People Who Hate Their Government Kill Other People, Historian Claims
    By News Staff | December 1st 2009 12:00 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    According to one historian, the anti-government rallies that made their way across the country last summer, known as tea parties, may explain more about Americans than their views on high taxes and gun control.

     Ohio State University historian Randolph Roth claims that the distrust of government on display at the tea parties earlier this year has appeared sporadically throughout America's history and may be linked to homicide rates. In short, when Americans begin routinely complaining about how they hate their government and don't trust their leaders, they commit more murders.

    Although odd suspects, Roth believes that people's views about the legitimacy of government and how much they identify with their fellow citizens play a major role in how often they kill each other – much more so than the usual theories revolving around guns, poverty, drugs, race, or a permissive justice system.

    "The predisposition to murder is rooted in feelings and beliefs people have toward government and their fellow citizens. It is these factors, which may seem impossibly remote from murder, that hold the key to understanding why the United States is so homicidal today."

    If you look at the evidence over time, poverty and unemployment don't lead to higher murder rates, as many liberals argue, he said. But locking up criminals, using the death penalty, and adding more police don't hold the murder rate down either, as conservatives claim.

    At any one point in time, researchers may find an association between one of these causes and homicide rates in a particular area. But once you try to apply those theories more broadly, at different places and in different eras, the links disappear.

    For example, during the Great Depression the homicide rate in the United States went down, even while poverty was increasing. In the 1960s, the United States had more police and more people in prison than nearly any other nation on earth, along with strong economic growth – and yet the murder rate skyrocketed.

    "Criminologists make a case for one theory or another by going through records for a short period of time. But if they try the same theory in colonial America or the early 20th century, it won't fit. That's where it helps to have a historical perspective," Roth said.

    In his analysis, Roth found four factors that relate to the homicide rate in parts of the United States and western Europe throughout the past four centuries: the belief that one's government is stable and its justice and legal systems are unbiased and effective; a feeling of trust in government officials and a belief in their legitimacy; a sense of patriotism and solidarity with fellow citizens; and a belief that one's position is society is satisfactory and that one can command respect without resorting to violence.

    When those feelings and beliefs are strong, homicide rates are generally low, regardless of the time or place, Roth said. But when people are unsure about their government leaders, don't feel connected to the rest of society, and feel they don't have opportunity to command respect in the community, homicide rates go up.

    While measuring trust in government and fellow citizens provides one challenge for historians, the other is figuring out homicide rates before the advent of national crime statistics.

     To do this, Roth created the Historical Violence Database, housed at Ohio State, which allows researchers to examine data from many studies of homicides from a variety of time periods and places. This database now includes information on tens of thousands of homicides in different areas of the United States and western Europe from medieval times to the present.

    The database includes detailed studies of homicides in places as different as New York City, Holmes County, Ohio, and regions in the far West and Deep South.

    The lesson to take away from his research, Roth said, is that the best way to reduce homicide rates has nothing to do with guns, or police, or courts or even economics.

    "Political leadership has the greatest opportunity to have a real impact on homicide rates," he said. "It is difficult, I know, but we need a leader who can unite the country around some values and beliefs that we can all accept. That said, leadership can be effective only if the conflicts within a society are manageable. When they become unmanageable, as they did during the Civil War, even a great leader like Abraham Lincoln can't pull the nation together and keep homicide in check."


    Mr. Roth's thesis is wrong.
    Following Roth's presumption the last 8 years of liberals hating Bush and his administration should have been the bloodiest period in history and it wasn't.

    Gerhard Adam
    You actually missed the point since those that hated Bush probably felt socially connected to the millions of others that felt the same way.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "MAY be linked to homicide rates...." suddenly becomes a definite in the very next sentence, and throughout the rest of the article. The FBI has already done extensive research on the causes of variations in crime rates. Their conclusions do not agree with this "researcher" at all. This seems like just another effort to denigrate those who believe in freedom.

    Gerhard Adam
    Oh please.  Why does every disagreement have to be immediately escalated into a "you hate freedom" argument?  It is so trite.
    Mundus vult decipi
    This is just an attempt by Roth to pathologize people he doesn't like.

    Gerhard Adam
    How is Roth "pathologizing" anyone? ... and what would cause your inane conclusion that you could determine who or what he likes?

    Mundus vult decipi
    Easy now, fella.

    Is Roth a friend of yours? You sound a bit worked up.

    Distrust of government is a proud American tradition:

    Gerhard Adam
    Distrust of government isn't necessarily a bad thing (and no, Roth isn't a friend or even an acquaintance).

    In particular, I'm a bit put out at people that think it's perfectly OK to speak for other people instead of addressing their viewpoints.  If there's disagreement then I'd rather hear an alternative instead of like a previous poster making a stupid statement suggesting that the author wants to "denigrate those that believe in freedom".

