John Brown was a terrorist who hoped to incite broader slave rebellions within the Southern states. One of the reasons why his acts were politically significant was because his actions were condoned and supported by abolitionist newspapers and public opinion at the time. He had broad cultural and financial support throughout the North, even when he committed mass murders against civilians.
Almost instinctively, Americans return to old methods which worked in the past in order to grasp for more power over their fellow citizens. This is one of the problems that democracy often runs into: it’s more cost-effective just to kill and terrorize the other side than it is to perpetually electioneer against them. To paraphrase Stalin, “no man, no votes.” And if you can’t achieve your political ends through the conventional legal process, as in the Civil War, it’s sometimes just more direct to go to war with the people who are obstructing your political program until you’ve cracked the resistance.
Given that America is yet again full of people who are recalcitrant against some of the more radical proposals put forth by the left, it makes sense for it to support violent ‘protesters’ and terror forces to soften up the population and provoke violent reprisals such as the shooting by Dylan Roof, and the counter-reprisal by “Bryce Williams” the ex-television anchor. When people know that they have a mass of supporters behind them who will countenance terror attacks, they’ll do it — especially if the state refuses to crack down on incitement speech or participates in the incitement itself.
This is also one of the weaknesses in a cultural system which enshrines absolute free speech in law and custom — which, it should be said, the American state has always been capable of banning speech that it doesn’t like during wartime, especially during the Revolutionary, Civil, and World wars. So it’s silly to make an appeal to tradition or law in saying that the state has its hands tied with respect to the restriction of speech dangerous to public order.
By inflaming this cycle of attack, reprisal, and counter-reprisal, the press behaves how it usually behaves, which is to recklessly provoke a war which might otherwise be avoided. Popular government means government by passion over reason — whatever evokes great, popular outpourings of emotion is what turns into policy. Violent acts are exciting and pleasurable to participate in vicariously, which is why action movies, video games, and comic books are so popular. Media activists can have all the joy of participating in violence without any of the personal risk. This is destabilizing (which is why incitement is a crime), but the particular form of the crime makes it difficult for the state to muster enough cohesion within itself to halt the process.