On Sunday, 58-year-old Jim Adkisson entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a children's performance of the musical “Annie Jr.” In a guitar case, he carried a shotgun and 76 rounds. Adkisson killed two church members, Greg McKendry (60) and Linda Kraeger (61), and wounded six more before he was wrestled to the ground as he tried to reload. What was Adkisson’s motive? From RawStory:
A report from the local Knoxville news details the findings from Adkisson's home, along with key statements from a document written by Adkisson related to an apparent motive behind the violent attack that rocked the suburban community:
"Adkisson targeted the church, [Investigator Steve] Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, 'because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.'
"Adkisson told Still that 'he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.'"
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve been hearing the exact same claims coming from the right wing's most prominent stars and spokespeople for years. It’s all there: liberals are ruining the country, Democrats are letting the terrorists win, liberals hate America, the liberal media is bamboozling the nation.
Carol Smallwood, a longtime acquaintance of Adkisson’s, said he hates “'blacks, gays and anyone different from him,” which is also consistent with right-wing ideology. In a four-page note Adkisson left in his car, he explicitly noted his hate for the “liberal movement” — the Unitarian Universalist church is well known for its liberal stances on homosexuality, civil rights, opposition to war, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. While another major cause of Adkisson’s rage was his inability to find work and having his foodstamps reduced, Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV noted "[Adkisson] did express frustration that the liberal movement was getting jobs."
And how do we know that Adkisson was a consumer of popular right-wing thinking? Anticipating that he would be shot by police, Adkisson left the door to his house open to make it easier for authorities to enter. He didn’t want his motive and the ideology it sprang from to be a secret. From the Knoxville News Sentinel:
Inside [Adkisson’s] house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.
The right has already begun and will continue to claim that Adkisson is just a crazy nut, is not really a conservative (or is actually a liberal), that his stated motive of carrying out right-wing ideology means nothing, and that it is “inappropriate” to discuss politics in relation to such a heinous crime. But they are wrong on all counts. While Adkisson’s money problems surely caused him to snap, it was the words of the right’s loudest voices and brightest stars that gave him the justification for his rampage. Some quick Google searches turned up these quotes from prominent right-wingers:
"I’ll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo — every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress." — Sean Hannity
"To fight only the al-Qaeda scum is to miss the terrorist network operating within our own borders... Who are these traitors? Every rotten radical left-winger in this country, that's who." — Michael Savage
"Liberalism is the greatest threat this country faces." — Rush Limbaugh
"It is not a stretch to say that MoveOn is the new Klan." — Bill O’Reilly
"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could." — Glenn Beck
"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too." — Ann Coulter
"I don’t see any difference between [Arianna] Huffington and the Nazis." — Bill O’Reilly
"The Islamofascists are actually campaigning for the election of Democrats. Islamofascists from Ahmadinejad to al-Zawahiri, Oba -- Osama bin Laden, whoever, are constantly issuing Democrat talking points." — Rush Limbaugh
"There are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of ‘em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn’t become the [House] speaker." — Sean Hannity
Obviously, this merely scratches the surface of what issues daily from the mouths and keyboards of right-wing pundits.
And let’s make one thing very clear: these are not quotes from the fringes of the right, opinionated actors, and anonymous bloggers marketing to a small number of depraved kooks. These are from the right’s best-selling authors, their most popular radio hosts, and their most prominent TV personalities with audiences in the millions. Just this month, ABC Networks and Premiere Radio Networks gave Sean Hannity a five-year $100 million contract and Clear Channel gave Rush Limbaugh a staggering eight-year $400 million contract. O’Reilly, Savage, and Coulter’s books consistently land on the New York Times’ best-sellers list, many at #1. In fact, all three of the known right-wing books found in Adkisson’s house were NYT best-sellers.
Let’s just call this what it is: the right wing openly, proudly, loudly, and repeatedly advocates violence against liberals and Democrats. In fact, they are paid millions to do it and are given national platforms to spread their message. You cannot say that liberals and Democrats actively and purposefully want to destroy the United States and equate them with Nazis, Al-Qaeda, and the Ku Klux Klan, then claim that you don’t want them to get hurt. You can probably guess how Hannity, O’Reilly and their ilk feel terrorists should be dealt with, and it isn’t a fair trial with the full protection of the law and the Geneva Convention.
