Blame and Motivation

11 Jan

Why did Jared Lee Loughner shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head, and then move on to 19 other victims, six of whom died? I don’t know. And neither do you, or anyone else. He knows alone, and perhaps some confidant yet to come forward.

This has not stopped those of good and ill will from speculating, or calling for changes in gun laws, or denouncing various groups with which they were already in opposition. The main focus, nationally, of such speculation surrounds Sarah Palin, her campaign rhetoric and graphics of crosshairs over candidates (including Giffords) and the general Tea Party love affair with not just praising the Second Amendment, but inserting guns into politics, sometimes literally.  

Sarah Palin is a shallow charlatan, an embarrassment to the Republican party, and the sooner she is disgraced and out of the national spotlight, the better. Her rhetoric is inflammatory, unhelpful to solving national problems, and divisive. Due to the history of political violence in our country, using gun crosshairs to denote targets, even opponents in legitimate political races, is in bad taste at least, if not irresponsible and dangerous. I wonder now if she planned a similar graphic for President Obama for the 2012 Presidential Election? Somehow I think decency, common sense, or fear of reprisal from the Secret Service and the general public would have prevailed. Unfortunate that it did not before, as the threat of political violence is real.

But all of this doesn’t mean Palin’s rhetoric or influence caused Loughner to go on his shooting spree. There are plenty who blame Sarah Palin. This says more about the blamers than Palin, or certainly the mind of Loughner. The key piece of evidence linking Palin to the crime is the graphic. But we have no reason to believe Loughner ever saw it, or was even a Palin or Tea Party supporter. He is a registered Independent, not a Republican. And anyway, there is evidence Loughner started stalking (or at least grew upset with) Giffords in 2007, long before any graphic was produced.

With no direct evidence, those opportunists with a pre-existing agenda cite a more amorphous responsibility, a general feeling and tension created by the Tea Party movement, that is violent and revolutionary. The FBI and DHS have warned of the rise in right wing violence – surely because Giffords was a Democrat (though a more conservative one), the attacker must have a right wing vendetta, fueled by Tea Party rhetoric.

But evidence is lacking here as well, and with no clear link, the argument is analogous to those that decry violent video games, rap music, and gratuitous action movies. They raise the overall acceptability of violence in our society. They glamorize it at least, and encourage it at worst. At the moment we have as much evidence that Lougher was influenced by Call of Duty: Black Ops as Sarah Palin. Does this shooting have more in common with political revolution or Columbine?

What little we know of his mind is confused and contradictory. His rants against the legitimacy of the US government point one direction, his choice of reading material (Communist Manifesto) and statements from associates point another. The majority of his YouTube videos discuss the currency of ideas, being awake and asleep, grammar, and the meaning of being a Terrorist. I find no commonality, and yet I hesitate to call him crazy. That is a label Americans throw around to describe violence they don’t understand, not a diagnosis. Plenty of horrible acts are committed by perfectly sane individuals – their motivations are simply different than ours, and capacity for violence is greater.

What voices was Loughner listening to in his head? A left wing blogger on the DailyKos (since removed a la Palin‘s dimwitted defense and dropping of her own graphic) said Giffords was “dead” to them because she didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi. Did this mildly tasteless throw away line push Loughner over the edge? I doubt it. Sarah Palin has far more influence than the Daily Kos, but the voices Loughner listened to need not be the loudest nationally. Slate and Fox (among others) are reporting that the DHS has linked Loughner to an anti-semitic, anti-immigrant group, American Renaissance. I hadn’t ever heard of them, but that doesn’t mean Loughner hadn’t. This would mean Giffords’s sin was that she was Jewish, not that she was a Democrat. Of course, then again, that might be wrong too.

In the end, there is no need to speculate on why Loughner did it – he is alive. Someone will ask him at trial why he did it, and based on his previous MySpace and YouTube gabbiness, he will tell us. We can guess beforehand to score points and grind axes. Me, I’m going to wait for the facts.

37 Responses to “Blame and Motivation”

  1. Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    Brian, I don’t know if you realize how unique you are within Republicanism in that you reject Palinism and its standard-bearer. Elsewhere, because they represent precious votes, they are pandered-to, if not outright encouraged by the Republican mainstream. 

    Being upset about crosshairs and the gun-heavy rhetoric that emanates from the right fringe that is oft-coddled by the GOP mainstream is in no way similar to hausfraus calling for video games to be banned.  Palin’s bloodlust poster is real life – her targets were real people, unlike the passerby you run over in Vice City. 

    Regardless of what fed Loughner’s sick brain to decide to commit mass murder, (suspicious and weird behavior, btw is not prosecutable if no one is a victim of it), the Republican nomenklatura (if not the Palinist Beck listeners themselves) need to do some soul-searching about the language they use to critique political opponents.  

