Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is dead is in critical condition.  Others are  reported to have died, including a nine year old girl.  Above is a campaign notice from Giffords’s Tea Party opponent last summer.

Andrew Sullivan is live-blogging on developments here.

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14 thoughts on “Targets

  1. Warren

    Michael —

    For what it’s worth, lefty blog Daily Kos described Gifford as “dead to me,” put her on a “target list” for opposition and said her district had a “bullseye” on it. Furthermore, a high school associate of the gunman (who admittedly hasn’t known him since 2007) said that when she knew him, he was a leftist radical who didn’t like the Congresswoman then, either. His YouTube page featured a flag-burning video (not the sort of thing typically associated with the Tea Partiers.) Per his MySpace page, his favorite books included Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Plato’s Meno, and Siddhartha.

    In short, this guy appears to have been running for mayor of Crazy Town. Whatever ideology he has or had seems to be highly idiosyncratic. I think trying to link this to the Tea Party or Palin supporters is premature at best.

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      Two things: first, there’s a big difference between declaring someone “dead to me” and the unrelenting and deliberate years-long campaign of eliminationist rhetoric from the right, which has been eagerly encouraged by the likes of Sarah Palin — who has, by the way, scrambled over the last few hours to scrub her sites clean of the incitement she has fomented against Democrats generally and against Giffords specifically. Giffords was undeniably subjected to this sort of rhetoric by the Tea Party (see the Jesse Kelly newspaper listing in this very post), there had already been had an earlier gun incident at a Giffords campaign rally, and her constituency office had already been vandalized after the health care reform vote.

      Second, I’m sorry to say that your quick resort to “her assassin is a leftist” will undoubtedly be the right wing meme in the next few hours, days and weeks. The provenance of the “he was a lefty” remark is iffy at best. Moreover, his apocalyptic obsession with gold and silver as the only acceptable currency — not to mention his anti-government paranoia — is pure Ron Paul and Glenn Beck. There’s no equivalence here. But even if there were, his politics would not matter. He is clearly, as you say, crazy. The issue therefore is the poisonous and violent rhetoric of the right and the effect it has on unbalanced minds. This was probably not so much a political act by the assassin as it was a lashing out where he felt he could. Giffords was local and vulnerable and the talk of violence against her was the norm. What happened today is no surprise. It is a tragedy anyone who has been paying attention could see coming from a long way off.

  2. Warren

    My point really isn’t that he’s Lefty or Righty — I think he’s nuts, which I suppose is a category unto itself. And if you start condemning speech because it may drive unbalanced people to do bad things, that’s a pretty dangerous path to take as well. This is the kind of tack Bill Clinton took when he tried to hang McVeigh on Limbaugh, or the line of arguments parents used when they tried to blame Judas Priest for their kids’ suicide. Evil doesn’t need an excuse.

    To put this on more of a Frygean tack, let’s say for the sake of argument that the shooter was a perfectly nonviolent crazy person before they saw the adverts from the BoogeyPalin. Now, the adverts may be — heck, they are — what NF would have called very bad literature (per this blog’s namesake), but just because someone can miss a metaphor, that doesn’t make the artist culpable for that person’s actions.

    As always, Michael, I’m enjoying the blog. Good night.

  3. Josh

    It is certainly true that a lot of these wackos have probably been fueled by anti-government rhetoric, and that all such rhetoric has come squarely from the Republican/Tea Party establishment. But I think that Warren is right. Murderous wackos belong to a category all their own, and any catalyst for all of this probably had more to do with hysterical hate speech than it did with the left/right divide.

    …Which leads me to ask, why didn’t you post anything about the congresswoman’s accomplishments? Why didn’t you mention the 9-year old girl who was killed? Or the federal judge? You just used this as a motive to bash the other side, which is exactly the hysterical kind of thing that leads to this in the first place. And your points about Sarah Palin seem like Andrew Sullivan without the reservations or the context.

    Where is Northrop Frye in any of this? You used some general quotes by him, but as far as I can tell I don’t think hysteria was his cup of scotch.

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      Josh —

      The violent rhetoric not only comes from the right, it is orchestrated by the right, and its always-blaring megaphone is Fox News with a big assist from Rush Limbaugh and all of the lesser devils of hate radio. That’s what makes the left/right divide matter even when a crazy person is the culprit. The right issues death threats and talks of “second amendment remedies” — and, sure enough, today we got one: the gun was legally purchased to shoot in the head a woman who’d been subjected to barely-sublimated threats of gun violence for many months. That’s the second amendment at work. And, as always, it trumps the first when it’s brought into play.

