Tag Archives: Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords Returns to the House

2 Aug

Yesterday, the vote voted in favor of the debt ceiling/spending cuts deal hashed out to avoid default. Tea partiers and the left detest the deal, which probably means it’s not that bad. Notably, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head by an armed madman in January, returned to the House to cast her vote in favor of the compromise package.

Welcome back, Congresswoman.

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President Obama’s Remarks At the Memorial Service for the Victims of the Tucson Massacre

12 Jan
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 8:  U.S. President Ba...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery At a Memorial Service for the Victims of the Shooting in Tucson, Arizona

University of Arizona, McKale Memorial Center
Tucson, Arizona

January 12, 2011 As Prepared for Delivery—

To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona:  I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts.  But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight.  We mourn with you for the fallen.  We join you in your grief.  And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.  They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders – representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation’s capital.  Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.

That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets.  And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday – they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years.  A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge.  His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit.  He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative.  John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris – “Dot” to her friends – were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters.  They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon.  Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say.  When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife.  Both were shot.  Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter.  A gifted quilter, she’d often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered.  A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together – about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.  A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux.  His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion – but his true passion was people.  As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.  He died doing what he loved – talking with people and seeing how he could help.  Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer.  She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her.  She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, “We are so blessed.  We have the best life.”  And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.  Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak.  And I can tell you this – she knows we’re here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.

And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others.  We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive.  We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload.  We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives.  And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle.  They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength.  Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned – as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us.  It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward.  How can we honor the fallen?  How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.  In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.”  Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack.  None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy.  We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected.  We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward.  We reflect on the past.   Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.  Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us?  Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.  We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order.  We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.  For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong.  We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them.  In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners.  Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son.  In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law.  In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children.  So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example.  If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.  Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents.  And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.  It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better.  Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe.  We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.  I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed.  Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.  She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful.  She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model.  She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.”  On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life.  “I hope you help those in need,” read one.  “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart.  I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.  And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace.  May He love and watch over the survivors.  And may He bless the United States of America.

The Land of Make-Believe

12 Jan

While explaining how bad it is to “politicize” the attempted assassination of a politician by a madman with odd political views, the right wing has further politicized it by trying to create a “Loughner was a leftist” meme.  Have it both ways, you can’t.

With that said, one would have hoped that a bullet going through the skull of a congresswoman targeted by a hit list may have given people pause and contributed to a soul-searching about violent rhetoric that’s been quite popular on the right, especially in the last year.

No such luck.

Instead, the right has denied, denied, denied that (a) its rhetoric was in any way overheated;  (b) that overheated, violent rhetoric is perfectly ok; and (c) the left is as bad if not worse.  Oh, well.  We all know that this right here is absolutely what happened on Sunday.  Attempts at equivalency have been uniformly lame and unpersuasive, pointing to apologized-for Olbermannian metaphors, or Obama quoting from the Untouchables (ignoring the fact that, in that particular instance, the other side would have already come armed with knives).

Since it’s clear that the right wing absolutely refuses to accept any blame for anything, ever, here are some handy tips provided by Josh Marshall for what ought to be generally acceptable political behavior.  Conservatives are welcome to ignore them, I suppose, since there’s nothing wrong with any of it, or because the left-did-it-too-but-there’s-really-no-proof-of-that.

1. Refrain from telling supporters that winning the election may require active exercise of their “second amendment” rights.

2. Refrain from suggesting it’s time for “armed revolution”, even if Thomas Jefferson once kinda sorta suggested that.

3. Refrain from holding political fundraisers focused around use of automatic weapons, especially target practices with initials, name or images of your political opponent.

4. Refrain from telling supporters you want them to be “armed and dangerous.”

5. Refrain from making campaign posters with opponent’s head in gun sights.

6. Refrain from saying that bullets will work if ballots don’t.

7. Suggest that supporters not bring weapons to opponents’ political rallies.

All seven of those examples are genuine things that happened in 2010.  There was no problem whatsoever in 2010.  The Republicans are going all Barbrady on everyone’s ass.

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Say what you will about the Buffalo News, but its editorial yesterday was exactly on target.

