In 2008, I sat with a group of local government officials in a Georgia city and listened to some of them predict that if Barack Obama won the Presidential election, he would be assassinated before ever taking office.

“There’s no way the racists and extreme right-wing will let him serve a day as President,” said one. “It won’t happen.”

I’ve thought about that conversation many times over the last year-and-a-half. Their certainty that Obama would never be allowed to take office bothered me. No one at the table advocated killing a candidate for President for office. They just took it for granted that it would happen.

It didn’t happen, but Obama’s election and first year as President has brought an increase in activity by extremists, hate groups and self-styled “patriots” and anger against the American government.

The recent arrests of a ragtag group of “Christian militia” members, who called themselves “Hutaree,” on charges they planned to start a new American revolution by killing cops and then bombing the funerals to increase the carnage highlights the rising level of hate in this nation.

The Tea Party racists who screamed “nigger” at African-American congressmen and “faggot” and “homo” at openly-gay Rep. Barney Frank underscore the vitriol that flows through the inflamed veins of political rhetoric.

The cowardly domestic terrorists who cut a propane line at the home of a Congressman’s brother in Virginia or hurl a brick with a threat attached through the glass door of a New York Congressman’s district office are defended by the self-righteous right as purveyors of free speech.

In Massachusetts, a campaign of hate against a high-school student by her classmates may have led to her suicide. Freedom of speech ends when that speech turns to hate and causes harm to others.

Those who issue threats and advocate violence are usually cowards who hide behind anonymous screen names or send unsigned missives through email or just leave them in your mailbox.

Hate too often spills from the mouths of such cowards. It eats away at the fabric of a society and should never be defended nor tolerated.

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