Marjorie Taylor Greene Almost Has a Thought About the Vegas Shooter

Introduction: Marjorie Taylor Greene is a a U.S. Representative for Georgia District 14. She is also a known advocate of several conspiracy theories, and an advocate of Second Amendment rights. At some point in time, she posted this video explaining her views on a mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. (Note: This appears to be a re-post by someone else; I still haven’t tracked down the original.) At some point, she also published this article republished by the Way Back Machine, in which she provides more detail (though not much more in the way of evidence) on her views about the subject.

Key Facts: The shooting in question occurred on October 1st, 2017. It was carried out by Stephen Paddock. He fired over a thousand rounds of ammunition into a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 60 people and wounding 867 others before killing himself. (I’m just going by Wiki here.) Although some sources have made assertions about the subject, at present, police have drawn no substantial conclusions about his motives for the shooting.

Text: Here is the full text of the video clip. Obviously, some of the text below is not part of the actual argument.

“Hey Friends, I’ve got a question for you. How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation? How do you do that? Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is very likely to be conservative, very likely to vote Republican, very likely to be Trump supporters, very likely to be pro-Second Amendment, and very likely to own guns. You make them scared, you make them victims, and you change their mindset, and then possibly you can pass anti-gun legislation. Is that what happened in Las Vegas? Is that why, um, the country music festival was targeted? Because those would be the people, that would be the ones that we would relate to? Are they trying to terrorize our mindset, and change our minds on the Second Amendment? Is that what’s going on here? I have a lot of questions about that. I don’t believe Steven Paddock was a lone wolf. I don’t believe that he pulled this off all by himself, and I know most of you don’t either. So, I am really wondering if there is a, there’s a bigger motive there, and does it have to do with the Second Amendment, because what’s the best way to control the people? You have to take away their guns. So, that’s just my question today. This is Marjorie Greene with American Truth Seekers.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: What makes this argument interesting is the constant hedging. Greene is doing her best to put forward ideas without taking responsibility for them. The end result is quite a study of rhetorical manipulation and general evasiveness.

Statements: I found it really hard to dissect the statements in this argument, mainly because Greene is waffling her way through it. It’s normal to rephrase a rhetorical question as a statement for argument analysis, but it isn’t normal to deal with an argument that is so thoroughly saturated with them (along with other forms of innuendo). It seems somewhat unfair to Greene to just pretend her questions are statements, but it’s also unduly generous to pretend they are just questions. She is riding the fence line on just how much she wants to assert, and that poses a problem for how to interpret her approach to this.

I wanted to preserve some elements of the contextualization strategies here as I do think they are critical to the argument.

I am designating some the contextual information Greene presents with capital letters in place of numbers. Note also, that a rather large portion of this argument consists of rhetorical questions. I have added square brackets to the periods I used to replace what would normally be question marks to indicate which statements were originally phrased as questions.

[A] Hey Friends, I’ve got a question for you.

[B1] How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation?

[B2] How do you do that?

[1] Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is very likely to be conservative.

[2] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to vote Republican.

[3] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to be Trump supporters.

[4] Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to be pro-Second Amendment.

[5] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] and very likely to own guns.

[6] You make them scared.

[7] you make them victims.

[8] you change their mindset.

[9] [if you do this,] then possibly you can pass anti-gun legislation.

[10] [That is] what happened in Las Vegas[.]

[11] [That is] why, um, the country music festival was targeted[.]

Because

[11] Those would be the people, that would be the ones that we would relate to[.]

[12] [They are] trying to terrorize our mindset, and change our minds on the Second Amendment[.]

[11 and 12] [That is] what’s going on here[.]

[C] I have a lot of questions about that.

[13] I don’t believe Steven Paddock was a lone wolf.

[14] I don’t believe that he pulled this off all by himself.

[15] I know most of you don’t either.

So

[D] I am really wondering if there is a

[16] there’s a bigger motive there.

[17] [It has] to do with the Second Amendment.

[18] because what’s the best way to control the people[.]

[19] You have to take away their guns.

