Sarah Palin and the Pied Pipers of Political Violence

It’s only been four days since the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords of Arizona and already the rightist spin machine is operating at full throttle.  As calls for civility grow, the American public must also remind those practicing the politics of division that actions speak louder than words – particularly when those words continue to flirt dangerously with justifications for political violence.

Media accounts confirm alleged perpetrator Jared Lee Loughner specifically targeted Giffords. Written notes recovered by law enforcement suggest that Loughner pre-planned the crime. Facebook posts along with YouTube videos also suggest that, while struggling with mental health issues, Loughner embraced issues long promoted by rightist movements in the United States.  In The Hidden Menace of Arizona, pro-democracy leader Tom Hayden lays out succinctly how Loughner’s beliefs, while distorted by mental illness, were part and parcel of historic and present day philosophical attempts by rightist to undermine civil society.

Now the spin machine is working overtime to convince the American public that it is unfair to hold accountable the very individuals and organizations that created a climate that led a 22-year old young man with mental issues to believe he was justified in targeting the life of an elected official and anyone else that happened to be present.  While it is true that rightist leaders didn’t pull the trigger that tragic Saturday in Tucson, they certainly created the target.

Imagine2050 has documented several times that since Barack Obama won the presidency rightist movements have engaged in both provocatively violent language and, unsurprisingly, actual violence.  While tragic, the attempted murder of a U.S. Congresswoman is not as surprising as the rightist media spin would leave the American public to believe.  Some folks much more tech savvy than I put together a Google Map titled Right Wing Violence that shows visually incidents that occurred from March 15th – September 15th, 2010. While not comprehensive it tells us much about the current climate.

The Huffington Post reports that almost two years ago Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, as an emerging Tea Party leader, told reporters that she wanted folks “armed and dangerous” against the new Obama Administration’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce carbon emissions.

Since then, political rhetoric on the right has gotten so out of hand that it is no longer simply liberals who are suffering. After the Tucson, AZ shooting Republican Party leader Anthony Miller, District 20 Chairman, announced his resignation. Why? Recent verbal attacks and internet posts by Tea Party members have him worried about the safety of his family.  He wasn’t alone.  Three other Republican leaders serving District 20 resigned along with Miller.

One would think that the near death of a U.S. Congresswoman and subsequent calls for civility by the American public would be enough to give rightist pause – time perhaps to reflect on the impact of their words. Think again.  While many are now familiar with Sarah Palin’s inappropriate use of the anti-Semitic (see Chip Berlet’s excellent analysis) “blood libel” in her attempt to avoid responsibility for Congresswoman Giffords shooting, many may be less familiar with former Republican Congressman John Shaddeg of Arizona suggestion that perhaps Giffords along with other members of Congress should share some of the blame.

In an interview with National Public Radio’s All Things Considered Shaddeg tells host Robert Siegel that:

I can make an argument that the frustration of this individual resulted from the Congress, quite frankly, not listening to the people over the last two years and, for example, passing very, very major legislation when a majority of Americans opposed it.

So are those who did that willing to take some blame for the reaction of or the impact on an unbalanced person or someone that is deranged, such as this shooter?

Completely oblivious to the irony Shaddeg follows up by saying that:

Certainly there are comments that are beyond the pale. I don’t think I want to comment on that specific one or any other specific one. But I think politicians should be cautious in their rhetoric. I think they should try to be civil.

One assumes that Shaddeg is speaking of health care legislation, which for the record was actually supported by the majority of Americans according to Gallup, but in Shaddeg’s world the opinion of that American majority obviously doesn’t count. But even if that weren’t the case – do Congressman really deserve to be gunned down in the streets for supporting it?  If this is Shaddeg’s definition of civility each of us better start wearing bulletproof vests.

Many people over the next month will continue to argue that it is conjecture and ill advised to assign larger blame in regard to the attempted murder of a U.S. Congresswoman. They will tell you that any attempt to do so is merely conjecture.

However it is not conjecture that Loughner targeted an elected official. It is not conjecture that he specifically went to the supermarket site in an attempt to assassinate Congresswoman Giffords. It is also not conjecture that there are many individuals telling us to be wary and these are individuals who are clearly not trying to score “political points.” Both Sheriff Clarence Dupnick and Arizona Republican leader Anthony Miller are telling us something is seriously wrong with the political climate.  But will we listen?

The targeting of Gabrielle Giffords was political in nature. Loughner did not stalk and ultimately target her because of a crush or because she bullied him.  She became a target because she was an elected official.  Yes, Loughner was suffering from mental health issues. However it should not be ignored that the current political climate served to give his illness a distorted focus.

We should not pretend that this was a mass shooting in which the victims were randomly chosen. It is bad analysis and creates the illusion that somehow this shooting was nothing more than a tragic unavoidable encounter.

One does not have to belong to a group to be influenced by it or its philosophy. That Loughner was facing mental difficulties doesn’t mean we can ignore what plainly influenced him. This act of political violence didn’t happen in a vacuum. No matter how bad the rightists may want you to believe it.