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Instead of denouncing rhetoric the right fights back in aftermath of Arizona shootings

January 10, 2011

Many of us hoped after the terrible shootings in Arizona over the weekend that an adult debate would begin and a line would be drawn against the spread of violent rhetoric used by some politicians and political commentators.

Sadly, it seems that a backlash is beginning, an attempt by some to create an alternate narrative in an attempt to gloss over what is fact and instead deflect attention on others.

As I said in my piece yesterday, no one is directly blaming the right, no one is directly blaming Palin and if they are they are wrong, but surely it is not wrong to be asking that we look again at the way the political spectrum has been so widely divided and changed that some think using emotive language such as “second amendment remedies” or “reload” as a campaign strategy is right?!

On Saturday, Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik, held a press conference in which he decried the “anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous”. Never once did he point his finger at a single political party or a single political movement, but he made a statement that on its own merit made sense.

However almost immediately the backlash began.

Conservative supporters on various message boards, forums, news sites and blogs, accused Dupnik of being “partisan” and for directly naming the right as the culprit.

Senator John Kyl (R), speaking to CBS’s “Face The Nation”  said:

“It was speculation. I don’t think we should rush to speculate.”

However never once did Dupnik speculate that rhetoric is the cause of the shooting or what motivated Jared Loughner.  He gave an opinion regarding the way some people may react to rhetoric by saying “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” but he did not say it was the cause – to be fair, Dupnik speaks the truth, unstable people do react to things they hear, which is why people need to be held responsible for what they say. Take Glenn Beck for example and his “fan” Bryon Williams who cited Beck as an influence for attempting to take on the Tides Foundation. As Williams said to Media Matters:

And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind

And everyone is aware Beck has a big grievance against the Tides Foundation for example. No Beck did not put the gun in Williams hands but he must be aware that there will always be someone out there to whom words are the justification they need to do something.  For example Jared Loughner put up a You Tube video which showed his thoughts regarding “anti-government” etc – a narrative which has been part of certain political groups for the past two years and beyond.

Right wing radio host Jon Justice, went further and asked for Dupnik’s resignation stating:

“To say, as Dupnik did, that comments made on the airwaves essentially motivated this person to commit this crime is exactly what he blamed talk radio of doing, inciting through pure rhetoric,”

The thing is Justice by calling for Dupnik’s resignation, he seems more concerned about words than what Dupnik was saying.  It is true that certain “people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what we see on TV and how are youngsters are being raised”.  I do not believe he was wrong in that – listen to the airwaves, read the comments, you see the narrative unless you blind to it or willfully ignoring it.  The Sherriff did not blame talk radio as a whole but instead stated;

“that may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”

And in essence he is right – speech has consequences.

However unlike say, Keith Olbermann who took time during his Special on Saturday to apologise “any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence” instead the right are busy deflecting attention.

Megan Kelly of Fox News “debated” with Sherriff Dupnik on her program. Where she was correct to ask the Sherriff is anything the investigation on Loughner had turned up to suggest he was “listening to radio or watching television and was in any way inspired by what he heard or saw?”, to which Dupnik stated the investigation had only just begun, Kelly then decided to make what were open comments on a wider narrative concerning political commentary on all sides, into partisan comments.

“With respect, sheriff, I know that you’re a Democrat and you ran for office as a Democrat, and I just want to press you on that a little. I’m sure some of our viewers are asking themselves why you are putting a political spin on this…” (Huffington Post)

Instead of debating whether there was merit in what the Sherriff was saying, instead of widening this to the general debate taking places since the shooting, which asks if political rhetoric which is incendiary has any place following Saturday’s shooting, no matter what side is using it, Megan Kelly, as with a lot of the Right, decided to make this about a supposed liberal smear campaign.

Kelly’s colleague Geraldo also spoke to Dupnik and pushed him on this.  The Sherriff gave answers to which the Right are now claiming shows unmistakable fact that he is indicting by name both Sharron Angle and Sarah Palin as people who he sees as responsible for the horrific mass shooting in Arizona on Saturday.

From the transcript:

Geraldo: Do you regret, Sheriff, in any way speculating on the motive, and bringing in the ‘political vitriol,’ in your words?

Sheriff: Not in any way, shape or form. It’s my feeling that his personality is the type that is susceptible to this kind of behavior. It doesn’t surprise me that people from the right would be upset that people..people like myself and maybe people from the left, and a whole lot of other people in America feel as I do that the anger that’s purposely generated by people who make a living off of it, uh, serves one particular party better than the other. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it continues at least through 2012.

Geraldo: I regret that you just made it so political in a way, Sheriff, … But Sheriff, do you want to change anything you said? Do you want to alter the record in any regard?

Sheriff: Not in any way, shape or form. When you have people like Sharron Angle in Las Vegas, running against Harry Reid, making outrageous statements such as ‘we may need to resort to taking the 2nd Amendment in..into..into certain cases,’ and for people like Sarah Palin to say ‘We have people like Gabby Gifford’s in our cross-hairs,’ I think those statements are totally irresponsible and they’re not without consequences, and I think we may be seeing the fruit of it here.

Now let me break this down for you.

He made a statement that is – especially given this story and other stories concerning the conservative political reaction, a statement of fact – the right have thrown their arms up with a victim mentality instead of saying that all political rhetoric that uses violent overtones should be condemned – ALL!

By using Angle and Palin’s comments as an example of the vitriol, he was also not being wrong with making that statement – Angle and Palin said these things.The fact is he never said the right did it, he merely pointed to two facts.” 

BTW for anyone googling, that was my comment on the Huffington Post regarding this.

And this seems to be the tone that a worrying number of Right wing politicians and supporters are taking.