[E] So, that’s just my question today.

[F] This is Marjorie Greene with American Truth Seekers.”

Diagram: This took a lot more judgement calls than I like making, but here is the diagram.

Green’s Argument

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes: Accusatory Question, Anaphoric Pronouns, Argument from Incredulity, Burden of Proof, Double Negation, Gish Gallop, Hedges, Innuendo, Passive Voice, Provincialism, Redundant Assertions, Rhetorical Question, Straw Man, Unsupported Assertion.

Accusatory Question: Several of Greene’s questions effectively make an accusation for which she presents no evidence. By treating these as rhetorical question, as above, they are transformed into statements for which the evidence is questionable at best, but the rhetorical strategy is worth keeping track of in itself. Statements 10, 11, and 12 are the more obvious examples of this gambit.

Anaphoric Pronouns: A couple of sections of this argument turn on the use of anaphoric pronouns (i.e. pronouns that refer to a previously named entity. At least a couple of these are free-floating anaphors, i.e. pronouns used without a clearly established referent. We have a generalized “you’ in statements 1-9, for example, which seems to suggest that these are tactics anyone could use to manipulate others, but she is probably suggesting that someone in government (or more likely, an abstract government entity) is actually doing this. The ‘they’ in statement 12 would refer to the participants in some unspecified conspiracy, but once again Greene avoids telling us who it is that she is talking about. The “You” in statement 15 would of course refer to Greene’s friends (as mentioned in A), which in this case probably means something more like her fans and/or those who agree with her on this and similar topics. “Them” in statements 6-8 clearly refers to the conservative crowd referenced in statements 1-5.

On a side note: The demonstrative ‘that’ in “[11 and 12] [That is] what’s going on here[.]” is a bit ambiguous. I take it to refer to events as described in both statements 11 and 12, though it could refer to either one individually.

Argument from Incredulity: Statements 13 and 14 both present refusal to believe a proposition (the notion that Paddock acted alone) as evidence for its opposite. This is the argument from incredulity. As, Greene is actually suggesting a lot more specific than that he had help, this raises other problems as well (straw man concerns and burdens of proof).

Burden of Proof: Taylor uses double negation to assert a few unspecified assertions about possible conspiracies (e.g. statements 13 and 14). In effect, saying that paddock did not act alone is what she offers in place of a clear theory as to who helped him and what evidence she has for this. Significantly, this is one of the few areas where Greene does not disguise her assertions as question, but she still gives herself cover by hiding a specific assertion in the negation of its opposite. Arguably, it would be on her to spell out the assertion she means to make and provide evidence for it. Instead she merely uses the argument from incredulity to deny the negation of her unspecified accusations.

Double Negation: As mentioned above (in Burden of proof), Greene denies that Paddock acted alone in order to suggest that he had help. This helps her evade the need to make specific assertions as to what help he had, but to the point at hand, her argument turns on double negation.

Gish Gallop: For a short clip, Majorie Taylor Greene does incude an awful lot of objectionable material in here. I think it would be fair to call this a Gish Gallop.

Hedges: Greene uses words like “Maybe” (statements 1-5) and “possibly” (in statement 9) to avoid committing to her assertions. She tells us that she is “wondering” about this. Like her use of rhetorical questions and her use of double negation, these hedges enables her to evade responsibility for anything she gets wrong. If her accusations are clearly disproven, then she may of course say that she was only raising the possibility. In effect, she is using this language to avoid taking responsibility for the argument she is making.

Innuendo: This isn’t the most technical term, but all this adds up to an argument that works by innuendo. Greene implies a great deal more than she asserts.

Passive Voice: One of the advantages of passive voice is that you can use it without a ‘by-clause’, thus avoiding the need to specify who is actually carrying out the action in question. You see this in statement 11, talking about why the country music festival “was targeted” without saying by whom. Clearly, Greene does not mean Paddock alone, but she never tells us who else might be involved. Along with all the other hedges, her use of passive voice here enables her to skip that piece of information.

