Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How conservatives are deflecting responsibility for the Arizona shooting

I've written it again and again, including earlier today: There may be no perfectly direct connection between conservatism and the Arizona shooting, but that does not necessarily mean that what Jared Lee Loughner did (or, rather, is charged with doing) may be detached entirely from the broader, right-wing political context that may very well have informed his thinking, or his derangement, to some degree. And while he is evidently not a card-carrying member of the Tea and/or Republican Party, it is wrong to treat him as a detached loner, as a victim of mental illness who acted purely in a vacuum of his own derangement. 

This is the case conservatives are making -- that Loughner is crazy -- and it's their way of avoiding any and all responsibility not just for the shooting itself but more broadly for constructing the socio-political context behind it.

For more on this, see David Dayen at FDL, who says what many of us have said, and keep saying, but that we need to keep saying, not least with the right, which has been on the defensive since the Arizona shooting, trying desperately to impose its responsibility-deflecting we didn't do anything, we're victims of a left-wing plot narrative:

Republicans have pulled off a neat trick with respect to Jared Loughner. They have worked very hard to characterize him as a "whacko" and a "nutjob" (inadvertently hurting the prospect of a successful prosecution, by the way), going so far as to use the shooting as an opportunity to revamp the nation’s mental health system. I'm all for that, but the ulterior motive from the right is to absolve themselves of blame and marginalize the voices talking about overheated political rhetoric.

Now, you don't have to believe that Sarah Palin purchased the gun for Loughner and whispered in his ear about targets to believe that the rhetoric on the far, far right played a role in amping up the paranoia of a mentally unbalanced man...

The more you read by Loughner, or the more videos you see from him, they reflect these beliefs very strongly. He mentions the Constitution, illegal laws, manipulated currency, government control through grammar, and on and on. It's quite hard to follow, and it's not organized coherently, but it comes from a fairly precise place.

It's not necessary for Loughner to even understand the derivations of these conspiracy theories, or to be of sound mind, to be influenced by them. But they come from a very toxic, militia-friendly, anti-government place, and over the past couple decades the distance between that perspective and the mainstream right has absolutely narrowed; see Glenn Beck. The Birchers, militia groups and Alex Jones conspiracy ranters will always be with us; an isolated few scientists argued in favor of a flat earth well into the 19th century. The point that many who study this make is that mainstreaming some of these conspiracies, like when Lou Dobbs puts the North American Union on television, or when Beck hosts a Bircher on his radio show or concocts some bizarre blackboard theory, it hypes up and leads to greater attention to the real nutters on the fringe. And in the hands of a troubled mind, these conspiracies can do real damage.

As they did in Oklahoma City, as they did in Arizona, and as they will continue to do so long as they are not only embraced by the right but "mainstreamed" right into the heart of the GOP.

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