Playing the denial and diversion game (with updated link).

In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, it has been unsurprising but nevertheless amazing at how the US media Right and other conservatives have rushed to deny any linkage between the shooting and the political climate of the moment. Even some of the usually smart contrarian commentators here at KP have been quick to join the chorus claiming that this attack was just the work of a lone nutter. But let it be clear: even if the killer has clear psychological issues, he chose a political target rather–as in the case of other mass killings by mentally disturbed individuals in the US in recent times–random strangers or family members. For that reason alone, the Tucson massacre is a politically-motivated crime regardless of the Right trying to deny it, and the proof of that is the federal indictments against Mr. Loughner.

Confronted with the obvious–that the vicious political discourse of recent times, a discourse rabidly promoted by conservative media outlets, internet commentators and political demagogues, has set the stage for an inevitable act of armed violence on the part of someone who shares, however partially and incoherently, the world view of the reactionary Right–the media Right and its political acolytes have turned to the tried and true tactic of deny and divert.

First, they deny that the shooting was a political act but instead was just an act of lunacy. These are the same media types who immediately saw world Jihadism behind the rampage conducted by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. They are the same people who describe murderous anti-abortionists as people of conviction led astray by the strength of  their beliefs, and who claim that the Oklahoma City bombing was conducted by some loser social misfits. The flatly refuse to acknowledge the context in which these attacks occurred, and they flatly refuse to accept their share of responsibility for fomenting an atmosphere of partisan hate and violence. In a country that has seen its popular culture debased and vulgarised to the point that gratuitous violence is a mainstay of popular entertainment and an attitude of insolent disrespect has become a norm in inter-personal exchange, such incendiary posturing does nothing more than provide an accelerant for those who are already disposed to act out in violent ways. And yet, the cowards in the media Right claim they had nothing to do with the events in Tucson.

Instead, they and their political allies have adopted the tactic of diverting and deflecting criticism towards the “liberal” press and politicians who they claim have attempted to make political capital out of the tragedy. They have attempted to equate Left liberal acts of civil disobedience, peaceful resistance and direct action with the shooting and previous Right wing threats of armed violence and actual acts of such (in the infamous list of purported Left wing acts of violence posted by a notorious Right wing blogger there is not a single image of anyone with a firearm, much less of anyone shooting or killing in pursuit of their beliefs. In fact, among the supposed comparable acts listed by that blogger are recordings of people laying down in the front of weapons trains in protest of war. Can that really be considered morally equivalent to a mass shooting? Only in the fevered mind of a Right wing apologist).

Reactionary attention has centred on the comments of Pima Country Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has held the job for 30 years based upon regular re-election as a Democrat (in a county that is majority Democratic in an otherwise Republican state). In his first press conference after the shootings Sheriff Dupnik denounced the climate of hate and atmosphere of bigotry that has descended on Arizona and the country in general. The Right went ballistic at his  mention of this patent fact, accusing him of partisanship, jeopardizing the case and failing in his duties to prevent the shooting because Laughner was known to the police prior to the event (ignoring the fact that his department is hamstrung by mental health and civil rights laws that prevent it from arresting individuals in cases short of domestic violence where reported threat behaviour is not materially imminent). In other words, in spite of the Right’s attempts to smear him, Sheriff Dupnik well knows of what he speaks, because it is his office that has to confront the daily consequences of loose gun laws an anti-immigrant sentiment in a county that extends down to the Mexican border. Put succinctly, Sheriff Dupnik stated the truth. For that public service, he has been pilloried by the Right wing media frothers.

Regardless of whether Mr. Loughner was indirectly or directly inspired by hate speech and the venom directed at the federal government and “liberals” by Right wing political-media networks, the simple point is the obvious point that Sheriff Dupnik was making: the increasingly public language of hate and divisiveness was the backdrop against which he carried out his rampage. He chose a political target. His intent was political assassination. His was, in sum, a political act, however deranged he may be. And that act was carried out against a “liberal” Democrat in the US federal government who has repeatedly been, along with others of her ideological persuasion, the direct recipients of the hyper partisan vitriol emanating from the mouths of the fear and hate-mongering Right.

No amount of denial, diversion and obfuscation can detract from that fact.

UPDATE: Frank Rich does a good job of summarising the situation.

12 thoughts on “Playing the denial and diversion game (with updated link).

  1. Come on, Pablo. The guy goes to her rally a few months back, asks “What is government if words don’t even mean anything”, isn’t satisfied, broods over it, then comes back shooting.

    Or should we blame Derrida and Foucault and semiotics?

    Sometimes a lone nutjob is just a lone nutjob.

  2. Sometimes a lone nutjob is just a lone nutjob.

    And sometimes they choose to go out and start shooting people.

    Is it really all that outrageous to suggest that maybe all the talk from the right about how the time may be near when patriots need to go out and start shooting people might affect some people, (people at the margin if you like), to decide that that time has come?

    Or that the more strident and consistent that talk is, the bigger that margin gets?

  3. It could be argued that Palin, in posing herself as the victim of a blood libel is trying to re-write history.

    The fact is the crosshairs imagery came from her campaign, the term lock and load derived from her campaign. The metaphorical language of violence was one of her own choosing. The risk people who use that approach to political contest take, is that if one of the members of Congress targeted in the crosshairs is then shot – then the link back to this language of violence will sheet home.

    But it appears she does not want to own any responsibility for her campaign rhetoric. That is not the – the buck stops with me sort of gravitas required of a Commander in Chief – it’s not even close.