      I did in fact mention the nine year old girl and all of the other still unnamed victims. Perhaps you might have read me with more care. I have not yet mentioned Judge John Roll by name because I’m trying to determine whether or not he was an intended target. But I will say here that it is my understanding at this point that he too had been threatened with violence by Tea Partiers and was under enhanced security at the time of his murder.

      As for Sarah Palin, she has actively encouraged the trend in violent eliminationist rhetoric — your concern for me not mentioning the accomplishments of Congresswoman Giffords does not seem matched by a corresponding concern on your part that Palin included her as a cross-haired target on a map with nineteen other Democrats. Am I the one getting his priorities wrong?

      Finally, today’s events have everything to do with Northrop Frye, who saw very clearly the dark forces in society represented by the mob mentality of entities like the Tea Party, as well as the creeping fascism of corporatist organizations like the Republican Party. I’ve posted on this many times before today. It’s unfortunate you weren’t aware of this. I regret that my latest post on Frye, rhetoric, mobs and ideology, as well as my post on Frye and Thomas Paine, were not posted quickly enough for you. But they’re up now, if you’d care to read them.

  4. Trevor Losh-Johnson

    I actually think Josh has a good point. This was an extraordinarily shocking thing to have happened, and while I do believe that paranoid, conspiratorial, and hysterical rhetoric in this country has set the stage for this sort of violence to occur, bloggers online started pointing fingers before we even knew the status of the victims. Perhaps we should have taken a deep breath before even speculating on the killer’s motives, or on what it broadly means for the country. And perhaps we should have learned who the killer was before jumping to Sarah Palin. We are posting the moral before we even know the story.

    We may be right about the effects of paranoia and delusions of conspiracy, but we should not be complicit in the hysteria. Let’s keep the amygdala out of this… Good Scotch line, too, for the record!

  5. Michael Happy Post author

    I’m unsure what you’re advocating, Trevor. I’m not suggesting that justice shouldn’t take its due course with regard to the killer. I’m not suggesting a conspiratorial link between the killer and Palin or Beck or anyone else. I’m only drawing attention to what can be seen to be empirically true: violent gun-themed rhetoric was directed at Gabrielle Giffords by both the local Tea Party and by Sarah Palin before Giffords’s attempted assassination, which also took the lives of many innocent bystanders — including a nine year old girl and a federal judge already under enhanced security because of previous death threats from the local Tea Party. Palin knows how damning these facts are, which is why she spent all of yesterday scrubbing her sites of the inflammatory graphics that many bloggers continue to circulate to make sure they don’t disappear or are simply forgotten. If this material weren’t a problem, Palin would simply leave it up. We know it’s a problem, she knows it’s a problem, so let’s talk about why it’s a problem. You can of course see for yourself in the posts I put up yesterday.

    Furthermore, this behavior is part of a much wider problem of the long-standing and co-ordinated use of eliminationist rhetoric employed by the right against all adversaries. The point responsible bloggers are making on this issue is the same one: those who created the poisonous environment that encouraged violence against opponents must now take responsibility for the consequences of it. The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords and the heartless murder of those who stood between her and her assassin is the deadly consequence of this inexcusably irresponsible behavior. We’d like it to be the last. It will only be the last if those who create such a lethal environment as a matter of policy will end the practice.

  6. Trevor Losh-Johnson

    I’m not sure what you think I’m “advocating.” I’m not sure of a lot of things, and that was the precise point.

    Josh may have worded his reply a bit harshly, but he has a point- the amygdala is good and sorting rapid, empirical facts. However, what I remember about 9/11, after the immediate impact, is how quickly the right-wing swept in to explain what everything meant, and how adhering to a certain set of policy was the correct and most prompt remedy. We have since seen where that got us. Now there are lots of lessons here, I’m sure, from overturned Clinton-era gun bans to the damaging rhetoric of Palin and her coterie. But I also know that it is better to take a deep breath, and live in a space of negative capability until all the facts come in.

    The remedy for hysteria is not homeopathic.

