AZ shooter is a nutjob, but violent rhetoric still matters

Sarah Palin's infamous "crosshairs" map of Congressional targets for 2010

Mere minutes after news broke of the shooting of Rep. Giffords and others in Tuscon the media war was launched to assign blame.  The left blamed the right, and the right blamed the left.  As more and more facts come to light on suspected shooter 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, the only clear picture emerging is that he was mentally unbalanced.

The shooter’s particular lunacy embodied elements of crazy right-wing, crazy left-wing, Libertarian, Communist, and Nazi fixations.  This was mixed with a heavy paranoia about mind control, and an obsession with literacy.  It would be difficult to ascribe Loughner’s behavior to his allegiance to any political movement or his influence by any particular pundit or politician.

Loughner was a disturbed and frightened man looking to blame someone for everything.  And that is maybe the whole point.  When Sarah Palin says to “reload” in an effort to take back the 20, or Sharon Angle suggests the need for “Second Amendment solutions” to take back the government, sane people don’t hear that as an explicit call for armed insurrection.  They recognize it as charged political rhetoric intended to engage and polarize an audience.  But if your mind is a little less balanced… if your predisposition is toward paranoid fear… if you are basically a walking bomb in search of a detonator, then such messages resonate somewhat differently than mere rhetoric.

The political right has a particular penchant for militant and violent political rhetoric.  Their opponents are often positioned as evil and bent on destruction of the country.  Labels of communists and fascists, political regimes the country has previously been at war against, are thrown about.  Guns are frequently brandished at political events.  Even terms such as “death panels” position those with different policy opinions as an existential threat.

As an exercise, try searching the web for the terms “right wing militia” and “left wing militia“.   Alternatively, try “right wing violence” and “left wing violence“, or choose whatever terms you may like.  In all the cases, note the discrepancy of article types and images returned.  It’s not that the left is less fervent or politically active, but the results suggest a significantly lower affinity on the left for militarism, guns, and violence.

We may never know exactly what set Loughner on the tragic path that led him to shoot Giffords and kill six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year old girl.  As Glenn Beck has reminded us before, these happenings are each the act of a “nutjob”.  Granted.  But it would be naive to assume that nutjobs are immune to the influence of violent rhetoric.  On the contrary, they are likely the most gullible, malleable, and primed to be incited to violent action.

Perhaps your words don’t make you criminally negligent… but they still matter.  Choose them wisely.

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