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The Right-Wing Embrace of Bloodlust

Daniel Penny and Daniel Perry have similar names, and bloodthirsty fans.
May 25, 2023
The Right-Wing Embrace of Bloodlust
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 12: Daniel Penny is transported to his arraignment after surrendering to the NYPD at the 5th Precinct on May 12, 2023 in New York City. Penny turned himself in after being charged with 2nd Degree Manslaughter in the chokehold death of Jordan Neely. Neely was killed last week on the F train after being placed in a chokehold at the Broadway-Lafayette station by Penny. Witnesses reported that Neely was acting erratic on the train and screaming about being hungry and tired but had not physically attacked anyone before being placed in the chokehold. Penny was initially taken into custody by the NYPD for questioning and later released. Neely's death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner's office, days after the incident. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The praise just keeps pouring in for Daniel Penny, the 24-year-old white ex-Marine charged with second-degree manslaughter for choking to death a 30-year-old black mentally ill homeless man named Jordan Neely on a New York City subway.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida called Penny a Good Samaritan and urged his Twitter followers to contribute to his legal defense fund, saying “We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens.” (The charges were brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is also criminally prosecuting former President Donald Trump over hush-money payments to a porn star with whom he cheated on his wife.)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a GOP representative from Georgia, offered her two cents on Penny, posting his photo on Twitter with the message: “This is what a hero looks like. The world needs more men like Daniel Penny.” Kid Rock, the washed-up rocker, agreed, writing “Mr. Penny is a hero” as he gave $5,000 to the fund, which raised more than $2 million in just a few days.

Fox News host Sean Hannity hailed Penny as a brave veteran who “subdued” a public menace. His colleague Laura Ingraham exclaimed, “Daniel Penny deserves our thanks, not this perverted, twisted style of justice.” Former South Carolina governor and GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley labeled Penny’s arrest an “injustice,” saying he was attempting to do a “good deed” by protecting other passengers. She urged New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, to pardon him.

Neely, who was not armed and did not harm anyone, made hostile and threatening remarks and gestures that frightened other passengers. This prompted Penny to take him to the ground, applying a chokehold for several minutes until Neely lost consciousness; he died soon after. While this action is not a perfect match for that of the biblical Good Samaritan, who came to the aid of a wounded stranger, it is, for many of those caught up in the right-wing political passions of the moment, close enough.

“Nobody else I’d rather be on the subway with,” wrote one donor on the GiveSendGo fundraiser for Penny, which as of Wednesday had raised almost $2.8 million from about 57,000 contributors. (A memorial fund for Neely, meanwhile, has raised about $150,000.) Here are some other comments, all rendered exactly as written, that flowed in during a random two-hour period last week:

Thank you for doing what is right, protecting victims.

Thank you for you’re selfless act!

Doing the right thing is not a crime.

God Bless U S A and God Bless Daniel Penny

Daniel Penny you did the right thing. The city on NYC should be sued.

A hero who wanted to help protect lives on the train when the city of NY does nothing to keep criminals off trains and tranist riders safe.

I hope you turn around and sue the city and DA for what they’ve done. The are culpable and to blame for making citizens the ones that have to protect the people.

AFTER THIS IS OVER YOU SHOULD LEAVE NEW YORK CITY, The city doesnt deserve to have citizens like you: its a sewer.

The Left is destroying this country; your inditement is just another example.

And there was this:

I have been in a similar situation on the “F” train in Queens with a deranged person threatening me and everyone else in a crowded rush hour train car. If a police detective in the car riding on the way to work had not stepped between me and the deranged person, the result could have been the same as with Daniel Perry.

Let’s get this straight: Had it not been for a police detective who intervened (in a city where, we’re told, subway assaults commonly go unchecked), this donor may have sprung into action and choked the deranged person to death, in front of everyone. The donor, who gave $75 under the heroic name of “Anonymous,” saw Penny, whose name is perhaps significantly misspelled as Perry, as a model to emulate. Nothing would please Anonymous more than to be in Penny’s place, taking the scary black guy to the subway floor and choking the life out of him.

Last Friday in The Bulwark, Cathy Young presented a compelling argument that Daniel Penny’s case is not as simple as some pontificators on the right and left seem to think. Jordan Neely, who in 2021 randomly punched a 67-year-old woman in the face as she was leaving a subway station, among other past violent acts, and who was saying things like “I’m ready to die” and “I would kill a motherfucker,” did pose a potentially real threat to passengers. Moreover, there is no evidence that Penny acted out of racial animus or even a desire to kill. (It’s since been reported that Penny finds the allegations of racism against him “comical” because he “love[s] all people” and had even been planning a trip to Africa. Take that however you will.)

Young makes good points. But the fact that Daniel Penny is being praised for unleashing righteous violence is still deeply troubling, as is the support that is flooding in for the almost identically named Daniel Perry. Daniel Perry is a 36-year-old U.S. Army sergeant who was just sentenced to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old Black Lives Matter protester, in downtown Austin on July 25, 2020.

The protest was one of many that happened in mid-2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, a black man. Foster, an Air Force veteran, was white, as is Perry.

