Right now, the public isn’t ready to believe an argument that Jared Loughner was motivated by right-wing rhetoric. Fortunately, nobody has said that, because it’s the wrong claim to make. Nobody has claimed that crosshairs on a map or talk of “Second Amendment remedies” is specifically to blame (some on the right have blamed heavy metal music and a skull in his backyard, and that’s just as silly). The main claim is that the toxic stew of noxious rhetoric, particularly in Loughner’s home district and home state of Arizona, creates an environment that amps up a lunatic fringe. Loughner couldn’t help but trip over that, and indeed his writings do have a cockeyed resonance to some of the really far-right groups like Posse Comitatus and the Patriot movement. That doesn’t make those practitioners of angry rhetoric culpable, but it sure doesn’t mean what they’re doing helped, either.
But even if you throw all of that away – and mind you, I think Loughner bears more resemblance to a Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris and Cho Seung-Hui than anyone else – I don’t think that the trend on the right is particularly deniable. Consider that, in the wake of the shooting, the feds arrested someone threatening Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Danny Davis received an email over the weekend saying he was next, and a leader of the Minutemen responded to the Tucson shooting by writing “Too bad Traitor Raul Grijalva wasn’t with her! He won’t be missed!” All three of these politicians are Democrats.
When Clarence Dupnik gained national attention by spotlighting the role of violent rhetoric (“We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry”… “pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office”), he didn’t actually mention any political party or movement in his statement. The fact that conservatives moved swiftly to marginalize and demonize him and his words, that was a tell. They didn’t like what Dupnik said because they’re afraid people would get the idea that he’s right. And right-wing talk radio hosts, for whom bile and anger is the coin of the realm, they felt the need to rebut Dupnik right away:
Phone calls poured in to stations across the dial to denounce Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik of Pima County, who said at a news conference over the weekend that Arizona had become “the mecca for prejudice and bigotry” and that local TV and radio hosts should do some “soul-searching.”
The radio hosts struck a defensive, even embattled tone at times on Monday. They said Saturday’s shooting had nothing to do with either their broadcasts or the state’s tense political environment; they read e-mails over the air that were critical of their political stances, and some spoke about death threats they had received.
All agreed that Sheriff Dupnik had embarrassed Arizona and unfairly denigrated talk radio by linking it with the shooting.
This sounds like one of those polls on the Ed Schultz show that miraculously gets 98% of the vote. Of course the radio hosts and call-in guests agreed. They’d have to reassess themselves and their career choices if they didn’t.
At the far end of this spectrum you have Rush Limbaugh, again filling his audience with hate by suggesting that liberals “openly wish for such disaster in order to profit from it” and that Democrats are “a party that seeks to profit out of murder.” The war on Clarence Dupnik – and it is a war, I do not hesitate from that word – gets enlarged to a war on all Democrats. That’s their free speech right, just as it’s my free speech right to criticize it.
These national leaders of the conservative movement are showing how they’re part of the problem through their own actions.