Provincialism: Greene’s statement 16 could be viewed as a appeal to provincialism. (Alternatively, it could be an appeal to popularity – i.e. the Bandwagon fallacy – but if I had to make a call, I would say that it’s bandwagon.) She appears to be trying to generate the impression that people in her own circles would certainly share her views on this topic.

Redundant Assertions: There are a few redundant assertions here, some such as statements 11 and 12 which appear to be repeated with different wording, and some (statements 1-5) which occur which several different propositions within one whole statement are spelled out individually. None of this is a problem with Greene’s reasoning, but it could trip up someone doing an argument analysis (fingers crossed).

Rhetorical Questions: As noted repeatedly above, Greene uses a lot of rhetorical questions. Statements 9-12 in the list above were actually phrased as questions. She begins with a question, repeated twice, and ends by saying that she is raising questions. Somewhere in the middle, Greene suggests that she is actually raising questions. It seems best to treat this as acknowledging some level of doubt, but Greene is in effect making an argument here. She is suggesting that the scenarios (or something like them) she raises are actually the case. Combined with her use of double-negation to affirm some unspecified scenario other than the prospect that Paddock acted alone, her use of rhetorical questions adds up to an argument in favor of some unspecific conspiracy theory.

In any event, the questions mentioned above have been rewritten as statements here.

Straw Man Argument: I’m not real sure about this one, but there is at least one sense in which Greene’s argument could be seen as resting on a straw man. Al though it appears that the police treat Paddock as a lone actor, the notion that his actions are not the result of a conspiracy to take away guns from American citizens simply does not rest on the notion that Paddock acted alone. Any number of scenarios involving additional parties would fall far short of the conspiracy Greene is suggesting.

Unsupported Assertion: Greene makes a unsupported assertions in this argument. She provides no evidence, for example, for her assertion that Paddock did not act alone (statements 13 and 14). She also suggests (in the form of rhetorical questions in 10, 11, and 12) that the country music festival was targeted for purposes of undermining gun-owners rights. Phrasing these as questions helps to diffuse the expectation that evidence should follow, and one does. Statements 16 and 17 are also unsupported. All of these assertions are just as controversial as the conclusion of her argument, and at least as questionable as to their truth values. It isn’t simply that these are starting premises; the problem in each of these cases is that the notions Greene puts forth fly in the face of the currently common take on this event, and she makes these assertions without offering any evidence in support of them.

Voicing: In statements 13 and 14, Greene is effectively voicing the stance of her presumed opposition. She does so for the purpose of refuting them, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind that she is conjuring a definite sense of her political opposition for the moment. That opposition is of course present by implication not only in the dialogue over what happened in this shooting, but also in the story itself, as the presumed source of the conspiracy she wants us to believe was behind the attack. In rejecting their views, she is of course also rejecting the politics of the conspiracy. Given her assumptions about the conspiracy, calling it out and rejecting the views of those who deny the conspiracy is performatively fighting against the conspiracy, even against the shooter insofar as she hopes to defeat his presumed goals. She doesn’t hit this theme that hard, but the implication is probably part of the appeal of her position, and part of what makes it so hard to reason with people like Greene.

Evaluation: Hm…

1-5 -> 9: Statements 1-5 each rely on an intuitive sense that an attack on gun owning conservatives might cause them to change their minds on the Second Amendment. I do wonder what social psychologists might say on the subject (particularly as regards dissonance reduction theory), but these statements seem plausible, and I think they do add up a general sense that such an event could (hypothetically) help someone who wants to restrict the rights of gun owners which is the point of statement 9. Push comes, to shove, this sub-theme strikes me as a marginally sound argument.

6-8 -> 9: This is just a more abstract argument about psychological impact. It’s vague, at best. There is a certain intuitive appeal, but its’ not clear how all this works. I don’t find this sub-theme convincing, though my concerns are mild at worst. It just isn’t clear that people would respond to such a traumatic event by changing heir views on gun ownership and gun rights. It is at least as likely that they will respond by adopting conspiracy theories and using those theories to double-down on their defense of gun ownership.

