The tragic events in Arizona yesterday are a sad indication of the state of America’s political landscape, and highlight the dangers of violent political rhetoric by careless politicians in the Tea Party. Although there is still much information for investigators to uncover regarding the suspect’s motivation and state of mind, there is irrefutable evidence that careless remarks and encouragement to violence as a means of political change have finally borne fruit.
The violent rhetoric from tea party candidates and political pundits is a new phenomenon in modern politics, and it is in part because of the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and in part because of the rise in hatred and festering bigotry toward the presidency of Barack Obama. After Obama won the presidential election in 2008, membership in militias grew and the number of militia groups rose by alarming numbers.
There have always been militia groups and gun violence, but the hatred for an African American president empowered racists to take action at the urging of opportunists like Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Michelle Bachmann, and Glenn Beck. It is irrelevant that the instigators claim they had no intention of their supporters actually following through on urgings to use second amendment remedies, being armed and dangerous, or not retreating, but reloading. They know there are people on the fringes of society who use any reason to act on their perceived injustices, but they continued the hate-speech and vitriol for the sake of political gain.
Palin in particular is guilty of inciting violence with her map of congressional districts that she targeted with cross hairs as a means to garner votes for tea party candidates, and her infamous comment to followers that encouraged them to, “don’t retreat, just reload” was a call to action for gun owners anxious for a reason take action against the legally elected representatives in Congress and the White House. Shortly after the tragic mass murder, Palin took down the map with crosshairs on congressional districts, and it indicates that she knows her rhetoric had an influence on the shooter.
Indeed, after Palin took down the offending map, one of her supporters claimed, “Go, Sarah! Gifford deserved to die. She was a liberal, a Jew, a health care reformer, an enemy of the NRA, pro-abortion and pro-gay. What happened to the map? One down and 16 to go.” Palin’s map targeted 17 candidates as targets and with Giffords out of the picture, 16 remained.
Sharron Angle claimed that if tea party and Republican candidates did not win their elections, people would use “2nd Amendment remedies” to change the Congress. Angle has been silent since the attack in Arizona. Michelle Bachmann told the residents of Minnesota that she wanted them to be “armed and dangerous” in case the government attempted to enforce federal laws on Minnesota residents. Bachmann is a member of the House of Representatives and a tea party favorite who uses discontent and ignorance for political gain. Glenn Beck has made it his stock and trade to promote violence by hateful rhetoric against the Obama Administration by accusing the president of being a racist, Nazi, Communist, and enemy of the United States. Beck also consistently blames Democrats and Liberals of subverting the Constitution and taking away the rights of good God-fearing Americans.
America is a nation of laws and most people are content to conduct their lives according to the rules whether it is in electing representatives or going about their daily lives. Most Americans are discriminating enough to see through the hateful rhetoric and incitement to violence that the ultra-conservative tea party leaders have been using ever since Obama took office. During the health care debates, tea party members angered by lies from Fox News pundits and commentators interrupted town hall meetings with Nazi tactics and disruptions to shut down debate and intelligent discourse because dialogue may have informed attendees of the nature of the health care reform bill. Now, since health care was passed into law, the disruptions have turned into violent attacks on politicians.
Instead of respecting the legal process of legislation, conservatives have used tea party anger and the violent political rhetoric of Palin, Angle, Bachmann, and Fox News pundits to subvert the process with the financial support of the oil industry and corporate America. The out of control actions of disgruntled citizens and candidates who do not prevail in elections has turned our democracy into a laughingstock and a landscape closer to Afghanistan and Iraq where violence is the order of the day.
The politicians and pundits who incite violence and insurrection are culpable for the actions of those on the fringe whose instability is likely to result in attacks on politicians. Gun sales have skyrocketed because pundits and politicians have continued the lies that President Obama is going to take guns away from citizens. Sarah Palin’s actions of taking down her map of targets and tweets proclaiming “don’t retreat, just reload” are proof that she, like all criminals, is attempting to hide the evidence of her malicious rhetoric and lies meant to inflame the disenfranchised members of the tea party.
There is a point where freedom of speech must be tempered with restraint, and at the very least, responsible attention to the audience listening to violent rhetoric. If America does not extricate itself from the tendency toward violence and inclination to solving its problems with guns, the country is destined to fail. These are uncertain times, but the inflammatory speech and violent rhetoric promoted by the tea party and Fox News will only make matters worse. Cooler heads cannot prevail as long as one popular politician or pundit incites people to violence and there seems to be no end in sight.
The actions by the shooter in Arizona and the instigators who provoked him to action are exactly like the Taliban and insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan and spells disaster for our democracy. We have not seen the end of the violence, and in this environment, until the instigators take action to mitigate the damage they have caused, America is doomed and the descent into Civil War will be upon us.