As the gun smoke clears, the Right run for cover.

As someone who once lived in the area of Tucson where the politically motivated shooting of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others occurred, I have something of a personal connection to the event. I shopped in the strip mall where the attack took place and still have friends in Tucson who I visit when possible. Were I still living at my last address there,  Giffords would have been my Representative. I am well aware of Arizona political culture and the issues that divide it, and know something about its gun laws as well. Thus I am not surprised one iota that an assassination attempt on a “liberal” Democrat would happen in Arizona, although it is somewhat surprising that it happened in Tucson, which is a liberal college town oasis in an otherwise vast political landscape of new and old right-wing conservatism.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as news of the shootings hit the airwaves left-leaning commentators blamed right-wingers for inciting the killer while GOP leaders, Tea Party representatives and the populist demagogues in the media all moved quickly to put distance between themselves and the gunman even though the latter professed beliefs that were very much in concert with the thrust of the Tea Party message as well as those of earlier conservative fringe movements. In fact, some in the rightwing media suggested that the Left has its own violent extremists so the table is balanced on that score.

To which I ask: when was the last time a Left activist in the US attempted to kill a politician? Lee Harvey Oswald was less a committed Stalinist during his time in the USSR and more of a social outcast looking for a belief system to cling to (I shall defer from bringing in Mafia-related and other conspiracy theories at this point). John Hinkley’s attack on Ronald Reagan does not count as he was motivated by the demons in his head, and the attacks on Gerald Ford by members of Charles Manson’s gang in the mid-1970s were equally devoid of political content. But as recently as 2009 a right wing extremist, apparently egged on by the commentary of talkshow rabble rousers, killed abortionist George Tiller outside his church. This has followed a series of attacks carried out by right wing militants that include the Oklahoma City bombing and repeated attacks across the country on abortion clinics. Minutemen and other self-professed right wing militias have demonstrated a penchant for violence against others. The Unibomber was motivated by a mix of left and right views. Islamicists operate according to a profoundly conservative belief system. Anti-Castro Cuban nationalists have committed acts of domestic and international terrorism (including the bombing of a Cuban airliner) in pursuit of their conservative goals.

In contrast, Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front have lefty ideals and destroy property but do not kill people. Anti-trade protestors and anarchists have run riot in Seattle and DC but mostly gotten (some might say well-deserved) police beatings and tear gassed for their efforts. Puerto Rican nationalists have disrupted Congress and planted bombs but killed no one. Thus it would seem that contrary to the claim that the US Left has its fair share of murderous extremists, not since the days of the SLA, Weatherman and Black Panthers has there been a deadly attack carried out by Left militants on political targets. During that same time period, in contrast, the right wing fringe has claimed dozens of victims, of which those in Tucson are the latest. Truth be told, this is only the latest in a long history of right wing assassination attempts on “liberal” political targets that are seen as “communists,” “socialists,” Trilateral Commission and World Government surrender monkeys, atheists or some unholy combination of all of the above. Just as the John Birch Society had its fair share of armed extremists, so now it appears that modern US conservative movements attract a similar element to their ranks. 

To put a not-so-fine point on it: be it as lone wolves or as part of a criminal conspiracy, it is the fringes of the US Right where most political violence comes from. Even if in most cases the extremists involved exhibited signs of mental illness (as in this case), in the modern US it is right-wing militants who disproportionately get murderous. That could be due to the lack of appeal for calls for working class “revolution” in a country founded on the sanctity of individual liberties and property rights, but one would think that would make Leftist militants more rather than less prone to violence against those political figures that attract their ire. Instead, it is the reverse.

Rather than debate the question of how complicit, implicitly or explicitly, the Tea Party, GOP, Sarah Palin and conservative media have been in the Tucson attack, let me offer a simple formula that outlines the context in which it occurred (and will occur again). Note that this “formula” is exclusive to the US but can be altered, mutatis mutandis,  to apply to other countries as well:

Loose gun control laws+availability of semi-automatic weapons+polarised politics+venomous hate mongering political rhetoric in media and in election campaigns+rapid demographic change+economic crisis+ eroding social cohesion and solidarity+deranged or otherwise sociopathic personality disorders+precipitating event (personal or political)=likelihood of an armed attack on a perceived “traitor” by someone espousing militant ideological views.

In the contemporary US, this formula suggests that the attack in Tucson is neither unique or a once-off, and in fact points to a condition of ongoing anomie that barring a major change in both the structural and superstructural causal factors listed above, will lead to more such events in the near to medium future. Rather than the content of any one ideology or creed, it is the combination of factors that makes for the murderous enemy within, and no amount of blame-fixing and scapegoating of “foreign” beliefs detract from that fundamental fact.

PS: for those interested in a more immediate look at the tragedy, take a gander at my old home town newspaper:

UPDATE: As if on cue a NZ version of the unhinged reactionary chickenhawk faction weighs in, with a link to this post:


21 thoughts on “As the gun smoke clears, the Right run for cover.

  1. I thought Rep. Giffords was considered a conservative democrat (centrist overall – favouring gun rights, etc.)?

    To which I ask: when was the last time a Left activist in the US attempted to kill a politician?

    Some would suggest yesterday. Certainly, at least one of those who knew him at high school has portrayed him as having left wing political views four(?) years ago. One of the favourited videos on what appears to by his youtube account was of someone burning an American flag.

    This may be a good time to discuss the consequences of heightened political rhetoric, and violent political language, but it seems too early to sheet this home as a right-wing (or left-wing) attack. The guy’s biggest beef seems to have been government control of grammar.