Multiple witnesses said Perry ran a red light, then sped up as he drove toward a group of protesters, who surrounded his car. Foster did have an assault-style rifle—which, while always a bad idea, is perfectly legal in Texas—but there is no evidence he ever pointed his weapon at Perry or anyone else. Even Perry initially admitted Foster had not pointed the gun at him, explaining that he instead acted preemptively: “I believe he was going to aim at me.”

Perry, armed with a handgun, fired five shots. He claimed self-defense. The jury, which deliberated for 17 hours, didn’t buy it.

In the weeks leading up to the incident, Perry had searched the internet for the phrases “protest tonight,” “protesters in Seattle gets shot,” “riot shootouts,” and “protests in Dallas live.” In late May 2020, he sent a text message: “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.” He went to Austin instead. In June, Perry mused in a message to a friend, “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work, they are rioting outside my apartment complex.”

On April 7, the day Perry was convicted, Tucker Carlson devoted a segment on his since-canceled Fox News show to arguing that Perry had acted in self-defense against a “mob of rioters.” He said the jury verdict “means in the state of Texas, if you have the wrong politics, you’re not allowed to defend yourself.” And he urged Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to do something to correct this great injustice.

The following day, Abbott tweeted that he’d asked his state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to look into Perry’s suitability for a pardon. (In Texas, the governor cannot issue a pardon without a recommendation from the board, but can request just such a recommendation.) “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney,” Abbott declared. “I look forward to approving the Board’s pardon recommendation as soon as it hits my desk.” That has not yet happened.

As in Daniel Penny’s case, conservative commentators are framing the actions taken by Daniel Perry as not just defensible, but exemplary. Meanwhile, they are portraying Travis County District Attorney José Garza—who brought the charges against Perry and is now asking the pardon board to review the court’s evidence before issuing its recommendation to the governor—as the villain.

Here are some recent unedited comments posted on Sgt. Daniel Perry Legal Defense Fund, which as of Tuesday had raised just over $134,000, far less than Penny’s fund.

We support you and thank you Daniel Perry for standing up against the violent Radical Left.

You must be freed and DA Jose Garza should be imprisoned.

This is so important that we maintain the right to protect ourselves against mobsters.

Owning guns is a mute point if you can’t use them to defend yourself from deadly force.

Looks like there is no justice system anymore. Thanks for teaching me to NEVER GET CAPTURED, NO MERCY ON ENEMY COMBATANTS (every single person blocking your car) in the future. God bless!

It’s about time people stood up and out a stop to the weaponization of their institutions.

Let’s Go Brandon. Austin based Marxist Latino activist judge.

On May 16, Perry received an “Amount Hidden” donation from an anonymous donor who wrote: “Sgt. Daniel Perry, I support your Heroism and Courage for saving all the lives you did on that train.” Um, wrong Daniel. Other donors have referred to Perry, the U.S. Army sergeant, as a Marine, Penny’s branch of service. “Semper FI!!!!” wrote one.

Last week, in a lengthy article, John Knefel of the watchdog group Media Matters for America examined what appears to be a growing bloodlust among right-wing pundits and politicians. He notes the far right’s celebration of Daniel Penny and pardon push for Daniel Perry. He mentions the idolization of Kyle Rittenhouse for killing two people and wounding a third during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin, for which he was acquitted. He recalls the efforts of some on the right to justify the killings of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and Eric Garner—all black men who had fatal encounters with vigilantes or police.

Knefel also explores what appears to be burgeoning enthusiasm for state-sanctioned killing, much of it “driven by the two leading hopefuls in the Republican presidential primary, Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.” Trump, who famously rooted for the execution of the Central Park Five, a group of nonwhite teenagers wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape, recently declared his support for applying the death penalty to people (presumably not including those at pharmaceutical companies) who sell drugs that lead to overdose deaths.

And DeSantis, seeking to burnish his killer cred, on May 1 signed legislation to allow Florida to put child rapists to death. It worked. The right-wing pontificator Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire lauded DeSantis for his initiative and looked forward to executing “all the worst people, all of the worst criminals. Just execute them all. And this is the right first step. There’s a lot more that needs to be done. I mean, this is actual criminal justice reform.”

The Media Matters article also includes the gleeful exchange between wackadoodle commentator Steven Crowder and his podcast guest, Alex Jones, a man so morally depraved he cannot muster a show of contrition (“I’m done saying ‘I’m sorry’”) for the family members of the little kids killed at Sandy Hook whose very existence he denied. Together, they fantasized about hanging pedophiles in the town square. Crowder, in explaining the appropriateness of this behavior, said “you forfeit your right to live.”

Tellingly, it’s the exact same phrase that Crowder used to cheer on Penny’s subway killing of Jordan Neely. “The second that you are engaging in an activity where someone else is forced to make a decision to save their life or a life of their loved one,” Crowder intoned, “you forfeit your right to live.”

This is pure rot. Neely did not attack anyone. No one was forced to choose between killing and being killed. That Penny’s decision to put Neely in a chokehold for so long that it killed him is being cheered on by people who long for opportunities to administer lethal retribution—and who believe that the election of Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis may bring the glory days where this can be exacted on the notice of a “second”—should frighten us all.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.