    So it’s not a surprise that some effort went into the attempt to save her campaign for the Republican Party nomination. Not for her own sake, but for the power politics of the transfer of Tea Party delegates to anoint the candidate chosen.

  4. There are plenty of great reasons to dislike Sarah Palin. Why choose one that’s pretty shonky?

    Should we blame Grand Theft Auto for car theft? Rap music for spousal abuse?

  5. Eric, if you can’t tell the difference between political rhetoric and entertainment, I’m not sure we will get very far.

    Political rhetoric is designed to exhort action. When politicians are using the language of violent revolution in ways that seem literal, there is something qualitatively different going on from what happens in a video game or a piece of music.

    And the thing is of course, that video games, music, and movies etc do get blamed for influencing culture. Millions of words get written, laws get passed and classifications get handed out.

    No one is suggestting that Palin, or the right in general, should be banned from saying whatever damn fool thing they can think of.

    All I can see is people saying they should tone it down, or at least show some recognition that their rhetoric may be influencing things in a negative fashion.

    I’ll ask again, do you think it’s unreasonable to think that widespread revoltionary rhetoric from mainstream political figures might possibly affect people at the marigin towards revolutionary action?

  6. Adding to what Bookie says, I’d argue that the imperative here isn’t even that they should tone their rhetoric down — whether they do or don’t is fundamentally a matter of political strategy for them. I only require that they bear some of the political costs of events to which their exhortations may have contributed. Ultimately society will judge these events, the factors which contributed to them, and the character of the various responses. That’s as should be.

    Nobody is saying that Sarah Palin armed up Jared Lee Loughner and said ‘go shoot a congresswoman’. People are saying: consider the context, and people are considering that context. If the Tea Party can persuade the voting public of the USA and non-voting observers elsewhere accept their protestations that encouraging folk to turn up to rallies with an AR-15 and a banner which says ‘Time to water the Tree of Liberty’ has nothing to do with the shooting of a federal politician at another rally, then well done to them. If they can’t (and I don’t think they can) their political fortunes will suffer as a consequence. So: they either wind it back, or they start to lose support. If they want to keep pushing the ‘blood libel’, ‘don’t retreat, reload’ barrow and further alienating the four-fifths of Americans who are already opposed to the Tea Party or suspicious of its commitment to human decency, more power to them. Representative politics working as intended.

    All Pablo and others are doing is inviting people to consider the context.


  7. Even some of the usually smart contrarian commentators here at KP have been quick to join the chorus claiming that this attack was just the work of a lone nutter.

    It may be that I am one of those you reference. If so, I did not claim (or at least did not intend to claim) that it was the work of a lone nutter. My point was that we did not know whether it was political or nutty.

    I am just as happy responding this way to a claim (with all that it implies) that “in the modern US it is right-wing militants who disproportionately get murderous.” as I would be to a claim “in the modern world it is Muslims who disproportionately engage in terrorism.” It misses the point. I will not blame (effectively all of) the right without evidence, just as I will not (effectively) blame all of the Islamic world.

  8. Graeme:

    That is a false and grossly over-stretched analogy. The issue is not a whole group of people (Muslims, the US Right) but the violent minorities within those groups (in this case violent Leftists versus violent Rightists). My claim is simply that in the modern US it has been violent Rightists who have been disproportionately murderous.

    Are you saying that my claim that the violent Right in the US has been over-represented in the murderous column in recent years is false? If so, could you add up the amount of people killed and maimed by violent Leftists in the US versus those killed and maimed by violent Rightists since 1980 and let me know what you come up with.

    To make things easy, start with the Oklahoma City bombing and see if you find anything comparable carried out by the militant Left.

  9. That is a false and grossly over-stretched analogy. The issue is not a whole group of people (Muslims, the US Right) but the violent minorities within those groups (in this case violent Leftists versus violent Rightists). My claim is simply that in the modern US it has been violent Rightists who have been disproportionately murderous.

    And others’ would:

    simply claim that in the world today it is violent Muslims who are disproportionately involved in terrorism. Do you dispute that they are over-represented? To make things easy, start with 9-11 and see if you can find anything comparable carried out by militant Christians/non-Muslims…


    My point is that I struggle to see your point. I think I can probably accept “that the violent right in the US has been over-represented in the murderous column in recent years”. You would probably accept the analogous claim that “violent Muslims have been over-represented in the terrorist column in recent years”. But where does either of these points take us?

  10. Graeme:

    Finally we are starting to reach some form of consensus on this.

    The larger issue that we diverted from is that the current US political context, fueled by the conservative media narrative, provides a backdrop to, and for some a precipitant for, militant Right wing action.

    Save for the Iranian regime, no Muslim nation allows its mainstream press to instigate the extremists in their midst precisely because they understand that could see militant violence turned against them as well as infidels (ritualistic fulminations against Israel notwithstanding).

    That is why in a democracy the advisable course is rhetorical self-restraint, and that is precisely what the Right media and some politicians have not practiced in recent years.

  11. There’s one aspect of Loughner’s troubled mind that hasn’t received much attention. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal on 12th Jan covering his on-line activities, especially gaming. A significant part of his interactions were online, and some of his comments had caused concern and disquiet previously.

    He seems to have blamed Gifford for not being able to obtain a job, after his 60+ unsuccessful applications for jobs.

    I suspect that his apparent sense of injustice may have been more driven by the thoughtless comments of others during online interactions, and his unhappy personal situation, rather than political rantings of Palin and fellow travellers.

    Maybe their rants made his proposed behavior more acceptable, but I wonder if he was simply transferring his own online gaming behavior to the real world?.

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