This really isn’t where the real problems in Greene’s argument reside, but if I have to make a call, I’d say this one is unsound.

11 -> 10. Statement 10 is a proposition about what actually happened. Statement 11 is a statement about the affiliation of people targeted. the one does not add up to the other. This is unsound because the inference itself is weak at best.

13+14 -> 10. This one is unsound because 13 and 14 are unsupported. Also, the prospect that Paddock may have had help from someone does not add up to evidence for the kind of conspiracy she is asserting. This argument fails on both the truth value of its premises and the logic of inference. Unsound. Really unsound.

15 -> 10. This is an appeal to provincialism fallacy. Unsound.

16=19 -> 10: Each of the assumptions of this argument is unsupported and unlikely to be true. Hence, the argument is unsound.

9+10 -> 12. If we assume 9 and 10 are true, then 12 logically follows. The problem is of course the fact that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that statement 10 is true. The argument is unsound, which is putting it mildly.

Overall: This argument is about as bad as they get.

Final thoughts: This is how conspiracy theory works in terms of rhetoric and reasoning. It is a great study in the means by which a demagogue (or a wannabe demagogue) makes accusations without taking responsibility for them.

David Silverman on Atheist Bilboards

Introduction: This is a tweet from David Silverman (President of American Atheists) defending the practice of placing billboards critical of religious views in public places.

Key Facts: David Silverman is the President of American Atheists which is a non-profit organization promoting the interests of nonbelievers in the United States. Under Silverman’s leadership, American Atheists have put up a number of public billboards promoting atheism and criticizing religion. These billboards have themselves drawn criticism from religious figures and in some non-believers as well. Some of the criticisms have been directed at specific themes and specific statements included in the billboards. Others have been directed against the general wisdom of putting such statements out into the public.

Text: This is the tweet in question.

DavidSilvermancropped

ANALYSIS

Comments: Two general points come to mind when considering this argument.

One is the possibility of a double standard in reference to billboards expressing a stance on religious topics. Christians in particular have been accustomed to producing such statements for as long as some of us can recall. The placement of anti-religious sentiments on a public billboard is however a relatively new practice, and it may draw more criticism due in part to the unusual nature of the messages. Simple confirmation Bias may be another factor insofar as the bulk of the public is unlikely to agree with an overtly atheistic message.

A second concern lies in the potential obfuscation of specific concerns about specific billboards. While this particular tweet addresses the issue in the abstract, some of the concerns raised about these billboards have been about very specific details about specific billboards put out by American Atheists, This is particularly true of those raised by unbelievers – whom Silverman presents as the party he intends to answer here.

Statements: The argument is set out as follows. Two missing statements [4] and [5] have been added. [4]  helps to seal the relevance of statements 2 and 3 to the rest of the argument and [5] is most likely the intended conclusion of the argument.

[1] Atheists who object to billboards attacking religion are ALSO victims of religious indoctrination.

[2] Lies deserve death.

[3] [Lies do not deserve] Protection.

[[4]] [Religious claims are lies.]

[[5]] [Atheists ought not to oppose billboards attacking religion.]

Discussion: Issues raised by this argument include the following; ad hominem, Interactional eclipse, micro-reasoning, missing statements, the principle of charity, provincialism, and thought policing.

Ad Hominem: The assertion that critics (atheist or otherwise) of billboards promoting atheism are victims of religious indoctrination is an ad hominem (circumstantial). If there is a non-fallacious way to interpret that suggestion it would be to treat it as a simple explanation to be taken at face value. In others words, it would be possible to simply think of this as an empirical question about the motivations of a select group of people. The second statement in the tweet, however, belies this interpretation as it makes it clear Silverman means to argue with his critics. This is not simply a diagnosis; it is an attempt to undermine the credibility of billboard critics.

Interactional Eclipse: To the degree that this argument constitutes a form of thought policing, it is explicitly an attempt to subvert efforts to engage in critical thinking about the value of anti-religious billboards through appeal to social dynamics. Whatever the value of the argument, any resulting debate is more likely to generate more heat than light.

