Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Real Reason Washington Ignored Kavanaugh’s Would-Be Killer

On June 8, at about 1:05 in the morning, a taxicab pulled up outside the Chevy Chase home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A young man dressed in black got out, carrying a backpack and a suitcase. According to an FBI affidavit, he eyed the Deputy U.S. Marshals standing guard outside the house, then turned and walked down the block.

A few minutes later, the man called 911, allegedly saying he was having suicidal thoughts, had a firearm in his suitcase and had come from California to kill a Supreme Court Justice. Local police were dispatched and arrived to take Nicholas John Roske into custody while he was still on the phone to emergency services. In his bags, they found an unloaded Glock 17 pistol with two magazines of ammunition as well as pepper spray, zip ties, a nail gun, a crowbar, duct tape, a knife and a tactical chest rig.

At a nearby police station, he agreed to speak with federal agents, allegedly telling them he was upset about the leaked Supreme Court decision undoing the right to abortion and worried that gun control would be further rolled back. He said he’d found Kavanaugh’s address on the internet. In a second interview, he told the FBI that he had planned to kill himself after murdering the justice. He’s now facing federal charges. He has pled not guilty.

I know about Roske’s case — as you probably do, too — thanks to coverage in The Washington Post, CNN, WEBICNEWS and my local TV news station, among others.

But on the right, it’s become an article of faith that the story is being ignored by biased media. A Fox News report totted up the small-ball treatment afforded in dead-tree newspapers (relegated to page 20 of The New York Times!), broadcast TV (unmentioned on any of the subsequent weekend’s Sunday programs!) and cable yakkers (nada that evening on MSNBC’s prime-time shows!). “OUTRAGEOUS OMISSION,” Sean Hannity declared on Twitter a few days later, inviting viewers to watch Mike Huckabee and Kayleigh McEnany discuss it that night.

In fact, the incident was swiftly condemned by any public figure with a megaphone. In short order, legislators passed a bill to offer new protection to judges. Notwithstanding Hannity’s urge to portray a feckless liberal establishment countenancing mob rule, you won’t likely find anyone in official Washington saying anything positive about the gunman.

Still, just because it was neither outrageous nor omitted doesn’t mean Hannity’s totally wrong.

Reported in detail, the arrest still didn’t become a sort of news moment in Washington, the kind of thing that dominates both media assignment desks and back-fence conversations with neighbors, the kind of story that would turn Roske into a household name.

And that is, at least in part, a function of something that really doesn’t get enough attention: Potential violence and intimidation in Washington’s political world has stopped seeming quite so newsy. Man-threatens-man has become the new dog-bites-man. Among the lesser effects of this cultural change is that, in newsrooms and greenrooms, the hurdle for attention has been raised.

Why didn’t Washington get obsessed with the would-be Kavanaugh assassin? I’d bet the answer is more prosaic than the media-bias critics would believe. For one thing, in a city that has long drawn disturbed people with crazy schemes, Roske’s story was not especially hair-raising: His gun was unloaded, he called the cops on himself, he took a cab to the justice’s house (had he not heard of Uber?). There’s nothing less compelling to us media types, in all of our faux world-weariness than an insufficiently freaky freak of the week.

More importantly, the Roske story would have to elbow for space in our mental lists of near-misses. Shooters nearly killed Reps. Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise. A couple of miles down Connecticut Avenue from Kavanaugh’s place, a gunman motivated by an anti-Clinton conspiracy theory took a shot inside Comet Pizza. Threats against federal judges were up 400 percent, according to a report last year. Threats against members of Congress are up 107 percent, according to Capitol Police. Google for examples and you’ll find a collection of news accounts that span the continent as well as the ideological spectrum, from Andy Harris, the right-winger from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to Norma Torres, a Southern California Democrat. The Capitol Police are opening offices in California and Florida to monitor threats.

There was also the small matter of an actual attack on the U.S. Capitol last year, one that led to seven fatalities and featured rioters chanting about hanging the sitting Vice President.