All of the newspapers are filled with analysis of the event and what leading up to it could have possibly triggered it. Is there a general political malaise in Arizona if not America or is this the work of a lone nut job?
The south-eastern corner of conservative Arizona has been deeply divided by various issues and it was only after a harsh campaign that Giffords was narrowly re-elected in November to a third term in the House of Representatives. She is a fierce opponent of Arizona’s controversial immigration law and has been targeted by the Tea Party for her vote in favour health care reform. It has been reported that Giffords had even received threats during the campaign. Apparently, in August 2009, a man with a gun was forcibly removed from one of her rallies then in March 2010 a glass door to her office were broken by vandals just after the landmark health care vote.
Liberals have pointed out a webpage posted during the November elections created by Sarah Palin’s political action committee which showed a map of the United States with the locations of vulnerable politicians, including Giffords, designated with cross-hairs. "These sorts of things I think invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," said Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, in an interview with CNN.
The most telling statement about all of this has come from Clarence Dupnik, the local Democratic sheriff. He was quoted as saying, "Let me say one thing, because people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that — That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences."
I am confident that at the end of day, Jared Lee Loughner will be passed off as an unstable personality, a nut job, who is at fault in all this. However I can’t help think of a number of signs which may point to another phenomenon.
Freedom of Speech
In my blog Freedom of Speech: Freedom to say anything?, I talk about one Hal Turner.
Mr. Turner is a shock jock radio host and a white supremacist that has a history of threatening public figures. In 2005, disagreeing with the handling of a court case against Matt Hale (another white supremacist who is now in jail), Turner published the names and addresses of the presiding judges on his web site with the suggestion they should be assassinated. In 2008, he once again encouraged violence against a school superintendent who had set up a curriculum supporting gays and lesbians.
On June 2, 2009, in response to a 3 judge panel upholding a handgun ban in Chicago, Turner wrote on his blog:
"Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions."
Turner then published information on how to find the judges.
Mr. Turner was arrested on June 3, 2009 on charges of inciting his website’s readers to take up arms against the officials. There have been 3 trials. The first trial ended with the jury being deadlocked, the 2nd was declared a mistrial but the 3rd trial found him guilty on August 13, 2010 of threatening the 3 judges. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Hal Turner, in his defence, stated that he did not say that he himself would kill the judges; he merely said that "they deserve to be killed."
On 21 December 2010, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Murder by Proxy
In my blog Anti-Abortionists: Murder By Proxy, I talk about a technique of intimidation where you publish the name, address and other particulars about an individual you don’t like then make a case about why this person is bad. You then sit back and wait for somebody, who may be a bit unhinged, to takes it upon themselves to carry out the siren call of murder thinking they are answering to a higher calling. A gentleman by the name of Neal Horsley (see my blog The Face of Anti-Abortionists: Neal Horsley) has been using this tactic with so called abortion doctors.
Seem impossible? That is precisely how suicide bombers work. You convince somebody that what they are doing is the will of God or it is for the greater good and you can convince somebody to do anything even killing innocent people or murdering a politician.
Who’s at fault?
At the end of day, Jared Lee Loughner pulled the trigger. He’s the one who will be spending the rest of his life in jail. But what about everyone else? Is Clarence Dupnik, the local sheriff correct when he said, "… people tend to pooh-pooh … all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public … That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences."
As Hal Turner said in his defence, he did not say that he himself would kill the judges whose names and addresses he had posted on his web site, he merely said that "they deserve to be killed." That’s a pretty fine line, Mr. Turner but there is no doubt in my mind you’ve clearly crossed it. I trust your 33 months of incarceration will give you the time to reflect on that line and how in the future you may remain on this side of it with the rest of us.
Maybe all of us need to re-examine the message we’re putting out there. If we continue to point at people yelling, "Guilty" or "Evil" or even publishing a map with cross-hairs on it, sooner or later somebody is going to think they have the right to take a pot shot at them.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle.
Wikipedia: 2011 Tucson Shooting
Giffords is the most senior U.S. politician to be shot since the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in March 1981.
BBC: Will the shooting change how politicians deal with the public?
By Katie Connolly BBC News, Washington – January 9, 2011