Monday, January 10, 2011

The Politics of Hate. When Political Discourse Turns Violent.

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot. Federal Judge Among the Victims
Reports indicate that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot today at an appearance in Arizona. Although her death was reported by CNN and NPR, her condition remains unknon.  Giffords is Arizona's first Jewish congress member and the wife of astronaut Mark Kelly.  Of the 12 wounded, at least six people have been reported killed including a nine year old and a federal judge.  The event, held at a Safeway Grocery store, was entitled "Congress on Your Corner" where constituents were given the opportunity to meet the popular Congresswoman.
Federal Judge John Roll was among the victims who was killed. Roll had previously received several death threats after his Arizona immigration rulings upset some unstable people.  According to the U.S. Marshals service, "talk radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats."  The deaths also included the heartbreaking murder of 9 year old Christina Taylor Green of Tuscon.  A neighbor had taken her to the event.  She had just been selected to the student council at her school.  This was her chance to meet a Congresswoman.  Green was the granddaughter of former Yankee baseball manager Dallas Green and daughter of Dodgers scout John Green.

The gunman, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be a man in his 20s. (Why do these nuts always have similar middle names.)  After firing several rounds, he was subdued while trying to reload.  Prosecutors charged Loughner with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. More charges are expected.

While the motives of his actions remain unclear, Loughner's recent rambling Youtube postings offer a glimpse into a troubled mind.  He may have been involved with American Renaissance, a group known for anti immigrant and white supremacist views.  He was recently suspended from his community college and told to get a mental evaluation. In a video post, the gunman decries that a terrorist is one that uses terror as a political weapon.  He complains that most Americans have never read the Constitution, that one does not need to accept Federalist laws and that you should read the constitution to apprehend all the current treasonous laws.  

Needless to say, Loughner's paranoid Youtube statements display an anti-government rhetoric a strange obsession with currency and language.  He states: “In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” he writes in one video posting. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!”

Now, my grandfather told me never to talk about politics or religion.  It makes people testy and can only get you into trouble.   Nevertheless, 
after learning of this tragedy I couldn't help but recall the image of Sarah Palin's map of America with crosshairs placed on various politicians and her infamous "don't retreat, reload" tweet. Giffords was among the politicians targeted with gun crosshairs.  In an interview with MSNBC, she would give a foreboding quote. "We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," The map has since been scrubbed from the site and Palin aides have stated that the targets were really surveyor symbols.  

Not surprisingly, many fear that this senseless shooting can be traced to the inflammatory rhetoric that has recently been prevalent in our nation.  Town hall meetings and sessions of Congress have been disrupted with uncivil shouting.  Political rallies have disrupted into shoving matches with people having their heads stepped on.  When asked if his daughter had any enemies, Congresswoman Giffords father told the NY Post "yes, the whole tea party." 

Who can blame him.  Last year his daughter's office was vandalized after she voted for healthcare reform.  At a Giffords appearance, an angry protester was detained after a gun fell out of her purse.  Even her former opponent Jesse Kelly had a shooting event imploring his supporters to "get on target for victory" to help remove Giffords from office. 

Of course, Giffords has not been the only politician who has been threatened.  In July, fellow Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva found a bullet and a shattered window in his Yuma Arizona Office.  He also received healthcare related death threats that included white powder and a swastika. Over the summer, a California man threatened Nancy Pelosi and her family when he said he would destroy her home if she voted for healthcare.  A few months later, a man was engaged in a shootout with the California Highway patrol.  He wanted to start a revolution by killing people at the ACLU.

I am not surprised. If you spent the day watching Fox pundits, you would come away convinced that we were on the verge of losing our American way of life.  Whether it be a run on ammo, canned goods or seeds, irrational fears have given drive to a cottage industry of doom. The constant threat of Armageddon has caused common sense to be replaced with nonsense.  One example is Glenn Beck Show sponsor "The Survival Seed Bank."  The company reminds sheeplike viewers that "you don't have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what's going on all around us." They ask potential customers if they can survive "off the grid" as an "aloof ruling elite" introduces totalitarianism.  For around one hundred fifty dollars (plus shipping), you can buy special seeds to start your own crisis garden". According to the company's site these are not ordinary seeds. They are open pollinated "Super Seeds."  At $150, I hope so.

For several months people have been told that death panels are coming to kill grandma and grandpa. Rumors of secret armies and concentration camps permeate the internet. Many hid their children at home fearing a welcome back to school speech from President Obama was actually an attempt at communist indoctrination.  Many still believe the president of the United States is a Kenyan born Muslim intent on turning our nation communist.  Sitting in front of large portraits of our founding fathers, Glenn Beck reminds his starry eyed viewers with chalk stained fingers that a revolution is coming.  So grab your musket and your powdered wig and do your part to defend liberty.  