…with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Fox News taking up the cudgel. Today, no slander is too vile, no lie too pernicious to be leveled as conservatives, in and out of government, thrash at President Obama and his agenda. Coulter calls Democrats treasonous. Sarah Palin says the health reform law creates “death panels.” Her website put cross hairs on the districts of elected officials she was targeting for defeat. One was Giffords’.

It happens in New York, too. Last year’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, repeatedly charged over the line in criticizing his opponent Andrew M. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and even former Republican Gov. George E. Pataki.

Against that onslaught, the liberal insults of Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow seem almost benign, though some on the left have this in common with their right-wing adversaries: They, too, have a stake in casting issues as black and white, driving the sides further apart and making compromise ever more difficult. Why didn’t Republicans work to improve last year’s health care reform bill instead of working to subvert it? Because in the current climate there is no percentage in making government work.

There’s a lot of sowing, but not enough reaping.  I sure wish that the Republican mainstream would stop egging dummies on with rhetoric that basically equates Obama and the Democrats with SatanHitlerMao, but they won’t because it helps shore up the whackjob vote they apparently so desperately need.  I sure wish that the Republican mainstream would stop fetishizing guns in conjunction with their “the other side is a bunch of death-panel-making commienazi” rhetoric, but to do so might mean that they’d have to participate in a government with Democratic majorities.

Let’s just put it this way – it’d be swell if no more lawmakers were shot through the head.  Have a great day!

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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.

Palinism – Folksy Fascism for the 21st Century

9 Jan
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The face of 21st Century American Fascism

Chris does a wonderful job outlining the violent rhetoric that’s emanated from the angry right over the past couple of years, featuring such stars as Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and other bright lights among the tea party vanguard.

He titles his post “Inciting a Revolution”.  I disagree with the “Revolution” part, mostly because there’s no coherent or cohesive vision of a new America that these people represent.  They don’t seek a revolution that would somehow change the fundamentals of American representative democracy.  To the contrary, they claim to be the proudest and strongest adherents to its constitutional constructs.  Right down to the reading.

What they’re doing with their nihilist, eliminationist, violent rhetoric is inciting a riot, nothing more.  When Sarah Palin posts Gabrielle Giffords’ name with a gunsight over a map of her congressional district, that’s the same as yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater.  When Palin urges her minions to not “retreat” but “reload”, she’s deliberately and knowingly inciting violence.  Not just any violence – but the kind that murders people.  When you take all of the rhetoric together, from all relevant sources, it’s become evident that the American right wing has become infested with the same dirty bloodlust that led a Niagara County militia follower to blow up the Murrah Federal Building, and the men, women, and children within.

Yesterday, not only did the shooter injure a Congresswoman, but he murdered six people, among them a federal Judge and a nine year-old little girl.  Maybe the 2nd Amendment ought not apply to idiot paranoid schizophrenics.

I watched the alleged shooter’s YouTube videos and he’s not much different from any other semi-literate, uninformed, dumb, mentally ill mass murderers you’d come across in any given day.  We knew anyone who would commit mass murder would be a psychotic.

But that’s the point.  The greater issue is how a certain brand of domestic fascism has made it socially acceptable within that circle to joke about or incite violence against political opponents, and how that might play in an unhinged mind.

Palinism, which is what I’ve come to call the Tea Party movement, is food for the weak-minded.  Her brand of facile exclusionary bully politics, mixed in with clumsy jingoism, virulent hatred, calls to arms, and  deliberate ignorance is little more than a 21st century fascism.  After all, fascism is a hypernationalistic, ignorant, violent, eliminationist, political philosophy that relies on hatred.

When congresspeople can’t hold supermarket meet ‘n greets with constituents without tight security, the very foundation of our representative democracy has been rocked.  That this threat is a domestic one makes it all the more curious.

After all, the Palinists would have you believe that endless war is so totally necessary to protect our motherland fatherland homeland.  Yet the biggest risk the homeland faces is from the Palinist fascists themselves.