    Honestly I'm just getting tired of those people that want to adopt a "holier than thou" attitude about their opinions and think that calling others evil, or unpatriotic, or even terrorists is perfectly fine.

    I'm not suggesting that your comment was that extreme, but if you have a beef with the study, then speak about what it is.  There is no useful purpose in simply attacking the individual that proposed the idea (especially since it's not even a paper he wrote).

    I certainly don't have a problem in distrusting government or many kinds of authority.  However, it doesn't grant free license to abuse individuals that have differences of opinion, despite the fact that this seems to be the current national pastime. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    This is such a load of bull. Despite the fact that I strongly oppose most of the new policies of the current administration and think that he government finances are appalling, I don't *hate* my country or my government. I hate the direction the politicians are taking us in. I hate the way the government is being run, and I hate much of the current legislation pending. However, I actually like the constitution and the federal system, quite a lot, actually.

    The US, by the way, is not nearly as "homicidal" as is described. The homicide rate in the US is fairly low compared to much of the world (Eastern Europe, much of Latin America, South Africa and elsewhere). If the homicide rate has gone up recently it is because of the economic situation. A poor economy always leads to more crime, and that usually includes murder. The Great Depression saw a drop after prohibition was lifted, although crime increased quite a lot, even if murder did not.

    What is even more ridiculous is this idea that somehow this is a "bad" thing and "homicidal" people because they are on the side that is generally seen as the political right and the limited government side. When there were hippies and lefties protesting over Bush policies that was somehow okay? They were not murderous? But protest Obama policies? How dare they!

    BTW: I don't have any plans on killing anyone. I don't hate my country or government. I don't hate those with opposite political beliefs. Even the worst of the lock-step "progressive" government bloat side. I don't hate them at all. I think they are terribly misguided and ignorant of history and economic theory, but I don't hate them.

    Gerhard Adam
    When there were hippies and lefties protesting over Bush policies that was somehow okay? They were not murderous? But protest Obama policies? How dare they!
    What on earth are you talking about?  Please indicate where in this brief article that concept is being expressed.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I haven't heard of one "tea partier" killing anyone. Randolph Roth is a quack and needs to get out in the real world.

    Gerhard Adam
    I suspect most people bought guns because there was a persistent rumor going around that the Obama administration was going to restrict gun purchases.
    Mundus vult decipi
    As a Canadian, I have always found it curious that the US holds it's form of government out to the world as the best government, and yet at the same time, it's citizens demand to be armed against that same government.

    I wonder if there's any country that trusts it's own government less

    and by that I mean people who are in a country without rigths and an openly corrupt gov't, still trust their government to be corrupt and what it plainly is

    whereas American government claims to be straight forward and clearly explainable - and yet, it's citizens don't seem to trust that the gov't is what it appears to be.

    Americans believe their type of government is best, not the actual government itself, because allowing for individuals over government is built in.   A healthy distrust of distant bureaucracies is not unwarranted, as California and its constant intrusions into privacy, economics and the Bill of Rights can attest.
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, unfortunately many American's also have a healthy imagination (such as thinking they can arm themselves against their government).  Of course, most of it is foolish rhetoric, but they do so love their fantasies.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If Americans can't armed themselves against their government (it's merely a fantasy), then why all the worry from those in government that fear those very same Americans being armed, as the Constitution allows?
    Gerhard Adam
    I don't know why those in government worry, and I certainly have no objection to people arming themselves to whatever degree makes them comfortable.  My only point is that someone that thinks they're going to barricade themselves inside their house and resist the government (militarily) is in for a rude awakening.
    Mundus vult decipi
    On that point, Gerhard, I agree with you. The idea that barricading yourself in your home to do that is pretty stupid. Unfortunately, most who think that way have made the decision already, that they would have reached the end of their rope, and choose a defiant end to one of capitulation to a tyrannical government and living out a less than free existence, at least in comparison to the one that used to be available.
    On the other hand, there's always those Wolverine fans...
    Gerhard Adam
    ...choose a defiant end to one of capitulation to a tyrannical government and living out a less than free existence...
    It's silly and foolish no matter how they choose to dress it up.  A tyrannical government was the cause of the American Revolution and those individuals used their brains and created something great.  They didn't waste it in a foolish flash of bravado.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Really? You like guns Tiff? How many do you have? Got any pistols or are they just long rifles or maybe a shot gun or two? Ever shoot a semi-auto or machine gun? Do you keep your guns locked-up or do you use safety locks, or maybe have you just trained your kids that guns are not toys and to never touch one without direct adult supervision? 
    I'd really like to read your answers to those questions.
    Here in the UK our politicians don't trust us to have guns. 

    I have noticed, however, that politicians seem to handle every media question with great care, as if it was loaded.