Early last Friday morning, as the people of Boston mourned their dead and tended those maimed in the terrorist attack on their city, Republican state Rep. Nate Bell of Mena decided to boost the image of Arkansans as backward, ill-bred and mean by tweeting:
"I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine? #2A" It was the tweet heard 'round the world, as the Times' Arkansas Blog put it, and thousands fired back with expressions of outrage at Bell, among them the editor of Esquire Digital, Joe Keohane, who tweeted "Might want to take a flight up north and try saying that in person, you waterheaded little-dick hillbilly asshole." There were dozens in that vein, if not with the same cadence, from people weighing in on Bell's Facebook page, a Huffington Post's story and other blogs.
By noon Friday, Republican Speaker of the House Davy Carter had issued an apology on behalf of the rest of the House and the state, writing, "I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member."
About 15 minutes later, Bell added insult to injury, apologizing for the "poor timing" of his tweet, but not the tweet itself, and made himself unavailable to the press, though he told a reporter for the Associated Press, "I really didn't think about [the tweet] going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself."
By the afternoon, a New Hampshire state legislator who graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law called for Bell's removal from office.
Early Monday, the number of comments on Bell's Facebook page was 10,035, some of them defending his remarks.
And as the bullets flew in Watertown during the police capture of a man suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon, there was further yearning at home to pull a trigger. KFSM/KXNW television news reported Saturday on Benton County Republican Chris Nogy's letter on the county GOP website expressing regret that that opponents of Medicaid expansion can't shoot the Republican legislators who voted for it after saying they would not.
The Lowell resident described those legislators as "bullet backstops," and wrote, "The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives. ... If we can't shoot them, we have to at least be firm in our threat to take immediate action against them politically, socially, and civically if they screw up on something this big. Personally, I think a gun is quicker and more merciful, but hey, we can't."
On Sunday, Nogy posted a "clarification" comment on the TV station's website, writing that he "most likely won't try to kill them [legislators] or harm their families." Nogy, like Bell, got Republican blowback, though it was more like a pillow fight, the station reported: The head of Conservative Arkansas objected that the letter went out in an official party newsletter. Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said the threats weren't "wise" or an "appropriate part of policy debate." Nogy's wife, the county party secretary, said she "didn't even begin to think about the possibility of the media taking it out of context."
Tim Summers, the chair of the county Republican committee, said the letter had not been "approved" and would be discussed at a meeting, though on Monday he disavowed the sentiment expressed in a somewhat mealy-mouthed post on the online newsletter, saying he "personally rejects" the notion of shooting legislators you disagree with.
The State Police, however, took Nogy's letter more seriously, calling on Republic legislators. State Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, who voted for the "private option" to expand health care coverage that so angered Nogy, confirmed Monday she'd been contacted by State Police and Rogers police. The State Police later issued a statement saying they found no evidence to investigate further.
Finally, an unknown person, seanonymous, tweeted "@davycarter is a very persuasive gun advocate. I'd like to buy a gun and shoot him with it." He apparently had confused Carter with Bell. The Twitter account came not from Arkansas, fortunately, but California.
It was not the first time that politics got the better of Bell. In July 2011, he posted an arcane and conspiracy-minded status on his Facebook page, " 'As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.' — Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler."
Bell was, not surprisingly, misinformed. Hitler never wrote those words. He did, however, have lots of guns and "hi-capacity" magazines.