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      There are some big differences, however. The issue has to do with response. I’m not saying anything other than that it is empirically true that Gabrielle Giffords was targeted with gun-violence rhetoric by both the local Tea Party and by the Sarah Palin campaign in the months before she was shot, and that the use by the right of this sort of rhetoric against Democrats generally is widespread. There’s no amygdala involved in making such an observation or suggesting its implications. I have posted some of the evidence — whose compelling nature is confirmed by the fact that Palin and others have pulled it from their sites.

  7. Bob Denham

    The irritable reaching after fact and reason may take a long time, and there’s no guarantee that we won’t forever remain in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubt about the motives of the Arizona killer. But regardless of what we do or do not discover, the use of language that frames one’s political opponents as prey to be shot has no place in civic discourse. No negative capability is required to take that position. As Frye says, every society has some measure of mob rule and lynch law, and the language of both, in his words, “congeals into a mood of anticipatory violence.” Our job is to resist such language.

  8. Trevor Losh-Johnson

    And it is indisputable that violent rhetoric has been poisoning the American political bloodstream for some time. That Palin exemplifies this, and knows how to exploit it in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable manner is beyond debate. And she deserves every bit of condemnation she can get for it. Bob’s comments above would have been just as valuable before this as after. I wish that everyone had displayed such tact in making points beyond the realm of simple blame and of direct cause and effect.

    But politicizing this tragedy before the blood dried was bad taste…on all sides.

    Part of resisting hate-based language, I would think, involves resisting the modes of emotion engendered by such language. Michael posted an extraordinarily large amount of pictures from Jon Stewart’s rally earlier this season, implicitly aligning the goals of this blog and the repudiation of vulgar excess in commentary. I hope he will also post Stewart’s comments regarding this awful crime, though it takes a much more conciliatory approach to tragedy and violence.

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      Once again, Trevor, I don’t really understand your point. There’s nothing reckless about the stand being taken here, and it is consistent with the stand I’ve always taken on Palin and the verbal violence of the right. I think it’s especially important to speak clearly about these kinds of issues now. I don’t think it’s “political” to point out that before this awful event the Republicans and the Tea Partiers were directing gun-violence imagery at Democrats generally and Congresswoman Giffords specifically. I don’t think it’s political to hold them accountable for doing so. I know that Republicans and Tea Partiers are calling it “political”, but that is transparently self-serving. Palin and Beck, for example, have not only refused to acknowledge their complicity in promoting such rhetoric, they are suggesting that just talking about it will foment more violence. And that really is contemptible.

      Today’s first post is on Edmund Burke, to whom this statement is famously attributed (even though he may never have said it): “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.” Maybe that’s the principle to keep in mind here. Frye spoke unquivocally about prevailing fascistic trends in society (which I’ve posted on long before this event), and he was very clear that they tend to come from the right. Why shouldn’t we be as unequivocal about what we can see happening right here, right now?

  9. Trevor Losh-Johnson

    Right here, right now, we should be mourning the victims and looking inwardly. We should be trying to transcend a pernicious dialectic, where the hate speech on the right flourishes on the indignation of their enemies. And we should not confuse indignation with vilification. While it may be easier for you to ascribe to this flat, ideological dialectic, realize that I am a part of this community, and that those you speak of holding accountable are my neighbors, my coworkers and my family.

    I could not say it better than this article, which Andrew Sullivan himself noted:

    My favorite quote is this- “At Gettysburg Lincoln might have been expected to defend the North and blame the South—which is what Edward Everett did in the speech preceding his. Rather, the bulk of his speech was given to praising the dead and urging others to learn from them.”

    I happened to read the Gettysburg Address the day after the killings, and I found it very stirring. While it is essential to denounce hatred and violent rhetoric, which Obama did, it is inappropriate to speak of holding Republicans and Tea Partiers “accountable.” What does that mean, other than pointing the finger at millions of Americans and telling them that the blood is on their hands? Lincoln’s speech endures, Everett’s does not.

  10. Michael Happy Post author

    I’m sorry, Trevor, but I once again do not understand this. I have only said that those who have engaged in and encouraged violent, eliminationist rhetoric are accountable for it. It is disgraceful behavior that deserves a frank response. At no point have I suggested that millions of Americans have blood on their hands. I haven’t even said that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have blood on their hands. I have only said that they are responsible for their their barely coded calls for violence. It is no exaggeration to call it that, and it would be irresponsible to pretend it is less than that.


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