Where There’s Smoke (And Bullets)

Three things about the recent, tragic Tucson shootings:

1. Clearly, shooter Jared Lee Loughner was not a Tea Party member or Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck acolyte. His political views, presumably inspired by such diverse thinkers as Ayn Rand, Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler, are not mainstream or cliched. He’s an independent thinker whose views aren’t neatly classified as “liberal” or “conservative”. Reports are that he had met Congressperson Giffords at a previous community meeting and wasn’t happy with the encounter. So the odds that his inspiration for the assault had anything to do with Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic are unlikely.

2. Violent, paranoid political discourse inspires mass murderers. Maybe not Loughner, but Byron Williams was directly influenced by Glenn Beck when he set out with a car full of weaponry to murder workers at the ACLU and Tides Foundation. Kenneth Kimberly was arrested before he killed anyone, but he admits that he was directly inspired by Glenn Beck to start making and stockpiling grenades. And Giffords wasn’t present when the glass door to her Tucson office was either shot or kicked in, hours after her pro vote on health care. With all of the evidence that violent rhetoric absolutely inspires violent actions, how could people not assume that there was a connection in Tucson? I bet even Sarah Palin assumed that Loughlin had seen her crosshair chart when she first heard about the shooting.

3. So conservatives can pout about how unfair it is that MSNBC and all of their liberal critics are calling for more civil discourse in light of this mass murder. And they are technically accurate that Loughner was, most likely, not directly influenced by the cross hairs on Palin’s propaganda; Beck’s paranoid rantings about Obama planning to kill 10% of the population; Michelle Bachmann’s crazed fantasies about communists in the white house; Sharon Angle’s readiness to resort to “second amendment remedies”, et cetera, et cetra, et cetra. But there’s a lot of smoke here, and there’s a lot of ammunition. So the calls for calmer political discourse in light of the violent travesty in Tucson are well-warranted, because we don’t need to follow it up with the next Byron Williams succeeding in killing people that Beck highlights on his blackboard, or the next Kenneth Kimberly lobbing grenades at imagined communists. These people are directly inspired by the right wing rhetoric. There’s no denying that.

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