1.11.2011

politically motivated violence in the u.s. ... and you are surprised?

I understand that some people are amazed at the recent massacre and assassination attempt in Arizona. I'm amazed that anyone is amazed. As the activist Rick Telfer said on Facebook, "Gee, why would anybody get the idea to gun down a political opponent in the USA?!" He posted a link to Sarah Palin's now infamous target map, but obviously that is but a tiny shred of evidence of the huge violent tapestry. It's a wonder this hasn't happened sooner, and more often. (And of course, in a less overtly political context, it does.)

In case you missed these:

Paul Krugman:
Climate of Hate

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate. [Read more.]

And Keith Olbermann, strong as ever, generously including himself as he calls on both right and left in the US to denounce violent rhetoric, rightly calling out those who don't as complicit in violent acts.

15 comments:

Amy said...

I am not surprised, but it is still heart-breaking. Our crazy gun laws certainly are a root cause of this kind of violence at least as much as the venomous political rhetoric. Damn the Second Amendment!

Question: a friend this morning asserted that Canada has more guns per capita than the US and even more lenient rules for obtaining and possessing guns. Do you know if this is true? I'd look it up but figured perhaps you'd know the answer.

James said...

I definitely agree that the overheated "don't retreat -- reload!" rhetoric needs to stop (and it has already inspired some violence), but it's looking like the Tea Party isn't a factor in the Giffords shooting.

Based on his YouTube videos, Loughner seems to be a follower of David Wynn Miller, a bizarre "Sovereign Citizen" activist who believes that you can circumvent US law using grammar. Miller has said that he doesn't know Loughner, but he agrees with Loughner's video rants.

Apparently, Loughner's beef with Giffords dates back to 2007, when he was at a campaign event and asked her "What is government if words have no meaning?". He became outraged when Giffords wouldn't answer his question. Mother Jones has a good write-up on the subject.

None of this is to defend the over-the-top violent rhetoric the GOP, Fox News, & the Tea Party are using, of course! For example, Richard Poplawski shot three police officers after Glenn Beck convinced him that the police were coming to take his guns (they were actually there because his mother wanted him out of the house). The calls for "Second Amendment solutions" is almost certain to inspire some people to implement, well, Second Amendment solutions. But this particular case (like the Discovery Channel shooting not long ago) doesn't spring from the recent escalation in violent rhetoric. They're based in something deeper than the Tea Party.

Joe Gravellese said...

Not surprised at all, but the defensiveness and deflection of any responsibility from those on the right has been incredibly eye-opening.

James said...

To the best of my knowledge, there are about as many gun owners per capita in Canada as in the US, but fewer guns per capita -- that is, the same proportions of Canadians own guns as Americans, but they tend not to own as many guns.

This suggests that the difference in the gun death rate between Canada and the US isn't so much in the guns themselves as in the attitudes towards guns.

BTW, Arizona used to have a ban against the high-capacity magazine Loughner used (a normal Glock magazine only holds nine shots, Loughner's holds thirty). The NRA fought the ban and won.

A Democratic congresswoman is working on a new federal bill which would ban the high-capacity magazines across the country.

laura k said...

Whether or not the tea party is officially or directly connected with this particular shooting is well beside the point, IMO.

the defensiveness and deflection of any responsibility from those on the right has been incredibly eye-opening.

That's good to hear. Eyes definitely need to be opened.

This suggests that the difference in the gun death rate between Canada and the US isn't so much in the guns themselves as in the attitudes towards guns.

And the types of guns, too. Gun for hunting or gun for mass murder? Handgun or rifle? Big differences all around.

Mike said...

I don't like saying it but I'm more surprised that something like this didn't happen sooner. I mean tea partiers aside, right wing pundits have been calling the left traitors and enemies of "America" for literally decades, Anne Coulter's based her entire career on it to name but one.

James said...

Whether or not the tea party is officially or directly connected with this particular shooting is well beside the point, IMO.

Not entirely. The Tea Party isn't a cause, it's a symptom. The eliminationist rhetoric you hear from them extends well back before the Tea Party showed up, back through the militias of the 90s (who are enjoying a surge in popularity these days), back through the John Birchers, back through the Klan. Focus too much on the Tea Party and you'll miss the core problem.

Not to mention that arguing that this shooting shows that the right must scale back it's gun-crazy rhetoric leaves you open to the response that that argument isn't valid, since there's no demonstrable causal connection between the two. Poplawski's a much better case for that argument -- not to mention the recent increase in threats against the President that the Secret Service has reported. These aren't as dramatic, certainly, but they make a stronger case.

Which is in no way to say that the Tea Party should be let off the hook. But I think there's a conflation of two distinct -- though related -- problems.

You can be sure that the Fox News will use on any weakness in an argument to discredit it. Of course, you can also be sure that Fox News will make up weaknesses to try to discredit a strong argument, but there's no point in making it any easier for them.

laura k said...

