In the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocent bystanders, many pixels have been spilled handwringing about what part of the political specrtum Jared Lee Loughner belongs to.
The reason for this is not, as the Palins of the world have insisted, because the left is primed and ready to “pin this on the right.” It is because the immediate reaction of the left to the shooting was not shock or surprise or disbelief. It is because, to a person, our reaction was, “Oh my God, the tea partiers have finally done it.”
And of course, if they’re honest, this was the reaction on the right as well — which is why Sarah Palin’s staffers spent the hours following Loughner’s shooting spree pulling down inconvenient photos from Palin’s site and scrubbing vitriolic tweets.
Loughner’s politics ended up being more complex than simply being a tea partier — his political views, such as they were, appear to have been influenced by the fringe-of-fringe-right sovereign citizen movement and by a deep and abiding misogyny. But his apparent mental illness makes his true motivations rather more opaque than those of his predecessor in violence, Byron Williams.
What, the name Byron Williams doesn’t ring a bell? Well, why would it? He didn’t manage to kill anyone. He was just on his way to kill people, lots of people, when he was thankfully apprehended by police in California after a firefight that, fortunately, killed nobody. Williams was, he said, on his way to kill people at the Tides Center, whose sister organization, the Tides Foundation, funds progressive groups. Williams said he intended to “start a revolution.”
But nobody died, and Obama was the true enemy of liberty, so the story got swept under the rug. But if you’re wondering, where did Byron Williams get the idea to attack a relatively unknown 501(3)(c) ? Why, from Glenn Beck:
In a jailhouse interview, Williams said that he “would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.” He said he regarded Beck “like a schoolteacher on TV.”
“You need to go back to June — June of this year, 2010 — and look at all his programs from June, and you’ll see he’s been breaking open some of the most hideous corruption,” Williams said.
Funny, you didn’t hear much about that two months later, when Beck was restoring honor with his goose flyover in Washington, did you?
Of course, as Sarah Palin has taken pains to tell us, just because someone on the right uses violent rhetoric, that doesn’t mean that they’re responsible for violence. And certainly, Glenn Beck never called for violence against anyone, right?
For the YouTube impaired, Raw Story sums it up:
Discussing Democratic leaders during a June broadcast for the Republican Fox News Channel, conspiracy host Glenn Beck told his followers they would have to “shoot them in the head” in order to bring an end to an alleged “communist” agenda.
“They believe in communism,” he said. “They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.”
Well…okay, but Beck probably wasn’t referring to anyone like a Congressperson. He’s probably referring to a surveyor’s mark, right?
I will stand against you and so will millions of others. We believe in something. You in the media and most in Washington don’t. The radicals that you and Washington have co-opted and brought in wearing sheep’s clothing — change the pose. You will get the ends.
You’ve been using them? They believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.
They are dangerous because they believe. Karl Marx is their George Washington. You will never change their mind. And if they feel you have lied to them — they’re revolutionaries. Nancy Pelosi, those are the people you should be worried about.
Here is my advice when you’re dealing with people who believe in something that strongly — you take them seriously. You listen to their words and you believe that they will follow up with what they say.
So you will have to shoot “them” in the head. And “them” includes — explicitly includes — the then-Speaker of the House of Representatives.
And the right wonders why the left immediately assumed Loughner was, like Williams, a Beck fan with a gun, who took the words of the leaders of the right to heart?
But of course, they don’t. Not really. Deep down, they know how much fire they’ve been playing with, they know exactly how badly this could all blow up. Indeed, it almost did in California. And the right knows exactly how lucky they are that Loughner turned out to be mentally ill, because it makes it harder for us to get to the bottom of what caused him to lash out, since crazy people are just crazy, you know? Maybe he’s a leftist. He liked Hitler, right?
No, left and right both know that the violence is situated on the right. Not because only right-wingers can be terrorists — the Weather Underground should have laid that idea to rest here in America long ago. But right now, leading voices on the right — a presidential contender, a leading talk-show host, members of Congress — are lending their tacit and not-so-tacit support to the idea that violent revolution is not just acceptable, but desirable. In the darkest days of the Bush presidency, the closest any lefty got to calling for the death of conservatives was a crappy novel by Nicholson Baker in which he concluded Bush shouldn’t be killed. You never heard Al Franken suggesting that we should shoot Dennis Hastert in the head. You never saw John Edwards put out a map with “surveyor’s marks” on vulnerable Congressional districts.
This is why rhetoric matters. Not because it necessarily motivated Loughner — it probably didn’t, at least not directly — but because it has motivated Williams. Because it could motivate others. And because even if nobody else picks up a gun based on the rhetoric of the Palins and Angles and Becks of the world, the idea that our government is not just misguided but tyrannical undermines the very foundation of that government. The statement — even spoken hyperbolically — that a literal revolution may be necessary to sweep out the “communists” in Washington is a statement advocating the overthrow of the duly elected federal government.
There’s a word for that. But of course, it can’t apply to Beck. Because “treason” is only a word liberals have to bear.
But more than anything, the word that describes rhetoric like this is wrong. It is wrong to say we need to kill our leaders. And it’s wrong — deeply, unfathomably wrong — that anyone should even need to say that.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: I erred when I stated Beck was telling viewers to kill politicians. He was in fact telling politicians to kill liberal activists. Please see the above post for a correction and extension of this post.