For fascism to grow, it needs a mortal enemy.  In Italy, it was the foreigners, democrats, and socialists who helped bring about perceived post-WWI slights preventing it from becoming a great power.  In Germany, it was the Versailles “Diktat”, which the Nazis blamed on foreign democracies and “international Jewry”.  For the Palinist fascists, it’s Obama and American Democrats for plunging America into Soviet-style communism by passing health care reform and suggesting cap & trade.

Here, the spark that lit the fire of Palinist fascism was the election of Barack Obama.  Although he’s as corporate-friendly a centrist Democrat as you’re likely ever to find, because of his name, his family history, his past employment, and his race, the Palinists have beat a drum for quite literally two + years that Obama is some sort of Muslim, foreign, Kenyan, unAmerican, Marxist, Communist usurper.  Although he legitimately won a fair and free election in 2008, they seek to delegitimize him through lies that play to people’s fears and rank prejudices.

You know, when liberals complained about George W. Bush’s legitimacy, people forget that there was a Supreme Court case fought over that very issue.  The claim, as they say, was colorable.  Here, no such factual basis exists.

Even though a solid majority of Americans voted for Barack Obama and, in turn, the policies he proposed, the Palinists claimed – shouted – that his perfectly reasonable policy proposals were tantamount to an abolition of the American experiment altogether.  We’d be subsumed by the United Nations or  the New World Order or whatever the bogeyman-du-jour might be, and America would become some sort of big, huge Cuba.

The rhetoric turned especially ugly when the Democrats passed a health care reform program that gave consumers more rights and failed to fundamentally change the status quo.  Note the date of the Palin tweet above.  Then note the date of this story.  Those Palinist fascist calls for a blood orgy were made the day after the heath care reform bill was passed.

When fascists complain falsely, but loudly enough about the legitimacy, policies, and danger to the republic the President and his party represent – bad things are bound to happen.

And then, when those bad things happen, they whine and cry about how both sides need to tamp down the rhetoric.

Well, no

Both sides don’t need to tamp down the rhetoric.  One side is guilty of maintaining or giving express or implied support and approval of eliminationist, hateful, violent, dehumanization of its opponents. The American right wing has become radicalized beyond recognition – its rhetoric and lies, and its calls to violence go far beyond what is acceptable in a western pluralist democratic republic.  Its behavior is ignorant fascism, and it’s time we called it that.  It’s also time that the opponents of that Palinist virus become more effective at rhetorically politically defeating it.

Luckily, America is better than Palinist fascism – a militant, violent, uninformed, ignorant, hateful and un-Democratic bucket of incitement.

Inciting A Revolution

9 Jan

You might remember a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report (which was slammed by right wing pundits), titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” and warned of a rise in violence spurred by the economic downturn and the election of the nation’s first African-American president.

In the report, which can be found here, the DHS defined “rightwing” in part as groups and individuals “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

On Saturday, January 8th, 2011, America received a wakeup call from the extreme fringe with the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ-8). The shooter also wounded seventeen people and murdered six others, including a federal judge and a 9 year old girl during his shooting spree.

Giffords warned of this kind of behavior after her office was vandalized during the healthcare debate of 2009/2010.

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They really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up, and, you know, even things for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. When people do that, you gotta realize there’s consequences to that action. – Rep. Giffords

The angry rhetoric from the right wing continued during the 2010 campaign season when her opponent, a Tea Party candidate and war veteran, Jesse Kelly hosted a “Get on Target for Victory in November” event at which supporters were offered the opportunity to shoot a fully automatic M-16 and celebrate removing Giffords from office.

In other parts of the country, similar stories surfaced.  Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party fringe member, Sharron Angle reminded voters that there were “second amendment remedies” if Congress continued on its current path and that Senator Harry Reid needed to be “taken out”.

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Of course, Sarah Palin surfaced again with a plea to “commonsense conservatives” to “reload” rather than retreat.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R, MN) advised her constituents to be armed and dangerous while reminding them that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with blood of patriots and tyrants” due to the imagined threat of healthcare death panels and political re-education camps.

Bachmann also claimed that the President is anti-American and members of Congress are also un-American.

