First, a bit of semantics. Without question, the responsibility for this crime lies entirely with the shooter. He must face the full force of law for what he did. Some say that the Teapublicans/tea party must share some of the blame for this crime because of their violent rhetoric and imagery. Personally, I don’t like using “responsibility” because it sounds like the shooter was somehow less responsible.
I prefer the term “culpable” because it means deserving blame. I say that Palin, Hannity, Beck, Limbaugh and their fellow extremists are morally culpable because they lit the spark and then fanned the embers. Could they have known that this particular guy(s) would take this particular action? No. Should they have known their rhetoric would encourage someone to do this sort of thing? Absolutely. THAT is why they’re morally culpable.
Remember that rightwing gunman who shot up a church in Knoxville, Tennessee because he hated liberals and gays? It was around 2½ years ago, so you may not. But you should keep it in mind: “Inside the [killer’s] house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by [far right and rabidly homophobic] radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by [Fox News] talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by [Fox News] television talk show host Bill O'Reilly”.
So, violent rightwing rhetoric has incited violence in the past, and almost certainly has again. It’s time the rightwing stopped trying to spin their way out of this and owned up to their moral culpability.
Instead, the right claims the killer “must be” a “liberal” or “an extreme leftist”, and not a tea partier. Why? Because his reading list (posted to his YouTube Channel) includes Karl Marx. But they won’t tell you his entire list, so I will:
“I had favorite books: Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver's Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.”To mainstream people, the list looks like it’s from someone of university age, which, just coincidentally, the shooter is. But to America’s right, the presence of one book means he “has to be” a liberal. Riiiiiiiiight.
The problem for the rightwing spin is that it’s based on nothing but hot air. If you look at the killer’s videos—and I watched them all when they'd had only about 300 views—he reveals himself to be in favour of the gold standard for currency, like Ron Paul and most of the tea partiers. He’s also a “Tenther”, meaning he thinks that the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution basically prevents the federal government from doing much of anything. He also railed against the government, like the tea partiers. This evidence is all there, had the right bothered to look before launching their smear attack on the left. [BoingBoing has posted all his videos along with transcripts]
Sarah Palin's not the issue here; whether the killer used her particular crosshairs graphic as inspiration is beside the point. Because such things have incited violence already, she should at least admit the crosshairs graphic and her violence-laden rhetoric were mistakes and she should apologise to America. The rightwing must also stop this NOW and prominent Republicans must denounce the rhetoric and anyone who continues to use it. It’s very clear and simple.
And finally, I’d like to make two further points. The right has long tried to draw a false equivalence between the tea party’s loonies and loonies on the left. But there are two important differences that show how absurd that is: Loonies on the left don’t go on killing rampages and, unlike the tea partiers, they’re not at the core of a major US political party. Our side has nothing to repudiate.
The other point is that this is NOT about the tea party followers. That disparate group has all sorts of people in it, from people with whom I merely disagree (albeit strongly) to folks who present a clear and present danger. The vast majority are law-abiding and non-violent people. They’re not the problem, it’s their leaders and elected officials who set the tone and frame the debates in violent terms. Some tea partiers get that, but the rightwingers who are perpetually mad on the Internet or TV simply don’t or, more likely, won’t.
This story is far from over, but one good thing has already come from it: The mainstream newsmedia has taken notice of the amount of violent rhetoric and imagery used by the right and is pushing back. How the right responds will speak volumes about its moral character; indeed, it’ll tell us if they even have any.