    As of this moment, I’ve looked at every map i own and haven’t found any crosshairs or “surveyors marks” on any of them. As of this moment, with the exception this post, i have not seen a single Republican say that the Palinist rhetoric was bad or wrong.  Usually, what I’ve seen is a tremendous volume of false equivalency.  For instance, “dead to me” is not a call for murder, not under any definition and it’s idiotic to suggest that it’s remotely similar to gunsights. It’s an idiom expressing disappointment, not a call to murder. 

    The violent whack job nihilist le is properly marginalized and not taken seriously or pandered-to by anyone in the Democratic mainstream.  The same is not true of the Republican party; when that party or its adherents decide to start marginalizing the Palins, Becks, Limbaughs, as well as the xenophobes, homophones, Islamophobes, and other fear mongers, our political discourse will benefit tremendously. 

  2. Brian Castner January 11, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Two things: I am not unique in thinking Palin is bad for the party – one of my links is to an old article of mine where I thank Scarborough for finally speaking up, and he references others. Secondly, you lump lots of groups together – every xenophobe and Beck et al – and dump them in the Republican party. Many, if you asked them, would not identify themselves as Republican. They may vote that way, for lack of a better candidate. But the right is finding its own Green party and socialists, who vote Dem on election day and complain about the party for the next two years.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 8:36 am #

      @Brian – in response to your first comment, it’s not I who lumps every xenophobe etc into the Republican party – it’s no accident that those specific constituencies of fear and hatred have found a comfortable and welcoming home in the GOP – and not just among the fringe nutjobs, but the mainstream hierarchy of the party. The Republican primary for New York State governor was largely an exercise in silence – but when Lazio got some cash to run ads, the only ads he ran were Islamophobic ones, and the whole race then rested on “who hates Muslims more”. Seriously.

      The notion that the Democratic Party has hands even remotely as dirty as the Republican Party viz. the language of violent incitement simply isn’t so.

  3. Brian Castner January 11, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    But to reinforce, I find Palin’s rhetoric bad, and yet still not to blame for this event. I reference video games not because they are real, but because (to their critics) they add to the legitimacy of violence in society. That’s as much influence as Palin seems to have had, adding a drop of violence to the zietgeist.

  4. Tom Dolina January 11, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Nutjobs are nutjobs and something, somewhere will set them off, from low flying airplanes to whatever their dog tells them. But can they be influenced by those who fan the flames of hateful rhetoric? Sure. So is this a… good time to pause and reflect of improving the level of our political discourse? Yes. Does Sarah Palin have blood on her hands? Probably not, as there’s no evidence of this loner being someone who is a Palin fan. But should Sarah be mortified of the possibility itself? Yes. Should those who say outlandish things and associate themselves with inflamatory imagery be called out with ridicule and scorn? You bethca! I prefer sarcastic mocking of the Becks and Palins and Limbaughs when they say wacky things, but others get more serious with their outrage. Should political parties and movements call out their own when they drift too far away from sanity? Yes, and that’s something we just don’t see in the political punditry and political leaders, and I have to say it tilts more to the right. Instead, they circle the wagons.
    Will this change as a result of the shootings? By the looks of things, probably not. But one can hope, and better yet, one can act to voice their displeasure and renounce violent rhetoric. First Amendment remedies work even better than the Second Amendment remedies.

  5. Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    No. Video games are fiction. Palin is real life. The difference could not be starker.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 8:37 am #

      What Tom said. You can’t shoot a state. You _can_ shoot people.

  6. Tom Dolina January 11, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Leo, I believe those images are just Captian America’s shield, or perhaps Target store locations. But seriously, does the graphic suggest someone should shoot the entire state?! There aren’t named representatives on the little map graphic.

  7. Leo Wilson January 11, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    @Tom and Alan – Did you see the reference to “behind enemy lines” in that graphic? Who are the enemies? Perhaps every shooting in those states was politically motivated by this graphic and the vitriol it promotes?

    Seriously, there’s no correlation between campaign rhetoric and disturbed people doing violence, not on either side.

    The stance I’m seeing from the left-wing smear machine can be equally applied to both sides. The use of military terminology in political movements is traditional (why calll them, “campaigns”?), and the effort to demonize someone or some group is lame and obvious: desperate to make hay against what whupped your butts in the last election and promises more of the same in the next, not just at the national level but at local levels and within the party you support, as evinced by recent articles that show Democrats also parting ways with the party establishment for the sake of serving the voting constituents.