Take for example Tea Party Nation Founder Judson Phillips emailed his members “warning them they would be called upon to fight leftists in the days ahead and defend their movement” (

The email leaked to the wider press. In it Phillips called Loughner “a leftist lunatic” and accused Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of being a “leftist sheriff” stating he “was one of the first to start in on the liberal attack.” As I showed Dupnik never blamed the Right for the shooting but merely mentioned a narrative that has taking hold is “not without consequences”.

The Atlantic goes on to state that Phillips has called on his movement to blame the liberals for the attack on Gabrielle Giffords.

“The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words.”

And the Democrats are in no way clear of any criticism regarding this.  According to Politico:

One veteran Democratic operative, who blames overheated rhetoric for the shooting, said President Barack Obama should carefully but forcefully do what his predecessor did.

“They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”

Happily Judson Phillips views are not shared by every Tea Party member and I applaud Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer who in a statement published by the New York Times said:

These heinous crimes have no place in America, and they are especially grievous when committed against our elected officials. Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas.  An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process. We join with everyone in vociferously condemning it.”

Sadly too many influential voices are ignoring the words of Kremer and instead are circling the wagons and hitting out instead of listening to the narrative of the country as a whole.

And some are trying to completely rewrite their own statements and meanings.

As I noted in my blog yesterday, Sarah Palin took down her “target list” image and her website “takebackthe20” following the shootings on saturday. She also attempted to delete tweets and Facebook notes regarding this.

Her aide Rebecca Mansour, stated that the crosshairs weren’t actually crosshairs and that anyone suggesting it had anything to do with gun sights is wrong.  Speaking to Tammy Bruce she said:

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply crosshairs like you’d see on maps.”

Tammy Bruce suggested that they could be “surveyor’s symbols.”

But if they were, then why was the accompanying language one that suggest otherwise?

Take for example Palin’s own tweets concerning this at the time:

Scrubbed from Palin's twitter account following the Gifford shooting

The image linked to a note: Don’t Get Demoralized! Get Organized! Take Back the 20! in which she said:

We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington.

Again anything in bold there is my emphasis.

And Tammy Bruce really wants us to believe these were “surveyor’s symbols”????

As I stated yesterday, I am not, NOT saying Sarah Palin is directly responsible, however for her base and friends to try and claim that this is not what we thought it was when her own language at the time points undeniably to otherwise, well tell me who is trying to continue to ignore the people and not living in the real world?

Senator Lamar Alexander also defended Palin. Speaking to Candy Crowley of CNN’s “State of the Union,” the Senator objected to what he saw as Crowley’s inference that Crowley was directly blaming Palin.  HEre is the transcrpit of the exchange (Huffington Post):

CROWLEY: Let’s — let’s cut that connection then, and let me just ask you as a question separate and of itself, is it over the line politically these days, given the kind of climate we’re in, to be talking about or graphically showing a politician in the crosshairs or talking about taking them out?

Is that — was it over the line, sort of, specifically, since it’s now being talked about everywhere, with Sarah Palin’s web ads about people that she would like to see targeted for political defeat?

ALEXANDER: Well, Candy, I think you’re — I think you’re responsible, by bringing this up, of doing the very thing you’re trying to condemn. I mean, you’re making and implying a direct connection between Sarah Palin and what happened yesterday.

CROWLEY: No, I specifically said we need to tie it away from that.

ALEXANDER: By picking out a particular — picking out a particular incident. Well, I think the way to get away from it is for you not to be talking about it.

CROWLEY: No, Senator Durbin did bring it up, so that’s, kind of, why I am.

I leave you to make your own opinion on this, but for the record, from my own point of view, Crowley did not say Palin was to blame but brought up a question regarding a narrative that is out there.

One thing is clear, despite the backlash people are seeing a chance to clear the air – move forward and change all rhetoric.  Senator Dick Durbin (D) on speaking about Palin’s “Don’t retreat; reload.” said:

“These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response”

Representative Raul Grijalva (D) said that the attack may have been the work of an individual, a “single nut” but the nation must reflect on “an atmosphere where the political discourse is about hate, anger and bitterness.”

Representative Raul Labrador (R) told NBC’s “Meet The Press”:

“I just hope we can have some civility and move forward. You have extremes on both sides; you have crazy people on both sides. Your job as a leader is to talk to people in a rational way . to bring down the rhetoric”.

And according to Politico an unnamed GOP Senator has also called for calm and a change to the rhetoric:

“There is a need for some reflection here – what is too far now?” said the senator. “What was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now. There’s been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable TV and talk radio, everybody’s trying to outdo each other.
And I agree – in an attempt to drown out the other side, to outdo each other, it has now become commonplace to rally the base against the other side by using incendiary language.  And it’s gone too far.  During the 2008 Presidential election, Sarah Palin rallied her base by suggesting that Obama was “palling around with terrorists” and did nothing when people in her crowd shouted “kill him” – instead it was seen as energizing, showing just how patriotic you were.
But whether Loughner was influenced by these comments or not, we must say no more – or are we going to wait a few days and the start again with urging party faithfuls to “reload” or “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”?
It is time to remember that despite different political views, what side of the aisle we stand on, we should never again allow such incendiary language to be the norm.
Sadly given the reponse of one side in particular, I am not going to hold my breath on this one.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. afrankangle permalink
    January 11, 2011 9:22 pm

    Well, in typical Emma fashion, the post is thoroughly researched.

    I was one who hoped the rhetoric would tone down, thus then I thought of this. The events of 9-11 had great impact on most Americans, as well as many across the globe. And it was in the shadow of those events, civil discussions (even with discord) came upon Washington. But in a matter of a few months, operatives decided to make it political – thus starting the downfall of the political grace that was in place. If that only took a couple of months, I then realized that the Arizona event would only move little (if any) toward civility.


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