The shooting of a political leader was an atrocity waiting to happen... a near inevitability since gun-toting Tea Partiers, urged on by Sarah Palin and her sidekicks, stormed Congressional town hall meetings in summer 2009.
Emboldened in the 2010 election cycle, Palin, Sharron Angle and other Tea-Party Republican candidates used ever-more provocative words and imagery evoking gun violence, including:
- Gun cross-hairs imposed on specific Congressional districts and for specific elected leaders (see right)
- Threats of "second amendment remedies"
- Exhorting Americans to "reload" and to "aim for" Democrats
But over and over, history has proven that a political dog-whistle call to abstract violence isn't heard just by zealous acolytes, but also by the trigger-happy mentally unbalanced.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords prophetically observed when Sarah Palin published her "cross hairs" targets image:
"We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action.
"Some of my colleagues have served 20, 30 years, and they have never seen it like this... "
Sarah Palin and Hotbed Arizona
Sarah Palin is popular in Arizona. In Tucson on March 26, 2010, the former Alaska governor appeared with Sen. John McCain to stir up Tea Party support for his reelection campaign.
Last month, eldest daughter Bristol Palin of "Dancing with the Stars" fame purchased a five-bedroom home in Maricopa, Arizona. Maricopa is 98 miles from the site of yesterday's murderous shooting spree at Rep. Gifford's outdoor town hall.
Southern Arizona is a hotbed of conservative political rage, often violent and much of it aimed at immigration reform supporters. When Rep. Giffords voted to support passage of health care reform, the glass doors of her Tucson office were smashed by gun fire.
When Rep. Raul Grijalva from the neighboring Congressional district voted for the bill, a bullet and shattered glass window were found in his home office. Giffords and Grijalva have been leading voices in support of immigration reform.
Seven-term Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik lamented after the shootings:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.
"And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Mix one unbalanced young white man with access to a semi-automatic weapon into the boiling stewpot of hotbed Arizona immigration fervor plus overt imagery and words by popular, charismatic political leaders of gun violence toward Democrats... and yesterday's murderous rampage in a Tucson strip mall seems almost inevitable.
Words matter. As Rep. Giffords said, "... there are consequences" to the action of depicting "the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district."
Gabrielle Giffords now lies in coma in a Tucson hospital, fighting for her life after an assassination attempt by Jared Loughner. Six women, men and a child are dead, including Federal Judge John Roll, who faced death threats over his 2009 ruling on a civil rights claim filed by immigrants against an Arizona rancher.
Leadership demands responsibility and concern for public safety. The provocative, dog-whistle use of gun violence imagery as campaign fodder by any political candidate is irresponsible and hateful.
Sarah Palin is an attractive and influential political provocateur, but her reckless disregard for public safety is contemptible and irresponsible. Had a Muslim American of Middle Eastern descent authored Palin's placard of rifle crosshairs over 20 Congressional districts, he or she would undoubtedly be dogged as a dangerous domestic terrorist.
As a direct result, Sarah Palin's viability as a political candidate has been destroyed... and not a day too soon for rational U.S. political discourse.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Sarah. You and your ugly diatribe won't be missed.
- Suggested Reading
- New York times - 9-Year-Old Victim Was a 9/11 Baby, a 'Face of Hope'
- Fox News - DHS Memo Suggests Shooter May Be Linked To Racist Organization
- Washington Post - Jared Loughner's college instructor: I was worried he might have a gun in class
- Daily Beast - The GOP's Long, Hot, Racist Summer