    It may be effective – we’ll see after the ObamaCare repeal gets voted on what form the list of opponents to repeal takes – but it is still an overt attempt to demonize people for using (dare I say “emulating”) the same techniques your own group has used in the past.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 9:02 am #

      Leo, here’s a quick round-up of what’s been happening on the American right EXCLUSIVELY over just the last year:

      1. Telling supporters that winning the election may require active exercise of their “second amendment” rights. (Angle)

      2. Suggesting it’s time for “armed revolution”.

      3. The holding of political fundraisers focused around use of automatic weapons, including some featuring target practice with initials, name or images of the political opponent. (Florida, even one by Gifford’s opponent).

      4. Telling supporters you want them to be “armed and dangerous.” (Bachmann)

      5. Campaign posters with opponent’s head in gun sights.

      6. Saying that bullets will work if ballots don’t.

      7. Suggestions that supporters bring weapons to opponents’ political rallies.

  8. Leo Wilson January 11, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Used EFFECTIVELY in the past.

    This is no more vague or subtle than attempts at “campaign finaince reform” that always attempts to eliminate the other side’s revenues while leaving your own (not YOURS, specifically, just the other parties, both sides do the same thing) intact.

  9. Leo Wilson January 11, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    I feel like I was flooding yesterday, far too many posts. I apologize for that, even though I was greatly entertained by it. You guys have gotten me involved, thank you much.

    I’ll refrain from further posts for at least 8 hours.

  10. Mike In WNY January 11, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    The people blaming Palin are disgustingly trying to advance a political agenda using a mix of Rahm Emanuel’s “don’t waste a good crisis” philosophy with the Big Lie theory.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 9:23 am #

      Yes, when Congresspeople get shot through the head, it presents a unique opportunity for cretins who douse themselves in the language of violence and gunplay to check themselves.

      So far, most of what I’ve seen on the right is a lot of hemming, hawing, and “the other side does it, too” false equivalency.

  11. BobbyCat January 11, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    from Paul Krugman’s piece, “A Climate of Hate”, NYTimes Jan 9,

    “Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

    And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.”

    The climate of hate that Krugman writes about is apparent to any American who pays attention. I don’t need “more proof” to believe that incendiary rhetoric can push insane people over the edge. I think most Americans know that and were not surprised that it happened. And if Beck and Palin and Limbaugh and their ill continue to fan the flames of violence and revolution, it will happen again.

    The right wing talkers are spinning hard trying to deny any culpability for the toxic environment that they crafted. They are lying. And waiting for more proof is like Waiting for Godot.

  12. RaChaCha January 11, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Since this story broke on Saturday, I’ve been listening for some — any — statement from Arizona Senator John McCain. So far I haven’t heard or read anything. Have I just missed that, or is he intentionally keeping a low profile on this?

  13. Mike In WNY January 11, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Krugman is about as objective as Karl Marx. I guess he talking about the same Olberrmann that suggested, in 2008, the Democrats take care of Hillary by finding “Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.”

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 10:21 am #

      Nice try, Mike.

      Olbermann was discussing the election with Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, a frequent guest. They topic was, how can a winner finally be determined in this never-ending Democratic race for the nomination? Of course, the assumption was that it was Clinton that should be shown the door (despite clearly still earning her spot in the race thanks to, um, voters). Fineman said that, all the delegate math aside, ultimately it was going to take “some adults somewhere in the Democratic party to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds. Those are the super, super, super delegates who are going to have to decide this.”

      Said Olbermann: “Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.”

      That is EXACTLY LIKE Jesse Kelly inviting supporters to shoot an M16 to “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office“.

  14. Eric Saldanha January 11, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    @RaChaCha – McCain’s statement here

  15. Ethan January 11, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Look, while the rhetoric of the Right lately is definitely overtly over-the-top, it is equally true that the language of political violence is part-and-parcel of a country that fetishizes it’s own origins in political violence.   Our very existence owes itself to the true fact that sometimes violence “works” to achieve political aims.  Why do you think we’re so uncomfortable with the “terrorists”?  Because before open war/revolution broke out, the colonists *were* terrorists.  Tea party indeed.  

    I don’t like it, but it’s the country I was born in and I can’t see it changing, ever.  Perhaps it ebbs and flows, but it’s in our very DNA.  Glenn W. LaFantasie talks about it in some detail here, but it’s not exactly hard to fathom, and it is precisely why I’m not a big “Rah Rah America Is The Best Country, Like, EVER!” kind of guy.  I think we give violence far far too much credence as a tool.  

    But then, we’re all of us on this rock little more than hairless ape, so why I am surprised, I don’t rightly know.  Humanity: FML.

  16. Mike In WNY January 11, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Oh, OK, taking someone out using hands does not count. I get it.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      No, what “does not count” is the notion that Olbermann’s quip genuinely sought people to beat Hilary Clinton with fisticuffs. Context matters. That’s why I included it. Like I said, nice try.

