Palin’s hit list involved 20 Democrats who voted yes for healthcare. The Republicans ran on repealing healthcare in the 2010 elections. The Republicans also spent the last two years rabble rousing over healthcare reform.
The legal definition of terrorism is: “Terrorist involves the systematic use of terror or violence to achieve political goals. The targets of terrorism include government officials, identified individuals or groups, and innocent bystanders.” Terrorism involves acts by subversives, acts of annihilation, criminal acts, demolition, destruction, extermination, fanaticism, revolution, terrorist act, or tyranny.
The political goal of the Republicans is to keep the Obama administration from reversing the last 20 years of loose oversight over corporations. In order to accomplish this, the Koch brothers funded the Tea Party and set their foot soldiers into motion. Obstructing healthcare reform was their first goal and the Koch brothers would tell you that this is because they are free market liberty ideologues (ironically, healthcare reform uses free market principle of competition among private entities to achieve its goal but it also involves stronger regulations and this is what the corporatists feel they must fight).
Historically, ideology has motivated Middle Eastern terrorist regimes, where religious fundamentalism is now combined with secular opposition as a source of violence. This sounds frighteningly like the merger of the hard Dominionist New Apostle Reform fundamentalist Christians (Palin) with the far right Tea Party. An important psychological component of terrorism is the symbolism behind it, and hence the targets of terrorism are symbols of the state (your elected representatives) or of social norms (civility, not showing up with assault weapons at a townhall meeting) and structure (townhall meetings, meet and greet with your representative). Thorton defined terrorism thusly: “In an internal war situation, terror is a symbolic act designed to influence political behavior by extranormal means, entailing the use or threat of violence.”
And that’s the real point – the threat of violence is enough because terrorism works on the psychology of the targets. It’s a form of extreme political behavior and its effectiveness in influencing political events depends on arousing emotions. Does this sound familiar? Recall the fear of the townhall meetings, the outrage when the average citizen couldn’t be heard, the outrage over Palin’s hit list, Bachmann’s call to raise arms against this government and Angle’s second amendment remedies. Recall how we adapted to this behavior, subtly adjusting our expectations and reactions so as not to provoke the beast. In order for political terrorism to be successful, the target audience must feel psychologically threatened.
The target audience would be the majority of Americans and our elected officials. And this is why as we try to hold these folks accountable for their actions, we’re getting nothing but push back, further fanaticism and deliberate invoking of our outrage with their staunch denials of responsibility. They know how to control the reaction. If they keep mounting and escalating their offense, it will keep us hopping from one crisis to the next without our ever being able to adequately deal with any of them. This is a common tactic used by anyone employing psychological terror in order to effect control.
Terrorism requires more than the lone gunman. Effective political terrorism involves leaders and a network of supporters. Studies show that leaders of terrorists regimes are often what we refer to as the narcissistic personality type, people with the charisma to make violent behavior seem attractive and who fail to take or feel responsibility for their actions. This can combine with what is termed neurotic hostility, which involves a sensitivity to criticism and a deeply suspicious, aggressive nature.
The network of supporters take on the tasks of public relations, fund raising, and propaganda in addition to the actual perpetrators of the violence. It could be suggested that the Republican Party leaders mounted the public relations campaign against healthcare reform using violent rhetoric and inaccurate characterizations of the bill (with the larger target being to disrupt and disempower the Obama administration), funded by the Koch brothers who propped up the Tea Party foot soldiers “grass roots movement”, while Fox News provided the propaganda necessary to form the complete network in order to create the climate for political terrorism.
A perfect example of this would be the successful systemic disruption of townhall meetings by Tea Party foot soldiers, which resulted in the political goal of creating chaos and fear. Lawmakers were afraid to vote for it and citizens were afraid to go speak to their representatives. While healthcare miraculously got passed even after months of political threats and violence, a part of the terrorist’s mission was accomplished. The lawmakers were now afraid of the Tea Party. Note that the mainstream media was complicit in this effort as it took the media a long time to begin to identify that perhaps the Tea Party was not a grassroots movement of angry people but rather a well-funded astroturfed missile aimed at healthcare reform by financial interests.
