The Dangers Of Labeling Opponents As ‘Enemies’

A. Benjamin Mannes | Expert on public safety and criminal justice reform

In an opinion piece published last week in The Washington Post entitled “We are no longer capable of forgiving our enemies”, author Elizabeth Bruenig breaks down a comparison between comedian Roseanne Barr’s firing from her ABC sitcom from a tweet comparing former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett to an Ape with “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee’s retention to cable-network TBS following her calling Ivanka Trump a “Feckless C—t” before insinuating an incestuous attraction between her and her father, President Trump on an episode of her show. While Bruenig’s piece addressed the double-standard related to the acceptance of apologies from celebrities caught in scandals, it fell short of describing the dangers related to describing one’s mere opponents as “enemies”.

As a subject matter expert in security, currently engaged on threat assessments to improve the security of our schools and public facilities in response to a rise in active shooter incidents; I can personally attest to the dangers associated with a rise in anger throughout American society. In his June 3 interview with author and Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro, comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan said “We do need community.” continuing “You can sit down with someone who maybe doesn’t share the same opinions with you; but be polite to each other and ask, can we stop demonizing people who don’t agree with us?” This concept was something common in American society in prior generations, before the growth of the internet; when people physically socialized more.

A horrible side effect of the internet is the personalization of how people communicate, acquire their news and develop opinions on societal values and norms from the comfort and protection of their own home is the fact that they no longer see the humanity in those they may have disagreements with. This has led to people considering everyone they don’t agree with politically an “enemy” as opposed to an “opponent”. The danger of this phenomena is the fact that we, as Americans, are losing the ability to speak to each other respectfully; which leads to unnecessary conflict. Another danger is that as Americans label their fellow citizen as an “enemy” for things like social issues, unpopular speech and similar topics; we fail to recognize actual enemies.  An enemy is someone who presents a physical threat. A violent criminal is an enemy. A terrorist group is an enemy. A foreign power threatening war is an enemy.  Considering someone an ‘enemy’ merely because you don’t like their demeanor or have different political views is blurring the lines between threats and discourse. A great example of this was the response to President Trump’s labeling of MS-13 gang members as “animals”. In what was obviously a response to President Trump’s statement without listening to the entire contextual conversation; numerous high-profile politicians and celebrities lambasted the President for not seeing these gang members whose business model includes murder, rape and smuggling for not seeing them as human beings.

The same standard applies to labeling those opposing your views as “enemies.” In doing so, people are dehumanizing their opponents and becoming more and more isolated. It’s this isolation that experts like Dr. Sam Mayhugh; who addressed this issue at the first Forum on Active Shooter Incidents at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center in 2013; cite for the potential rise in the frequency of violent attacks like school shootings and protest assaults. In looking at cause and effect for these types of incidents, it would be beneficial to study whether or not a collective return to traditional forms of respectful discourse would result in a decline in politically or psychosis-related violent attacks.

Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP is a nationally-recognized subject matter expert in public safety and criminal justice reform. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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