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The Tucson Shootings
Ricochets across the entire country

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
January 11, 2011

“The shooting rampage on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona was clearly an act of right-wing terrorism. ” – Barry Grey

Well, no, it wasn't. Thanks to YouTube and the ability of anyone to self-publish on the web, we have a unfiltered opportunity to see what Jared Lee Loughner's thought processes were.

As his personality disintegrated, he embraced the dialect of the paranoid conspiracy theory websites that are easily found around the web. They're usually described as “right wing” because they are anti-government (anti-any-existing-power-structure, actually) but in reality, they are so far beyond the pale they can't really be said to occupy any particular point on the political spectrum. A right winger might favor tight social controls on people, the military, and supply-side economics, but if he's sane, he isn't running around claiming that the US government has been unconstitutional since 1803, or that aliens from the Pliaeades have been undermining American freedoms since before there were humans. George Bush, whatever his other shortcomings, is not an extraterrestrial lizard, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still a load of fabricated horseshit.

Crackpot conspiracy theories, like crackpot religions, attract the mentally ill. They need to find some exterior anchor that they can use to justify the movie reel going on in their heads, and they start out with the presupposition that commonly accepted “reality” has failed them miserably, even lied to them.

At the end of the day, Loughner's actions are more likely to stem from paranoia then policy. I doubt he really cared one way or the other over whether Congresswoman Gifford was for or against health care reform, what her views were on government spending, or even what her stance on undocumented workers was. For all we know, when he attended her meet-and-greet in 2007, he was a moderate Democrat who strongly approved of her. But if he has schizophrenia, then that element of his visualization of her is probably long gone—if, indeed, it existed at all.

It's pretty safe to assume that Loughner wasn't acting on behalf of the Teabaggers, or the GOP, or Rush Limbaugh. If he was heeding voices other than the ones in his head, they were more likely to be Alex Jones or Glenn Beck or David Icke, and those broadcasters certainly were not telling him to go and shoot the Congresswoman. They were, however, warning him of conspiracies involving currency and the Constitution and how eeeevil liberals wanted to take away his guns and his rights and his gold.

It's incorrect to pretend that he was acting in a perfect vacuum, uninfluenced by the social and political climate around him.

He attacked and injured a Congresswoman, and attacked and killed a federal judge. The reports in the press suggest that the attacks were premeditated, and that he knew exactly who he was firing at. His rationale may never be known—or knowable—but the fact remains that he picked those two particular targets, apparently shouting their names as he fired at them. That wasn't just random. That was influenced. Even if his motives were apolitical, his solution, that of shooting politicians, is one that has been shouted more and more frequently in this country, and generally by a contingent of the population that hates Democrats, hates 'liberals,' and hates judges.

The gun nuts have been out in force on the Internet over the past two days, trying to do damage control and, when possible, to shout down suggestions that Arizona's lax gun laws had something to do with it. To this end, they try to dismiss the fact that a obviously disturbed man could easily and legally acquire a powerful semi-automatic pistol equipped with an outsized ammo clip ideal for street slaughter by pointing out that he could, just as easily, have used an SUV, driving into the crowd, or waded in with a suicide bomber jacket, or even used a knife. One gun nut posted a 2001 story of a knife attack that killed people in Japan just to show how easily Loughner could have used a knife instead.

Of course, he didn't use an SUV, or a bomb, or even a knife. He chose, instead, an instrument that years of gun lobby propaganda have taught Americans to consider the ultimate solution to unbearable social problems. He used a gun.

And he didn't fire at just random people, not at first. He targeted a Congresswoman by name. He targeted a federal judge by name. He fired as some of Gifford's staffers, and I've heard reports that he knew at least some of THEM by name, as well.

He wasn't just some nut who 'went off' randomly. He was influenced.

Gifford's Teabagger opponent in the recent election, Jesse Kelly, actually had a campaign event in which people were invited to help get Gifford out of office and be rewarded by getting to squeeze off some rounds from an M-16 at a firing range. The promotion caught national attention for its utter lack of good judgment and general tastelessness, and hopefully the public outrage contributed to the Teabagger's defeat. Kelly has to be feeling a bit relieved that Loughner didn't use an M-16 in his attack, although a Glock is much easier to conceal, which may have had something to do with it.

Sarah Palin's “target map” that had Gifford's as one of 20 Democratic Congressionals targeted for defeat is probably getting more attention than it originally deserved, but it is the factors surrounding it, rather than the image itself, that caused it to become such a shitstorm for Palin. The map itself drew some attention during the campaign, because people saw it as part of Palin's problem with violent rhetoric against her opponents. That became evident in the 2008 campaign, when she 'went rogue' and accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” Then there was the fact that the SarahPAC people pulled the graphic down from the website less than an hour after the shootings, apparently in the hope that the evidence was destroyed, and when it became clear that lots of people remembered the map and had kept screen images or knew how to use the Google archive program, proffered the absolutely ludricrous explanation that the targets were just “surveyor's marks.” Sarah is at her worst when she tries to play coy, and ends up what the British call “being too damn clever by half”. The simpering disingenuity angered people who might otherwise have not reacted had Palin simply left the graphic in place, and declared that it had never meant to have violent intent behind it.

Some woman who attended the same high school as Loughner and who, it turned out, barely even knew him by sight, Tweeted immediately after the attack that he was a “pot-smoking left winger”. The far right fell on that with loud cries of joy, with Judson Phillips, head of the Teabag Party, writing, “The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words.” With Phillips, the two words I would want to emphasize are 'simple' and 'lunatic'. As a result, the blogosphere has filled up with mention of Phillips two words, the lock-step cacaphony of the far right that make it increasingly difficult to find current events material on the web that hasn't been spun to death by hundreds of right wing blogs, all quoting one another.

People are outraged by the shootings, trying to figure out what happened, and the Teabaggers can only respond by trying to shout them down and spin them into silence. The Teabag response reminds me of the famous Ring Lardner line: “'Shut up,' he explained.”

But not everyone on the far right reacted like that. Roger Ailes, programming director of Fox News, said in an interview with Russell Simmons yesterday, “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.” He couldn't resist a little bit of false equivalence, of course.

If Ailes is sincere, then that's all we can ask of the man. Obviously laws about violent imagery would be as bad or worse than the imagery itself, and vile as I may think Faux is, there are no legislative solutions that present themselves.

There's a lot about this infinitely sad story that is unresolved, and may remain unresolved. I hope Gabby Giffords makes a full recovery and resumes her seat in Congress. Loughner may break his silence and make a complete hash of everything we think we know about him. Arizona needs to once again look at their lax gun laws and their insanely polarized political debate and ask themselves if their present course doesn't just invite more such slaughters. Will the rhetoric calm down a bit, not just at Faux News but in the blogosphere, where the discourse is often far more vitriolic and paranoid than Glenn Beck could even dream of? Will this be an occasion for the nation to catch its collective breath and reflect?

Or is it just another milepost on a downward spiral?

Posted: January 14, 2011

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