Many who’ve studied the motives behind those who enact the actual act of violence (Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged shooter in this case) supported by the network suggest that to assume the individual terrorist is mentally ill is to ignore the political and social issues raised by terrorism. Rather than mere mental illness driving terrorists, psychologists find that terrorism is more likely to be a product of frustrated but rational idealism. However, the perpetrator of the actual violence need not subscribe to the political agenda of the organization.
Rather, Fred Kaplan suggests that the actual terrorists (rather than the organization behind them) are driven by feelings of inferiority and impotence stemming from the natural self-righteousness inherent within the terrorist mindset. However, studies also show that far right terrorist groups employ the insanity defense more often than far left terrorists groups, as indeed, far right terrorists (who may have been attracted to the glorification of violence typical of right wing terrorism which would tend to attract the more deeply disturbed) display a far higher incidence of psychotic personalities than do their left wing counterparts.
Any effective terrorist campaign must use the threat of violence, even if discrete, in order to achieve its goal. As it pertains to the effectiveness of Sarah Palin’s hit list (i.e., those targeted by the “leader” and those who were then threatened by the foot soldiers), Daily Kos diarist RobertInWisconsin has a list of the 20 representatives targeted by Palin’s hit list. At least 11 of the 20 received death threats (and one suffered an assassination attempt) after being placed in Palin’s crosshairs. That is a successful terrorism campaign, reaching over 50% of its intended targets plus the added impact of terrifying those who witnessed or just heard about the massacre.
One of the intended consequences of terrorism is to leave the audience too emotionally vulnerable and exhausted to react to the next attack, which most likely will be an attempt to get whatever the terrorist organization wants from the audience. This is also referred to as bargaining, but of course, it’s not really bargaining when the power remains with the terrorist organization precisely because they hit the audience when it’s been weakened and distracted by grief, horror, or fear.
Don’t be surprised next week if the Republicans use this to their advantage in presenting their repeal healthcare reform bill. Republicans have already refused Democrats request to postpone next week’s vote to repeal healthcare reform. Sure, this sounds sickening and I hope I’m wrong, but then this entire campaign was designed to derail the Obama administration and terrorize them into not regulating big business. Everyone is now sufficiently terrorized and thus primed for the “bargaining” process.
Instead of pulling back on their rhetoric, the Republicans may well ramp it up after a week of “sharing the blame” due to their inherent inability to take responsibility for their own actions and failures. I’ve heard their attempts to equivocate Palin’s map with the Democratic target map (sign of Target store). Of course, this denies that Democrats are simply not guilty of the systemic use of violent rhetoric as well as denying that there is not a Republican representative from said map lying in a hospital bed having been shot through the head. But most relevantly, it is not the Democrats who are out of power and the intent of this campaign was to overtake or disrupt this administration – not to maintain power. Notice that when the Republicans are in power, obedience to authority and respecting the President are the prized cultural values whereas when a Democrat is in power we see an uprising of the anti-government, militia oriented “Don’t Tread on Me” culture.
Here’s Palin from earlier this year when giving a speech to the Tea Party, mocking the concern shown over her map with the crosshairs on Democrats across the country, “This B.S. coming from the lamestream media lately about us inciting violence, don’t let the conversation be subverted, don’t let a conversation like that get you off track.” Yes, by all means, stay on track, er target.
Imagine if it were Islamic anti-government radicals who had been spreading the sort of lies and propaganda the GOP has when this brutal massacre occurred. How would the nation react to their attempts to distance themselves from their own words and graphics? How would the media and the American people respond to the rage of the Right if they were dressed as fundamentalist Muslims?
The GOP will find a way to use this tragedy to their own ends, to achieve their political goals. While I’m not suggesting they planned this tragedy, I am suggesting that they used stochastic terrorism to create the perfect culture of a terrorist organization, complete with propaganda and PR wherein the paranoid, susceptible foot soldiers only needed to turn on their TV or radio to get their instructions. I’m not suggesting they wanted people massacred, but they did know the power of their words as political leaders and they recklessly or deliberately continued their verbal assault of frightening lies about this government married with violent rhetoric. Their campaign is working; we are terrorized.
The real question that they don’t want any one to ask is why they feel they need to resort to propaganda and threats to achieve their goals? And the answer is that their goals do not serve the needs or the best interests of the American people. They serve the Koch brothers et al. This isn’t a political debate or a difference in ideology. This is war on the psyche of the American people in order to terrorize them into allowing far-right corporatist ideology to prevail.