Now the right will claim that it is the left that is hateful and violent and that the left is “just as bad” or worse. To that I say: Prove It. And I don’t mean some comment on a blog from crazylib420 — I mean a quote from a prominent, best-selling liberal or Democrat who commands salaries in the millions of dollars. Show me when Arianna Huffington, Keith Olbermann, Bill Moyers, Al Franken, Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow, Markos Moulitsos, or someone from the “liberal” media repeatedly said that the News Corp. building should be blown up, Republican senators should be executed, that the only way to talk to conservatives is with a baseball bat, or that John McCain should be assasinated. If liberals are truly more violent than conservatives, this should be an easy task. Yes, Keith Olbermann has said that George W. Bush and his administration practiced fascism with their criminal collusion with telecom companies to spy on Americans without warrants, but that would only be offensive if you didn’t know what the definition of fascism is (according to Encarta: any movement, tendency, or ideology that favors dictatorial government, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of all opposition, and extreme nationalism).
The right-wing myth that it is actually liberals who are hate-filled and violent would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. Because it is this perception that liberals are out to physically harm or kill conservatives that justifies the right actually committing violence against those whom they consider liberals. If conservatives feel a violent “war” is being waged against them by minorities, gays, judges, and liberals who want to see America destroyed physically, culturally, and spiritually, how are they supposed to fight back? The right consistently uses violent and warlike words and imagery to describe the domestic enemies they face, including the “liberal” media that Adkisson also blamed for the decline of America.
Adkisson did not open fire in that church because he was obeying imaginary voices in his head and did not know right from wrong. The voices in his head were from the likes of Savage, O’Reilly, Hannity, Coulter, and Limbaugh, and they were telling him exactly what was right (conservatives) and what was wrong (liberals, gays, minorities, Democrats) and who he should blame for all his and the nation's hardships. I haven’t read the books Adkisson read, but I’m guessing they did not fill him with love and tolerance. My guess is that the books accomplished exactly what they were written to do — fill readers with fear and rage towards liberals. Adkisson himself said that he would’ve rather killed liberal leaders, but thought that killing liberal voters was a suitable alternative. Would Ann Coulter, who claimed "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building", disagree?
Meanwhile, back at FOX, they have imposed a near media blackout of this story, despite the involvement of its two biggest stars. I’ve watched enough FOX to know that stories about mass shootings, sensational murders, and missing white children/women are their bread and butter, filling the times when they aren’t attacking Democrats. But as of 9:28pm PT, a search of the foxnews.com website turned up not one story about the shooting. Neither O’Reilly nor Hannity mentioned the shooting on the Monday or Tuesday after the shooting. In contrast, both O’Reilly and Hannity devoted large blocks of their shows to the Virginia Tech shootings, and FOX did stories about it around the clock. But when their books helped provide the justification for politically motivated murder, Hannity and O'Reilly apparently can’t be bothered to address it, or even acknowledge that it happened. O’Reilly and Hannity are quick to blame violence on video games, rap music, liberals, and the decline of American culture, but they are silent when the hatred they explicitly espouse is acted upon. By not covering the story, FOX, O’Reilly and Hannity are not just protecting themselves, but also the violent right wing ideology that created the Frankenstein’s Monster that was let loose on the victims of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
Even though FOX won’t cover this story, it cannot be allowed to fade because some network or editor feels the murder wasn’t gruesome enough or the body count was not high enough to officially constitute a national tragedy and the accompanying media frenzy. Because no matter what conservatives will say, this shooting in Knoxville says something very important about the right wing and the messages its most prominent, powerful, most highly-paid voices are sending to millions of Americans. To be honest, I’m surprised that incidents like this are not more common, though I suppose it happens every time a gay person or any other minority is attacked simply for being who they are. But if a bout of economic hardship is enough to cause a right-wing true believer to aim a shotgun at his imagined liberal oppressors, this sad episode may be repeated for years to come.
(Research for this post by Max Schulman and Colin Eldred-Cohen)