Let's be frank. There is a reason Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin immediately came to the minds of many after this horrific tragedy. The two have a history of using inflammatory language to instigate a response from their followers.  Glenn Beck uses images of Nazis and paints an end of the world scenario for his viewers unless something drastic is done.  From cross hairs to lock and load, Palin can't seem to stop invoking images of gun play. They remind us to water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.  Is it any wonder many have considered that their words may have led to this tragedy?  I have yet to hear someone say "I wonder if Jon Stewart's jokes pushed him to this?"

So do I blame Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin for this shooting?  Of course not.  At this point, no one knows what motivated this nut.  From his Youtube postings, it appears the guy was just off balance. Lest we forget, people were quick to blame the Teaparty for the attempted Times Square bombing. Blaming the Sarah Palins and the Glenn Becks of the world is the easy way out.  People always want to point fingers when a senseless tragedy occurs.  I am sure many will jump on the bandwagon to blame them.  It is wrong to do so. This was a senseless killing.   

On his Myspace page, the shooter indicated some of his favorite books.  People immediately jumped on it. Those on the right claimed he was a left wing liberal because he listed the Communist Manifesto.   He was a pot smoking loner.  Of course he was a lefty. People on the left claimrf he was a right wing nut job because he listed the ultraconservative Mein Kampf.  He tried enlisting in the army and hated the current administration. Of course he was a righty.  He also listed Alice in Wonderland.  Does that make him a member of the Tea Party mad hat and all?   He ranted about a return to the gold standard, an admiration of Ayn Rand, a fascination with words, mind control and a distrust of the Federal Government.  Maybe he was a Glenn Beck fan after all? Does it really matter?

Perhaps it was appropriate that Loughner listed books from both the far left and right of the spectrum.  In a sense, it represents the very worst in us. Being too far to either side is never good.   Squabbles over issues like healthcare and immigration should never lead to violence. If you feel the need to throw a brick through a window over healthcare, you are an idiot.  Wishing a pretzel choking death on former President Bush makes you an idiot too.  Whatever side of the political fence you hang your legs on, those that preach hate filled rhetoric should be called on the carpet.  We should remember our civility.  You are an American citizen first, a Dittohead second. 

Right or left,  pundits need to examine the power of their words and actions to a captive audience.  I've had run ins with these types of whack-jobs before.  Prior to entering private practice, I had worked for a well known member of the Kennedy family for several years.  Needless to say, the Kennedys are like crack to these loons. I often heard them regurgitate ridiculous claims they heard on talk radio.  Whether it be death panels, secret armies, martial law, plans for concentration camps or the president is a Muslim born in Kenya, many accepted these ridiculous claims as fact.  

Beck's 9/12 Rally
Which brings me back to Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin.   I should add one caveat. While I do not hold them responsible for this senseless act, I do not give them a complete free pass for their irresponsible behavior either.  (Typical lawyer speak).   I single them out because a cult of personality has grown around them.  Beck is on several times a day. Palin is beloved by many. Both have made some pretty ridiculous claims in an effort to incite their base. The problem is that their base includes some people who are nuts.  I would imagine that mentally unstable people would be the most susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric.  They see someone in power alluding to similar views and they feel vindicated.  A former Vice Presidential candidate puts cross hairs on someone and suddenly your not so crazy anymore.  Such actions cross the line.  "That's not what I meant" is no longer a viable excuse.   

Beck Rally
I hope that those with a voice to the masses will take this opportunity to choose their future words wisely.  Asking your followers to reload and take aim, encouraging revolution, alluding to Armageddon and spreading mis-truths doesn't help your cause.  Repeatedly using words like regime and peppering in images of Nazis and crosshairs doesn't help either.  Frankly, it's un-American. You're only asking for tragedy.  So don't act surprised when it actually happens. 


Tim Jacobson said...

Attorney Baron. This was one of the best posts I have read on this senesless tragedy. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I agree right or left this guy was crazy. But I have to admit the majority of the vitriol comes out of the right. I am disgusted with my party. The Republicans have been dumbed down when we make Palin and Beck our heroes. Reagan must be spinning in his grave. We have let the teaparty take over for a few quick votes.

Susan Jennerson said...

A thoughtful post on this horrific tragedy. Best point of view I have seen.

PS Enjoyed reading your older posts. Very funny. I really enjoyed Mondays and the Pennsylvania polka.

Anonymous said...

Typical liberal BS. Sarah Palin is a true American patriot. She will be the next president of the US.

If you can't see that Obama was born on foreign soil, you need to go back to law school. Read the Consitutiton
You need to be born here to be president.

Anonymous said...

Hate to admit it but most of the rabble rousing and misinformation seems to come from pundits on rightwing talk radio and Fox News.

Richard Posey said...

I hear hate speech from both sides. I consider distortion of the other party's position a form of hate speech, in fact.

Trying to start

Yes, I've just started it, but had been considering it for some time. It's time the American moderates step up and tell the Left and Right to sit down and cool it. And the media needs to stop egging things on ... I see a lot of responsibility there.

Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

Let's see:
Mein Kampf was written about the National Socialist movement, which cannot be considered anything close to being conservative.

Also, we definitely do know that Loughner was an off is rocker leftist. As tweeted by one of his former classmates: