' or the 1980s movie 'Commando' is the Real Deal Holyfield and you have to be armed for it. After all, never know when the Jamaican Drug Posse will pop up with their tank and SAMs.