How predictable was the Jan. 8 massacre in Tucson, Arizona? So much so that shooter Jared Loughner’s primary target, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had this to say last year: “We’re on Sarah Palin’s target list, but the thing is, that the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”
The furious effort by right-wingers and Tea Party figures to distance themselves from the shooting of Giffords and 19 others (six people died, including a nine-year-old girl) is unconvincing and ominous. Palin’s use of targets in her campaign endorsements is just one telling aspect of the eliminationist rhetoric that has permeated the Tea Party Right in this country, in which even the most moderate political opponents are vilified as “traitors,” monsters, to be destroyed.
HEALTHCARE REFORM BRINGS THREATS
Rep. Giffords had been threatened with real violence before. Her campaign office was vandalized by right-wingers who objected to her support of healthcare reform, and at an earlier public meeting one Tea Party protester had a gun fall from his pocket. Sickeningly, playing off Palin’s imagery, Giffords’ opponent in the mid-term elections posed with an M-16 stuck in his crotch, inviting supporters to take Giffords out.
Loughner is the perfect assassin for the Tea Party era. His mind was filled with the same paranoia and conspiracy theories that have been called up from the underworld of history by today’s Right: anti-Semitic conspiracies about the “New World Order” that actually trace back hundreds of years, revived for mass consumption by Glenn Beck and the John Birch Society; and newer “9/11” conspiracies as set out by internet figures like Alex Jones. As bizarre as some of Loughner’s internet postings were, they are no further from reality than those who raise questions about Pres. Obama’s birth certificate, “death panels,” or any number of other far right-wing “talking points.”
The horrific events in Tucson build upon a now familiar pattern, as seen in the murderous attacks on abortion providers, most recently the killing of Dr. George Tiller. Anti-choice fanatics demonize their targets, declaring them to be murderers who deserve to be destroyed. They amp up their rhetoric until someone in their movement decides to act. Then after the crime is committed, “respectable” leaders like Randall Terry of Operation Rescue wring their hands and declare that no one could have imagined such a terrible thing.
The Tea Party Right is playing this game now, on an even larger scale. Dick Armey of so-called FreedomWorks has both decried the shootings and called upon his Tea Party supporters to “redouble” their attacks on the mild healthcare reform that Rep. Giffords was so demonized for supporting. They are also trying to deny having influenced Loughner at all. They are consciously trying to overcome the Oklahoma Syndrome–the loss of support the militia movement of the 1990s suffered following Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Already right-wing talk show hosts are calling for the head of Sheriff Dupnik, who said: “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.”
The sheriff is correct. The Right has no other answer to the ever-deepening crisis of capitalism than an ever-deepening inhumanity. This was seen in Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation, which Rep. Giffords opposed. The rhetoric of hatred, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and so forth doesn’t come from nowhere. It has a basis in the worsening material conditions of the economy, and the “solution” it offers is a wrong turn through irrationality and scapegoating straight into American fascism.
It is brutally ironic that a few days before the massacre in Tucson, the new Congress–by demand of the Tea Party–had indulged in a farcical reading of the U.S. Constitution which removed all references to slavery. They wanted a history wiped clean of blood and guilt. That lie didn’t last them or us very long.