The big story right now is the murder of a federal judge, John Roll, and the attempted murder of Representative Giffords (D-AZ) by a deranged young man (the police have him in custody and are currently seeking a possible accomplice) at a mall in Tuscon. A number of other people were also killed and wounded including a 9 year old girl. The Sheriff has publicly called out the right wing demagogues who whip up "prejudice and bigotry" and lamented that Arizona seems to have become the "capitol of it."
Sunday, January 09, 2011
All of this is about to kick off a debate in this country about how responsible for right wing political violence are Republicans like Sarah Palin and others who are trying to ride the Tea Party to political power. Tea Partiers will say that this is the act of a lunatic and that it has no connection to politics at all. I agree that the man the police have arrested is probably mentally ill. But that does not mean that these murders are a-political or have no connection to the rhetoric and policies of the right.
The man may have been insane and murderously suicidal. But the nature of his murder/suicide is a product of right wing politics and policies. His choice of targets and the weapons he used (and therefore the number of victims) are the products of the politics of the American right.
There are murder/suicides occasionally in the United States. The overwhelming majority of them are obviously apolitical affairs in which somebody snaps and kills their family and then kills themselves. These kinds of events spike when the economy goes south. There have been a couple of incidents like this near where I live. They were well covered and there is no ambiguity at all about their nature. There is no mention of politics or anything that could even be called politics by a deranged mind. These are entirely personal tragedies.
The Roll-Giffords shooting is obviously different from that pattern. The perpetrator seems to be mentally ill and it may be that he was tackled before he could kill more people and then himself. It may also be the case that even if there were no political rhetoric for him to feed off of, he would have snapped and shot up his community college or his family or something. But the fact remains that the targets of this murderer had no connection to him at all. He chose them because of their political positions. Judge Roll had recently ruled in favor of an immigrant group in a lawsuit they had brought against the State of Arizona. Representative Giffords (D-AZ), like many Democrats, had been threatened since her vote for the health care reform bill. In the 2010 election her opponent held rallies around his firing automatic rifles with the headline for the event being "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help Remove Gabrielle Giffords from Office. Shoot a Fully Automatic M16 with Jesse Kelley." The shooter clearly chose to commit the crime he did because of politics. The atmosphere created by the right gave the shooter his inspiration for the how to manifest his mental illness. The shooter's web pages are full of references to secret government mind control projects and his desire to establish a new currency. These may seem nuts to most of us but these kinds of fantastic theories about economics combined with over the top paranoia about the government are relatively common among the tea party crowd.
There are attacks by mentally deranged killers in other modern societies as well. In some countries where gun control laws are stricter, these attacks take place with either knives or with firearms with low rates of fire. But in the US, the weapon of choice is often a semi- or fully automatic weapon. In the Roll-Giffords shooting, the shooter was using a semi-automatic 9mm handgun and shot 20 people before he was tackled while trying to reload. I imagine that we will hear that he had a high capacity clip in the thing and probably bought it all legally despite a long history of ringing alarms bells about his mental state (I just heard on CNN that he was rejected from the military for undisclosed reasons and has had "numerous" run ins with authorities while a student at the local community college).
So in my opinion this is a case of right wing chickens come home to roost. We have a lunatic who's particular victims, it is becoming increasingly apparent, were chosen after the shooter was inspired or egged on by the environment of right wing rhetoric. I'm also convinced that if there had been a years long drum beat by the left of violent rhetoric directed at Republicans and their allied institutions (say churches) and some lunatic with a website full of left wing inspired rhetoric murdered a right leaning federal judge and a Republican House rep there would be a hurricane like howl of condemnation of anyone to the left of Genghis Khan for their complicity in the violence. Hell, Sarah Palin accused Obama of being a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer because he once had coffee at a neighborhood association meeting with a former member of the Weather Underground.
UPDATE: I could also have pointed out that if this guy turns out to be a psychotic schizophrenic (which it looks like might come out), we owe his attack in part on the defunding of mental health provision that took place in the 80s. Since then, we've relied primarily on the prison system to treat the severely mentally ill - that means that people like this guy who are showing clear signs of being a danger to themselves and others are left on their own until they actually commit a violent crime.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 5:38 AM