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There are literally hundreds of other examples of violent rhetoric from right wing politicians and pundits that have turned the national political discourse into a daily war filled with violent language and imagery.  In a country where a nationally syndicated radio host compares President Obama to Pol Pot and the most watched cable news channel in the country routinely compares the President to Marx, Hitler and Stalin…what hope do we have of reasonable discourse?

It is in this environment that confused, lost or mentally ill people find validation of their fringe beliefs and thoughts. One of those people is the alleged shooter of Rep. Giffords, Jared Lee Loughner.

Loughner does not fit the profile of a standard Tea Party patriot, but he certainly seems influenced by the movement.  He appears to be someone with an assortment of various political influences and is evidently a believer in shards of multiple fringe conspiracy theories. Loughner is an ideological mix of libertarian anti-federal reserve sentiment, right wing anti-immigrant vitriol, David Wynn Miller ideologies, and various other Alex Jones-like conspiracy theories.

His YouTube channel is a jumbled mess of barely sane rants and paints the picture of someone who is both mentally ill and politically angry:

“The majority of the citizens of the United States of America have never read the United States of America’s Constitution. You don’t have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws….In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current goverment because of the ratifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.

No! I won’t play debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God”

The point of laying all of this information out is not to draw a straight line from the rants of Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle or Michelle Bachmann and assign blame for the actions of this man. It is to point out that the political environment these people have helped create gives oxygen to the ideas of lunatics and paranoids.

In April of last year, President Clinton remarked that the current political climate reminded him of 1995 when the militia movement was gaining a foothold across the country and radical right wing ideologues were given the spotlight on the national stage after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.  Clinton, who was in his first term at the time of the bombing, warned that attempts to incite opposition by demonizing the government can provoke responses beyond what political figures intend.

There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

The former president said the potential for stirring a violent response might be even greater now with the reach of the Internet and other common ways of communication that did not exist on April 19, 1995, when the building was struck.

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.”

At various periods in its history, this country has sat upon a teetering plank of existence. When the forces of the fringe begin to crack the fulcrum of freedom, it’s imperative that we remedy the situation before the whole thing collapses under the weight of our prejudices.

We find ourselves in just such a period now.

America is mired in a deep recession and embroiled in a seemingly endless multi-front war against an enemy which knows no boundaries. The “war” on illegal immigration, the rise of nationalism, deep cultural divides, unprecedented disparity in wealth distribution, corporate personhood, global macroeconomic shifts and dozens of other crises have sewn a sense of uncertainty and fear. In a time like this, we should take stock of our words and actions and wonder if the example we set is informing insanity and inciting revolution from the fringe.

I’ll return to President Clinton for inspiration on how we should go about effecting change.  In a seminal speech at Michigan State University Clinton said,

But there is no right to resort to violence when you don’t get your way. There is no right to kill people. There is no right to kill people who are doing their duty or minding their own business or children who are innocent in every way. Those are the people who perished in Oklahoma City. And those who claim such rights are wrong and un-American.

Whenever in our history people have believed that violence is a legitimate extension of politics, they have been wrong.

Freedom of political speech will never justify violence—never. Our Founding Fathers created a system of laws in which reason could prevail over fear. Without respect for this law, there is no freedom.

So I say this to the militias and all others who believe that the greatest threat to freedom comes from the Government instead of from those who would take away our freedom: If you say violence is an acceptable way to make change, you are wrong. If you say that Government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom away, you are just plain wrong. If you treat law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for your safety every day like some kind of enemy army to be suspected, derided, and if they should enforce the law against you, to be shot, you are wrong. If you appropriate our sacred symbols for paranoid purposes and compare yourselves to colonial militias who fought for the democracy you now rail against, you are wrong. How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny! How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes!

If you want to preserve your own freedom, you must stand up for the freedom of others with whom you disagree. But you also must stand up for the rule of law. You cannot have one without the other.

The American equation needs to be reset and this tragedy in Tucson offers us the opportunity to conduct some national soul searching.

You might not like Keith Olbermann, but his Special Comment about the Giffords shooting was a first step in the right direction.

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Let’s hope that President Obama can answer the bell in a national time of need and point a new way forward.  Because it’s time to incite a revolution of normalcy.