  2. Graeme:

    I put the word “liberal” in quotation marks precisely to highlight the dubious use of that term when describing Giffords. The point is, of course, that anyone who does not adhere to the anti-DC, pro-small govt, white Christian nation thesis is considered a heretic by the far Right in Arizona and elsewhere, and that fringe has long historical roots and has recently been stoked by the political climate of the moment however one chooses to attribute blame or responsibility for the attack.
    As for the motivations of the killer: surely you do not suggest that a video of a flag burning and the opinion of a teenage classmate amount to conclusive proof that he had lefty views? I would argue the contrary based on what I have read so far, but the proof will be told when the evidence against him is made and his defense provided.

  3. Looks like some of the language stuff is related to one David Wynn Miller, (nah, me neither):

    Wikipedia doesn’t have much to say about him, but he seems to be tangentially related to the ‘Sovereign Citizen’ folks who, amongst other things, argue that income taxes are a con, and that you can exempt yourself from paying them if you phrase it right.

    Certainly looks more like the stuff you find in militia circles than, erm, whatever the leftie equivalent is.

  4. Pablo, I wrote a comment, but it was far too long. Would you object if I emailed it to you?

  5. BK: Long time no hear. Good to see you back. Is the comment too long for the reply protocol/word limit? You are welcome to send the comment to me via email but I will have to figure out how to paste it into the reply window. Or, you could cut the comment into two replies. I’ll see if Anita and Lew have any ideas as they are much more conversant about the technical stuff.

  6. surely you do not suggest that a video of a flag burning and the opinion of a teenage classmate amount to conclusive proof that he had lefty views?

    I absolutely do not suggest that. I was just taking issue with your claim (some explicit, some implicit) that this was right-wing violence. It may have been, or it may not have been.

  7. Thanks Pablo.

    The comment was not so long as to incur technical difficulties. It was too long, however, to be a “reasonable” contribution to a comment thread.

    I’ll take the liberty of revising it a bit over dinner (I have a cold, so it may be best to remove the bits where it’s the fever talking), and I shall offer it to you by email more for your entertainment than as a public contribution.

  8. From the above link:

    On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story, “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics.” Nowhere did it mention the vitriol hurled at Tea Party activists, who are routinely derided to as “tea baggers” and racists, and now stand accused of incitement to murder. If you want an example of the lack of civility plaguing our political discourse, look no further than this weekend’s shameful efforts to use this tragedy to demonize the Tea Party.

    Quite. You should be ashamed of yourself man.

  9. If a psycho is a psycho no matter what he’s reading, then why the different treatment by tne American Right of this case vis-a-vis the Fort Hood/Nadil Malik Hasan incident?

  10. Phil and scrubone:

    Not surprisingly, in your comments you reveal more about yourselves than comprehension of what I wrote (to wit, a defensive, myopic knee-jerk reaction to what you perceive as an attack on conservatism). Although I note that the US Right has had a disproportionate edge in attracting violent extremists in modern times (a matter of historical record), I also specifically declined to blame any specific group or person for inciting this attack. Instead I offered a “formula” that outlined the causal factors behind such attacks and specified that this applied regardless of the ideology espoused by the perpetrators.

    I would suggest that you try not to be so defensive and face facts: the current political context in the US is an environment that encourages politically-minded violence on the part of unhinged people, and most of these people have recently gravitated to Right causes. I also realise that you take your argument from the Fox News meme that the gunman was a lone nutter, but equating liberal anti-tea party rhetoric with a shooting rampage is simply ridiculous (I guess the people showing up with guns at Tea Party rallies and Obama appearances are merely exercising their 2nd ammendment rights–yeah right). As I wrote in the post, if anything the Left have more to feel aggrieved about in the US, and yet their “extremism” is limited to calling people names (as opposed to questioning the birthplace and religion of the president, among other things). So the attempt to make some equivalent comparison is spurious as well as silly.

    As for “liberal reading psycho shooter with all of the exclusions,” well Phil, you lost me there. In fact, it reads as exactly something Mr. Loughner would say.

  11. BK: I refer you to social scientist’s reply above. Put another way, why is the media and political Right so quick to paint Loughner as a simple nutter when it fell over itself to portray Malik Hasan as ideologically driven?

    As for the parallel with Squeaky Fromme–you must be joking. Fromme and her pals were ordered by Manson to kill Ford as proof of their loyalty to the former. Loughner has used a explicitly political rationale to justify his actions, even if that rationale is confused and incoherent to the rest of us. That rationale is Right-deranged in nature.

  12. You’re probably right, and I’m probably wrong.

    Fort Hood — I am seriously disinclined to defend the behaviour of the media and the political Right in their putrid rush to judgement of Hasan’s motives. It was precisely that which made me stop reading about the case at the time, so I can’t comment further.

    I’ll withdraw my comment on Fromme because I stated it so badly I’ve now forgotten what point I was trying to make.

    Loughner as “Right-deranged” — I can’t even make enough sense of his statements to make that diagnosis. (Except for his support of bimetallism, which is a minority taste on both Left and (more frequently, but still not commonly) Right.) To my eye, he’s just sampling from whatever the political equivalent of the cultic milieu is, in the spirit of a deranged independent scholar. He appears unaffiliated to any party, and absent even that unreliable proxy, I think everyone should take extra care in making judgements.

    Is this position really so unreasonable?

  13. BK: I must say that having seen his mug shot, he does appear to be absolutely starkers. But then again, so did several of the Tea Party-backed candidates in the last midterm election. :-0

  14. why the different treatment by tne American Right of this case vis-a-vis the Fort Hood/Nadil Malik Hasan incident?

    For the same reason the left are treating them differently? To try to turn the matter to political advantage.

    (Or, more charitably, they listened to left critiques about their rush to judgment in respect of Maj. Hasan, and mended their ways :-)

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