A Bangor man was arrested Wednesday for allegedly brandishing weapons during a Trump campaign event on Hogan Road that featured Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. The visiting governor was “never in physical danger,” according to a spokesperson. But that should not diminish the very real and very avoidable conflict this man seems to have initiated.
Peter Beitzell, 57, told the BDN that he is a Democrat opposed to President Donald Trump and that he gave the crowd at Wednesday’s event two middle fingers from afar. Then, he says, a man walked menacingly toward him from the event and asked him to leave. Beitzell said the man identified himself as a police officer and said he had a gun, without showing a badge. Beitzell then went and got a wooden baton and a large fixed-blade knife from his car. Local police were called, and Beitzell was arrested and charged with criminal threatening with a deadly weapon.
Beitzell said the incident was “stupid on both our parts.” Where he sees stupidity in his actions, we also see danger. As election day approaches and America feels increasingly divided, political disagreement should not — must not — devolve into violence or threats of violence.
Things are tense enough right now in the middle of a global pandemic and toward the end of a relentlessly nasty election; let’s all try to take it down a couple of notches. As this incident demonstrates, stupid and dangerous often go hand in hand.
This may very well be the most consequential election in our country’s history, as we hear frequently. People feel their livelihoods and their lives are on the line, and for different reasons. But let’s leave our middle fingers and weapons out of it, and let’s settle this the old fashioned way: with our votes.
Some conflict experts, troublingly, see comparisons between the U.S. today and other nations that have seen significant internal divisions.
Tim Phillips, the founder and CEO of the boston-based nonprofit Beyond Conflict, told NPR this week that he never imagined the U.S. would see challenges similar to other places he has worked like South Africa and Northern Ireland.
“We thought we were immune to it,” Phillips said. “When we looked at our own problems, we thought: ‘Of course we have some big issues, but we’re in a sense immune from an us-versus-them mindset, a sectarian mindset, where there could be real conflict.’”
We see an us-versus-them mindset on display in other news this week. A University of Maine student allegedly committed voter fraud by sending in a former roommate’s absentee ballot, apparently as part of a disagreement between the two and not in an effort to influence the outcome of the election. Based on reporting from the Portland Press Herald, it seems the 19-year-old woman accused of voter fraud (which importantly was caught by town election officials) may be a Trump supporter and the former roommate whose ballot was used is a Joe Biden supporter. According to that second roommate, the two did not get along and argued over various issues, not just politics.
It really should go without saying, but don’t let personal disagreements spiral into voter fraud or political differences escalate into weapons being brandished. These are extreme examples, but we live in extreme times. Each of us has an important choice to make in how we view and treat people who think differently than we do.
“We have become intolerant, we have started dehumanizing the other side,” Hrair Balian, the director of the Carter Center’s conflict resolution program, told NPR. “We are at the edge of an abyss, and we better see this and try to step back before it is too late.”
This editorial first appeared in the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 30.