Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Arizona shooting and the context of right-wing extremism

Offering some of the best commentary yet on the Arizona shooting, Slate's Jacob Weisberg makes the crucual distinction between what may have been going on inside Jared Lee Loughner's troubled head, "politically tinged schizophrenia," and outside:

To call his crime an attempted assassination is to acknowledge that it appears to have had a political and not merely a personal context. That context wasn't Islamic radicalism, Puerto Rican independence, or anarcho-syndicalism. It was the anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism that flourishes in the dry and angry climate of Arizona. Extremist shouters didn't program Loughner, in some mechanistic way, to shoot Gabrielle Giffords. But the Tea Party movement did make it appreciably more likely that a disturbed person like Loughner would react, would be able to react, and would not be prevented from reacting, in the crazy way he did.

At the core of the far right's culpability is its ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government -- a venomous campaign not so different from the backdrop to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Then it was focused on "government bureaucrats" and the ATF. This time it has been more about Obama's birth certificate and health care reform. In either case, it expresses the dangerous idea that the federal government lacks valid authority. It is this, rather than violent rhetoric per se, that is the most dangerous aspect of right-wing extremism. 

Yes, yes, yes. As I've been saying all along, this isn't just about political speech. To focus on speech, which is what the media are doing (and what even prominent Democratic/liberal/progressive commentators are doing, including Bill Clinton) is to deflect attention away from what this is really all about, that is, the context behind the shooting, and behind right-wing political violence generally, the context of ideology.

That context is what Weisberg describes, and more. It is about anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic, racist extremism, combined with paranoid conspiracy theories of the kind spun by Glenn Beck on a daily basis. It is about warmongering and fearmongering, about scapegoating the Other, the different, about terror and torture, about a mythical alternate reality of delusion, about a refusal to deal with the world as it is, about a refusal to accept change of any kind unless it is change to some mythical past of right-wing supremacy.

And it doesn't just flourish in Arizona but all throughout America, in the hearts and minds of conservatives and in a Republican Party that has embraced the Tea Party and that is becoming ever more extreme in its outlook and ideology. Weisberg writes:

First you rile up psychotics with inflammatory language about tyranny, betrayal, and taking back the country. Then you make easy for them to get guns. But if you really want trouble, you should also make it hard for them to get treatment for mental illness.

True, "none of this says that Tea Party caused the Tucson tragedy," but "its politics increased the odds of something like it happening."

And it happened, as perhaps it was bound to happen. The right may not have directly caused the shooting, but it is certainly culpable.

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  • "some mythical past of right-wing supremacy."

    where each of us was a king, subject to no one and blessed by divine right.

    We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum.

    -T.S. Eliot-
    Little Gidding

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:19 AM  

  • The problem is that as we learn more about this lunatic, his grudge against Giffords seems to stem to some crazy ideas of his own and a question he asked her in 2007 -- before the Tea Party even existed -- and he felt her answer was less than satisfactory. Yes, the heated rhetoric of this country and the type of language on the right has set people off and could still if not cooled down, but the more we learn of Loughner, there is no evidence that the climate had anything to do with what he did.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 11:42 AM  

  • I'm not so sure of that. I think Weisberg's distinction between what was going on inside and outside Loughner's head is important. Sure, he may have been motivated by a personal grudge, but it's likely that his mind was (and is) a mess. While there may not have been a direct causal relationship here, with the climate causing the shooting, it's possible, and perhaps likely, that a climate dominated by violent right-wing ideology fed his delusions.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 6:09 PM  

  • I hate to say this, but I almost think that this is wishful thinking on the parts of a lot of us who oppose the right wing. We may despise them, but that doesn't mean they are culpable just because a nutbag who was against the government happened to have a strange grudge against her, but didn't even take the chance to vote for the Tea Party candidate running against her in November. Yes, the right lies. Yes, they have vandalized, made threats, cut gas lines, etc., but that doesn't make them guilty of every act and if we on the left continue to try to blame them for something with that to date there is absolutely no supporting evidence, we lose our credibility in the times when they do do things that they are responsible for. If you notice, both Democratic and GOP officeholders (of which Palin is not one) have been particularly respectful and quiet since Saturday. It's only the loudmouths like Rush and people on our side so eager to connect this to them (as I was in the early stages until all the evidence seemed to point against it) are the ones intent on perpetuating this climate of accusations and blather. Dylan Ratigan made the best point today when he said he had purposely avoided the blame game, but felt he had to talk about Palin's idiotic message because he fears that all of the back-and-forth really accomplishes is distracting everyone from the country's real problems: the corruption of our financial system, joblessness, guns, etc. In a way, it's a big red herring: Keep everyone squabbling so they don't notice that real things are not being fixed.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 9:35 PM  

  • "it's a big red herring: Keep everyone squabbling so they don't notice that real things are not being fixed."

    That's a valid observation I think, and applies to many other current situations as well, but I also think all the rhetoric about his choice of firearms is equally as distracting. He should have been institutionalized and not allowed to have a pocket knife or a drivers license.

    I think we should be talking about why a mandatory background check didn't turn up the mental problems that legally disqualified him to buy guns or ammunition. That's what it was designed to do.

    Are we at increased risk when we let the insane wander around, buy guns, drive cars, buy Ammonium Nitrate, cyanide - because we want to save money or have smaller, less intrusive government? I sure as hell think we are. That kind of right wing parsimony is to blame too. It should be talked about.

    Anyway, I can't entirely believe that this nutjob got all his ideas about the gold standard and monetary policy or even a general hatred of politicians by quiet research at the public library or NPR and not from Beck and Fox News, whether directly or because it's part of the Arizona and National culture and we're soaking in it.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 11:50 AM  

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