Last summer, Bradlee Dean, the drummer for rapcore band Junkyard Prophet and a virulently anti-gay advocate whose ministry is based in Rep. Michelle Bachmann district, sued MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for defaming him. Maddow and her lawyers contend that the charges constitute a strategic lawsuit against public participation, an attempt to quash her free speech rights, and filed a motion to have them dismissed. The lawsuit has been roundly and hilariously dismantled. But it’s worth taking a look at Maddow’s petition to dismiss the suit and revisiting Dean’s initial complaint for what it reveals about the conservative sense of entitlement in the public square.
When he initially filed the suit, Dean claimed that one of Maddow’s broadcasts had unfairly misconstrued his words, because “I once made reference to how even Muslims oppose homosexuality under Shariah law. I did not suggest that I condoned the methods that radical Muslims use to enforce Shariah law, but made this analogy to prod Christians to become more concerned about what was going on in our schools with the nation’s youth.” Maddow was commenting on a broadcast in which Dean said:
Muslims are calling for the execution for homosexuals in America, this was just released yesterday and it shows you that they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible, the Judeo Christian God. They seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do. Because these people are livid about enforcing their laws, they know homosexuality is an abomination.
Maddow’s contention is that it’s reasonable to read that his statement as expressing at least some approval of the murder of homosexuals. “The broadcast truthfully reported on Dean’s May 15 statements. Those broadcasts re-played original audio of Dean speaking on the May 15 radio show. Dean does not—and cannot—allege that he did not make those controversial statements,” her petition to dismiss the case argues. “The fact that NBCUniversal broadcast the essence but not the entirety of what Dean said during that radio show, as he now protests, does not change this analysis. Dean bears sole responsibility for the consequences of his words, however much he may try to distance himself from the backlash…As Dean is entitled to his opinions, however objectionable, so too is Maddow entitled to hers.”
That last sentence, in particular, highlights the difference between Dean’s worldview and the one I assume most of us share with Maddow. Dean thinks that he’s entitled to the most generous reading of his words, one that leaches the malice out of his language even when the collected weight of his statements would mitigate against such gentling. (Maddow, as she makes clear in the motion, made clear that Dean wasn’t advocating the actual murder of homosexuals.) And he thinks, because he believes he’s right, that Maddow isn’t entitled to her own opinions of him, much less a generous interpretation of her broadcasts. Dean said in his announcement of the lawsuit that, as he’d started his ministry, “In the course of doing high school assemblies, I was shocked to learn that there were those that were offended at my message to teach our nation’s youth that homosexuality is not a preferred lifestyle.”
There’s something totalitarian—and privileged—about that kind of thinking. Gay people like Rachel Maddow don’t particularly have the luxury of being unaware that there are people who think they’re unnatural and their lives are abominable and ought to be outlawed. And despite the rise of GLAAD, which uses societal pressure to try to marginalize anti-gay speech, there’s a difference between that kind of positioning and Dean’s attempts to “stop ‘the radical gay agenda,’…to use the judicial process in this fashion.” Dean and his fellow travelers want a legal regime that will protect them against the fact that their argument is doomed to failure. They’re not likely to get it.