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Our View: Violent attack over political beliefs unacceptable, social media reaction appalling | COMMENTARY

There are several arrests made in Carroll County each week that result in assault charges. By and large, these are crimes involving people who know each other — the vast majority, sadly, domestic violence. It is quite uncommon for someone to be assaulted by a stranger. The risk, however, apparently goes up for someone showing support for the incoming Biden administration.

A Westminster man, Ralph Thomas Prophet, was arrested and charged with assault after another man, Henry Reiff, was punched Saturday, the allegation being that the incident stemmed from Reiff’s carrying a pro-Joe Biden/Kamala Harris flag while walking down the street. The accused is presumed innocent. He’ll get his day in court, currently scheduled for Feb. 9.

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The story Reiff tells is at the same time shocking and completely unsurprising given where we are as a politically divided nation, assault being the logical extension of the ever-increasing, inflammatory rhetoric that has turned political ideology into a holy war for far too many.

The self-proclaimed community activist said he was returning from a political rally with his “Biden Harris 2020” flag when a man walked toward him screaming, calling him and the elected officials on his flag communists and other expletives, and gesturing with his middle finger. Reiff said he responded with “show me the evidence” and “why are you so angry?” Then, he as he continued walking, the same man turned out of an alley, rolled down his car window and screamed the same names and phrases as well as telling Reiff to take his mask off. Reiff said he asked again about the evidence and the man responded, “the deep state stole it.”

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Reiff said the man then got out of his car, took the flag and threw it to the ground and punched Reiff, leaving him bloody and bruised. A neighbor took a picture of the license plate of the car the man was driving, which helped the Westminster Police Department in its investigation that let to the arrest.

Sheriff Jim DeWees told us citizens being assaulted by someone they don’t know “rarely ever happens here.” Despite what is occurring, or perceived to be occurring, nationally, DeWees said he is not aware of any instance, for example, of a Trump supporter being assaulted in Carroll. He added that the many demonstrations related to social justice and COVID-19 that have taken place across the county this year have been peaceful.

Do people sometimes yell negative comments, even slurs, at protesters? Yes. Are campaign signs stolen during election seasons? Of course. None of that is new. But an alleged assault over a political position?

“I was carrying a flag of the president-elect and was attacked for that,” Reiff said.

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That can’t be acceptable to anyone, regardless of political leaning. Neither would an assault on someone for wearing a MAGA hat. While that should be obvious, apparently it isn’t to many on social media.

The comments on our Facebook page regarding this story included vague threats, name-calling, victim-blaming, accusations, innuendo and arguments filled with whataboutisms, identity politics, conspiracy theories and out-and-out lies. It’s not a stretch to imagine this type of vitriol leading to more violence or at least to a mindset that could rationalize violence.

It’s sad and appalling see how many have bought into the idea that only one way of thinking is acceptable. That opposing ideas must be shut down.

Disagreement is fine. Debate is healthy. But when showing support for a political figure or idea becomes risky behavior, we’re in a lot of trouble.

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