Micro-Reasoning: As with most (if not all) tweets, the brevity of this argument is a problem, hence the need to supply nearly as many missing statements as those clearly expressed.

Missing Assertions: The intended conclusion of this argument is most likely some statement intended to discourage unbelievers from engaging in criticism of billboards promoting atheism. I have accordingly supplied statement 5 as an attempt to express this missing statement.

I would also suggest an additional Missing Assumption (statement [4] that religious views are lies). If this assumption is not true, then both statement 2 and 3 fail to produce anything of value in the argument.

Principle of Charity: It isn’t entirely clear whether Silverman means to suggest this argument applies to all instances in which atheists prove critical of billboards attacking religion or simply those who do so on principle (I.e. those who object categorically to the creation of such billboards instead of those with particular objections to specific billboards). His wording could facilitate either interpretation, and it is likely those who agree with him will include parties adopting each interpretation.

For purposes of keeping the discussion thoughtful it is probably best to treat this argument as applying only to those who object to such billboards in general. The alternative would in effect amount to a blank check to produce any content (no matter how foolish) critical of religion without fear of counter-criticism from other atheists. That would hardly be a reasonable position, so it’s not the most productive interpretation of the argument to pursue here.

Provincialism: Insofar as this argument seems to be encouraging atheists to be less like religious people, it could be viewed as an appeal to provincialism. Essentially, the appeal here is something along the lines of; ‘this is how WE act” or even “this is how WE should behave.” Well, WE (i.e. atheists) may or may not typically fall prey to religious indoctrination, but that appeal isn’t very cogent.

Thought Policing: One of the more compelling features of this argument lies in its implied comparison with believers. It is not merely that Silverman is suggesting that his atheist critics have been indoctrinated; he is reminding atheists that the conduct in question is unbecoming for unbelievers..This is classic thought policing., which goes a little beyond the normal ad hominem to invoke peer pressures and trigger loyalties associated with group membership. Just how significant such loyalties may be for atheists is an interesting question, but the argument still works this angle. The social dynamics at issue thus overshadow the rational significance of the argument itself.

Diagram: I take it that 2 and 3 are intended (with missing assumption [4] to prove statement 1, which is in turn intended to demonstrate the truth of the missing conclusion (statement 5).

2+3+[4] -> 1 -> [5].

 

Evaluation: Let’s consider both inferences:

2+3+[4]=>1. The truth of each of the assumptions in this inference would certainly be debatable. It isn’t clear that religious claims are all untrue (much less that they are lies), nor is it clear that lies deserve death (which is presumably a metaphor indicating the discrediting of such claims and a hope that they will eventually cease to circulate). If we assume by protection that Silverman means only protection from criticism (and not protection from coercive sanctions, then perhaps statement 3 fairs reasonably well in the truth evaluation, though a creative thinker could probably find a reason to protect at least some lies.

The inference itself fairs no better. It isn’t clear that objections to the billboards are offered in an attempt to ‘protect’ religion. Nor is it clear that the billboards play any constructive role in advancing the demise of religious beliefs.

If one doesn’t assume the charitable interpretation of Silverman’s intent, the problem becomes still sharper insofar as specific concerns about specific billboards may well address the effectiveness of those billboards in advancing a critique of religion.

4 -> 5: This is arguably an ad hominem (circumstantial) and/or an argument from Provincialism, as outlined above. In either event, the inference would be fallacious. Also, the argument side-steps the possibility that atheists might have reasons to oppose the billboard campaign other than latent sympathy for religious sentiment.

Also, if we do not adopt the charitable interpretation of Silverman’s position, it seems clear that atheists (even those who genuinely hope to confront religion whenever possible) may have a number of concerns about specific messages contained on specifi billboards.

I think the argument has to be considered unsound.

Final Thoughts: In the end, this argument does strike me as a simple effort to engage in thought policing. It effectively urges atheists to support their own camp regardless of any concerns they may have about the specific messages placed on these billboards or the general effectiveness of public billboards as a means of challenging religious views.