The First Amendment provides a lot of room for free speech.
However, it doesn't provide the right to create panic in a crowded theater, or the right to incite riots, or the right to plan or carry out crimes or, under a specific statute, the right to threaten to kill a federal official.
The FBI thankfully has moved swiftly to arrest three men for threats on the lives of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington state, and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia.
Pelosi and Murray are Democrats, and Cantor is a Republican. Other anonymous threats to members of Congress are being investigated and could lead to arrests.
Meanwhile, a Texas man seething with anti-government hatred has been arrested for planting 36 explosive devices in mailboxes and other locations. This insane sense of vengeance toward the government would have killed or maimed neighbors and done nothing to the federal government, just as the deranged Texas man who crashed his plane into a Texas office of the IRS took life but failed to stop the income tax.
In Florida, Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel who retired in disgrace for torturing Iraqi prisoners and has been embraced by Sarah Palin as a Republican congressional candidate, tossed his own combustible fuel on the fire by telling Tea Party followers that "you've got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house." West was speaking about members of Congress, and one can deduce how Col. West, who was accused of threatening an Iraqi with a pistol by firing it close to his head, might "make the fellow scared to come out of his house."
Nourishment for this increasing hatred is found mostly among right-wing extremists and is fed without apology by apostles of the dim-witted battle cry "Take back our country" from socialist/fascist/neo-Nazi Barack Obama—often through Fox News. It's come from Sarah Palin and U.S. Rep. Michele (death panels) Bachmann, gun-packing Tea Party protestors and unhinged rabble on the right who thrive on the silence of leaders who could defuse this frightfulness.
As the former Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain could be expected to denounce this trend. But unwilling to offend even the fringe nuts or Fox News provocateurs, he has offered only a ho-hum explanation of hatred as just harmless political trash talk, not a menace to officials and their families.
Conservative politics now seems to be controlled by hotheads with murder on their minds. Cooler heads must step forward and speak up lest threats explode into unthinkable and reprehensible actions.