  17. peteherr January 11, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I don’t blame the right for this. I blame the shooter. I do think we have spiralled into a bad place where Anger and Fear are the primary emotions in the tone of the country. Here’s my BLOG POST contribution to the discussion for those that would like to read it.

  18. Mike In WNY January 11, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    So you are saying Paling genuinely sought people to shoot Congresswoman Giffords, a Federal Judge, a 9 year old girl and others? Right, nice try.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      No. Can you indicate where I said that, Mike?

  19. BobbyCat January 11, 2011 at 11:07 am #


    Of course nobody knows the motivation of a madman, but the toxic the toxic “climate of hate” as Krugman call it, is more than knowable, it’s unmistakable and palpable, it’s everywhere on TV and on “hate radio”. It started with the success of Fox News. Fox News, a foreign-owned corporation, under Roger Ailes sells right wing propaganda. Propaganda is lies. They drum up lies to infuriate low information Americans to fan the flames of anger in America. They have succeeded beyond believe. This is no time to paly it safe with false equivalency. Both sides did not create the climate of hate. It comes from the right and all the usual suspects. Most people were expecting something like this to happen. It was very predictable. Now, the worry is copy-cat killers who might be hearing voices as we speak – instructions coming from the cosmic universe, or maybe from demagogues like Glenn Beck.

  20. Mike In WNY January 11, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Exactly Alan, Olbermann’s quote is equivalent to Palin’s.

    • Alan Bedenko January 11, 2011 at 11:59 am #

      Olbermann put out a hit list of people with gunsights? Link, please.

  21. Bbill January 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    This may not be convenient or helpful for those who try to push the absurd “both sides” canard.

  22. Leo Wilson January 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    OK, I”m going back on my word to refrain from posting. When this clamor about vitriol and maps with targets came up, the DCCC hastily took down its own targeting map, ostensibly of republicans that voted against the stimulous bill. That map compared to the map in the link above, except… when you hovered over the target mark, up popped a picture with a short bio of the targeted congressman. It stayed there until folks decided to make political hay of Palin’s map.

    Canard? No, simple facts.

    I notice you guys piled on this issue at the same time as all the mainstream media… not that I expect an answer, but is someone at your site a subscriber/contibutor to Cabalist?

  23. Matt January 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Keith Olbermann apologized for that remark in 2008 and he did it again the other day.

  24. BobbyCat January 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Today I heard longish sound bytes of Glenn Beck urging retired Special Opps soldiers to help overthrow the government. He didn’t offer specific targets but I didn’t hear the whole program and I’m not sure when it was broadcast. But it was clearly sedition. Where is the Attorney General, the FBI, the FCC? I’m tempted to file a complaint just to see what will (not) happen.

  25. Starbuck January 11, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    the DCCC hastily took down its own targeting map, ostensibly of republicans

    Actually, Leo, there were not one but at least two maps published by leading Democrats in recent years with targeting imagery over states or districts. One in 2004 from the DLC and another in 2010 from the DCCC. Nice warm civil rhetoric was used including “behind enemy lines”, “ripe targets”, and “Targeted Republican: [followed by a Republican’s name]”.

    Both shown here (below Palin’s map)

    Pundit a few days ago commented:

    I don’t know, Paul, whether Sarah Palin “wanted her shot”, because I can’t read her mind.

    What I do know is that Sarah Palin placed Congresswoman Giffords on what amounts to a hit list of congresspeople she’d like to have defeated in 2010, and then graphically placed gunsights over her congressional district on a map. It doesn’t, therefore, really matter what Sarah Palin “thought”. What matters is what she said, what she wrote, what her people drew, what she released.

    To illustrate how ridiculous that is, let’s have a look at the same wording adjusted for the two Democrat maps:

    I don’t know whether Democrats who funded and published those two maps hoped any Republicans would be shot, because I can’t read their minds.

    What I do know is those Democrats placed Republican members of Congress on what amounts to a hit list of congresspeople they’d like to have defeated in 2004 and 2010, and then graphically placed target graphics over their states and congressional districts on a map. Twice. It doesn’t, therefore, really matter what those leading Democrats “thought”. What matters is what they said, what they wrote, what their people drew, what they released. Twice.

  26. Starbuck January 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    My link to BP’s comment didn’t work. I was referring to this one

  27. Leo Wilson January 12, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I saw the picture of Gabby Gifford with he AK-47 in her hands (no muzzle flash, I don’t know if she actually fired it) and decided that I’m out of this discussion for good. I don’t need to be involved in anything this absurd or this tasteless anymore.

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