I agree, Mike. Allan said pretty much the exact same thing last night.

James said...

Sarah Palin's folks have been busy removing negative comments from her facebook page. But they left this one:

It's ok. Christina Taylor Green [the 9-year-old girl killed in the shooting] was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as 'they' say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.

Charming people.

Amy said...

Thanks for the gun info, James. I am going to try and pull some info together to respond to my friend. Something about her claims about Canadian gun laws seemed wrong to me, but I had no data or information to respond at the time we were having the conversation.

James said...

Just be warned, I'm no expert. I'm remembering stuff I'd looked up a while back during a gun control debate (where the number of Canadian vs American gun owners came up), but that info could be outdated, or I could be mis-remembering.

Wikipedia's not a bad place to start to double-check.

deang said...

Daniel Ellsberg recently commented in talking about the Wikileaks releases that, back in the Nixon years when Ellsberg became a whistleblower, it was considered career-destroying for a politician like Nixon to openly call for assassinating people. Now, prominent US political commentators routinely call for Julian Assange to be killed or abducted and taken to be tortured in one of the many US torture chambers throughout the world.

That is a cultural change. Yes, there is a history of violence and gun-craziness in the US, including assassinations of sitting presidents, etc. But sometime within the past 40 years, it became unremarkable to hear prominent US political commentators and politicians use rhetoric calling for assassination, torture, etc.

In Krugman's piece, he says he remembers the upsurge in violent rhetoric from the right after Clinton's election. I remember that, too, and I knew that Carter's election in the mid-70s hadn't had the same apoplectic response. There was some very minor making fun of his huge smile and his Georgia accent and his peanut-farming background, but that was about it.

I think the difference is the rise of right-wing media following Reagan's 1987 rescinding of the Fairness Doctrine. There are broader, deeper cultural reasons, but the rise of right-wing media, and the Reagan administration that enabled it, provides a likely proximate cause.

(I still remember that there were gasps from assembled politicians when Reagan dismissed concerns about US citizens murdered by his beloved US-formed, right-wing Salvadoran Contras by saying, "They knew they shouldn't have been down there anyway." These days, the rhetoric has gotten so much more extreme that that sounds minor.)

allan said...

back in the Nixon years when Ellsberg became a whistleblower, it was considered career-destroying for a politician like Nixon to openly call for assassinating people

Pundits are not the only ones calling for people they don't agree with to be murdered. Obama himself has asserts that he has the supreme right to kill anyone -- American citizens, foreign citizens, anyone -- if he believes they should be killed. He has argued this before the Supreme Court. No evidence, no trial, just on his say-so.

***

The politicians and pundits put on quite a circus, but, unfortunately, people are killed or have their lives ruined in the process. (One big reason why jokes about Palin are not funny.) If various pundits have made lucrative careers by screaming hate and preaching bigotry, why would they stop?

L and I were talking about this the other day. There is no way on Earth that the Fox/Hate radio people actually believe, for example, Obama is a socialist. (The listeners are viewers are a different story.) It is simply not possible. Yet they do, because they is their role in the circus -- and it makes them a shit ton of money.

I expect this stuff to get worse. It has to. (I would not be surprised to see people at an anti-war demo being shot at.) The right will not tone it down; they are making all kinds of excuses right now. And as time goes on, more and more people will be out of work, drowning in debt, with no visible options ....

(Hey, did you see where Biden said the US may end up staying in Afghanistan after 2014 after all? Who'd have thunk it?)

Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as 'they' say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.

Well, what do you know? I can still be shocked.

Mike said...

It's been interesting watching the right wing-nuts try to distance their rhetoric from this, I remember them back in the 80s trying to associate heavy metal music with teen suicide and in the 90s school shootings to violent video games and pretty much anything negative with hollywood, but constant calls for folks to be ready to use their guns to defend themselves against the evil government of the democrats and the left in general have nothing at all to do with a mentally disturbed man using his gun against a democratic congress rep have nothing to do with them.

As for the Christina Taylor Green quote, I can only hope it's a particularly tasteless example of Poe's Law.

laura k said...

Very good historical perspective from deang and excellent point from Mike re heavy metal/hollywood influences.

I expect this stuff to get worse. It has to.

Funny you said that. I was about to post something...

When I was in college, I saw a therapist for the first time, the very beginnings of coming to terms with my psycho family. One thing he said has always stayed with me. "Problems, left on their own, don't get better, and they don't stay the same. They will always get worse."

He had predicted a certain situation in my family would get worse. I was taken aback. How would he know that? Why would it get worse? And that was his response.

Since then I have applied that thought to nearly everything. If you don't go about doing the hard work of fixing something, it won't stay the same - it will get worse. You can count on it.

This is what makes the situation in the US so sad, so terrible.