After news of the Tucson killings broke, some of us had quite the night of Tweeting, and lines quickly formed to the right and the left—more heat than light, in 140-character bursts. I was even accused, by someone I’ve never encountered in my life, of having the exact-same library as the alleged shooter.
This morning, a few sober reflections:
The line drawn from the killer to Sarah Palin is not a straight line, but it’s a line nonetheless. The map that I posted yesterday, of Democrats in the cross-hairs, is a symptom of the ergotized political climate in the United States at the moment. The Palin site has now hastily removed the map, which is odd if there’s no connection to be made.
Palin has never “refudiated” the eliminationist rhetoric of her fellows: indeed, she has contributed to it more than once. With her sizeable audience, the effect of her brainless turns of phrase is amplified.
But she’s not the only one: eliminationism is a hallmark of today’s American right-wing, and fully documented as such. Of perhaps more immediate interest, for example, is this squib posted by Gifford’s Republican opponent last year:
Spare us the moral equivalence between Left and Right, another desperate talking-point being taken up by conservatives and others in denial. Republicans are not being hunted by armed leftists. Progressives don’t show up at rallies with automatic weapons, muttering about the blood of tyrants. The odd nutty comment on the Left is dwarfed into insignificance by the “wipe ‘em out” rhetoric of the American Right. It would be a welcome relief to hear no more of this defensive nonsense from conservatives scrambling for spin, but we assuredly will. It’s all they have at the moment.
There is a fascinating scavenger hunt on at the moment to determine precisely what the shooter’s political views might be. They appear to be constructed of paranoid delusions about the gummint, and related overall to far-Right “Second Constitution” lingo. He may have been mixed up with the American Renaissance hate group. Kady O’Malley dug up this nugget that explains what Republican nutcase Sharron Angle was on about last year, as well as, conceivably, the shooter’s incoherent ramblings about the Constitution—it’s well worth a read.
But the man’s politics are less important than the socio-political climate in which he found himself. Saying that he was merely “insane,” not politically motivated, won’t do—that has all the trappings of alibi-making, a refusal to take responsibility. If some people are mentally unstable, exposed to a steady diet of eliminationist language, and guns are put in their hands, there will be almost inevitably be eliminations. In fact, the most mentally vulnerable people are the most susceptible to taking metaphoric language literally. One thinks of a child with matches—or a loaded weapon.
No one operates independently of their social milieu. Marc Lepine’s murderous rage was given shape and substance by attitudes toward women that are still all-too-common. He was insane, but society doesn’t get a pass for that reason. Ditto Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged attacker.
In any case, the “crazed lone gunman” theory is now compromised for a much more mundane reason—there appears to be a second suspect involved.*
Language is powerful. “Vitriol…might be free speech, but it’s not without consequences,” said the outspoken and supremely articulate Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima Country, Arizona. Hear, hear. In the final analysis, a steady diet of careless, hateful, eliminationist language was the ultimate cause of the tragedy, the shooter only the proximate cause.
A nine-year-old girl, born on 9/11, just elected as president of her student council in grade school, was among those killed. And so, by a completely random turn of events, we are given a powerful metaphor for everything that’s wrong with American political culture today.
*UPDATE: Hard to keep up. The second man has been interviewed and cleared.