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Throwing the book at them
On prison sentences, plotters, and the danger of a heckler's video
Two of the participants in the terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan's governor in 2020 have been sentenced to long terms in prison -- one for 16 years, and the other for 19. Usually, the goal of the criminal justice system ought to be the rehabilitation of individuals so that those who enter as convicted felons emerge "corrected" and fit for society on the other end of their sentence.
■ But in the case of terrorism like this, it is hard to believe that rehabilitation is a possibility. A person would have to be radicalized in the extreme to even contemplate the kind of bloodthirsty plot in which the Michigan group engaged. But even if rehabilitation were possible, society also needs to use the justice system from time to time as a means of self-preservation. And that is achieved by making incarceration a deterrent.
■ Anyone so committed to the obscenely anti-social belief that they could achieve their intended ends by kidnapping and murdering the governor of a state is a person so far removed from their senses and their duties as a decent citizen that the only real hope for society is to keep them far away from the rest of the public for an extraordinary period of time.
■ The matter isn't that any particular officeholder is especially beyond the reach of violence. Keeping them safe is, of course, an essential part of the bigger picture for public safety. But above and beyond the well-being of any individual is the security of a common and shared subscription to a system for conflict resolution. That's what politics is: The only suitable way for conflicting interests to be peacefully resolved. Americans choose representative democracy. Others choose different mechanisms.
■ But the mechanism doesn't work if it contains a heckler's veto (or a terrorist's). Elected office cannot be yoked to the threat of personal peril, and the final say on policy matters cannot belong to the person or group most willing to employ violence. Long, punitive prison sentences send a necessary message that we resolve our differences by winning arguments, not gunfights.