In the tsunami-sized wake of yet another shooting rampage, the mainstream media, blogosphere and Twitterverse have been ablaze with blame. During the first eight hours of reporting on Tuscon, the blogs and TV and radio pundits were awash with liberals pointing fingers at conservative leaders. Later there was a coordinated effort by conservatives to call the shooter a disgruntled liberal who killed a 9/11 baby. Both assertions are outrageous. For anyone, especially a media or political leader, to use a murdered nine-year-old coincidentally born on a symbolic date to further their aims is disgusting and shameful.
Meanwhile certain political leaders like Sarah Palin and a contributor to the Daily Kos were scrubbing websites of licentious content. As Twitter user David Dayen of Los Angeles (@ddayen) tweeted, "I'll say this, if your first instinct after hearing about a tragedy is to scrub your websites, you have a problem as a political movement." It certainly raises a question about consciousness of guilt.
As a result of a well publicized personal experience, I have become keenly aware that deliberately overheated rhetoric and pernicious public speech by our national leaders tacitly grants permission for the weak minded and mentally ill to commit atrocities. When incidents like these happen, I flash back to 1996 when I was evacuated moments before the park bombing at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Yesterday's shooter, Jarod Lee Loughner, echoes the right wing nut Eric Robert Rudolph who planted the Olympic bomb and others to carry out a mandate he felt he had from the national leaders of the pro-life and fundamentalist Christian movements.
At issue is not whether Loughner identified with either the Tea Party or with Communists or Anarchists. According to his MySpace page, he was a fan of both the uber-conservative Mein Kampf and ultra-liberal Communist Manifesto. He also cited many inflammatory literary works among his favorites. What we can legitimately infer is that Loughner is a young man attracted to strong rhetoric, and, from his incoherent YouTube ramblings, he feels that revolutionary violence is the only recourse for change. These sentiments are eerily similar to those one hears from certain media personalities.
Unfortunately, Loughner was living in a media atmosphere which created for him a tipping point. Reviewing the available raw data, the Arizona shooting that targeted Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed a 9-year-old child, a federal judge and several more has all of the hallmarks of other recent violence, each of which has been tied to political and religious calls to duty. Let's review what has happened in the span of just two years.
On May 31, 2009 Dr. George Tiller was assassinated by Scott Roeder for performing legal abortions in Colorado. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Roeder's attorneys tried to argue that he had, "no option but to use deadly force to protect others -- in this case, fetuses -- from an imminent threat." This rhetoric is almost verbatim from the pulpits of many prominent fundamentalist leaders.
On June 10, 2009 white supremacist James W. von Brunn entered the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., with a rifle and killed a security guard and wounded several tourists. Von Brunn was a big supporter of the Obama 'birther' conspiracy theory propagandized from the media pulpits of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs among others.
On November 5, 2009 U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 32 on a shooting spree at Fort Hood. An American-born Muslim of Palestinian decent, it has been widely assumed that he became radicalized through his Islamic affiliations. However, military investigators have not officially linked him to any terror groups. In an email I received from forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, M.D. who specializes in mass shootings, "Hasan's shooting bore the qualities of an ideological Jihadist statement and that of a disgruntled workplace shooter at a career-threatening impasse with his superiors."
Welner says he has been critical of invesigators who say Hasan felt marginalized by his superior officers. However, there is some indication that Hasan tried to get some of his patients prosecuted for war crimes. Considering some of the irresponsibly inflated anti-military invective often blogged and promoted by left wing leaders like Moveon.org and Truthout, I have to wonder if that affected Hasan.
Something is clearly wrong with America when polemicists rule the day and when we are killing our own.
Let me be perfectly clear. The words of popular media and political personalities did not directly cause Loughner, von Brunn, Roeder and Hasan to go shoot people, but I believe they have created an unhealthy atmosphere where violence is considered strong. One fact on which I think we can all agree is that people look for information from "authorities" to buttress their positions. Information -- good and bad -- is readily available on the Information Superhighway, and it is easily twisted into any context. As conservative leader David Frum blogged today, "The talk did not cause the crime, but the crime should lead to reflection on the talk."
As for hard evidence of whether there was an atmosphere conducive to tip a disturbed person like Loughner to commit yesterday's violence, one only needs to listen to the words of Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, "We have become a mecca for hatred and bigotry." Conservatives most often treat the opinions of law enforcement as sacrosanct. I wonder if they are listening now? I hope we all are.