That leads to a common thread among these murderous incidents. None has been labeled the work of terrorists by authorities or the media. All involved white men, most of whom -- like Jared Loughner in Tucson -- have been deemed troubled or disturbed by authorities and various media outlets. Even Jim David Adkisson, the unemployed truck driver who attacked the Knoxville church because he believed it was “a cult” and a haven for Democrats and secular liberals, has not been characterized as a political terrorist. Adkisson was a fan of the writings and shows of right-wing media personalities Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity, according to authorities who searched his residence after the 2008 shootings. However, his primary motivation, according to those same authorities, was the imminent loss of food stamps and inability to find a job.
Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the Austin IRS building in an eerie echo of the 9/11 attacks, is also not a terrorist -- just a plain old suicide. The Maine dirty-bomb maker, who amassed quantities of hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide, and magnesium ribbon, a terrorist? No, just a “disturbed individual.”
Arizona, of course, has seen a lot of extremist political activity in recent years. In fact, even as Jared Loughner was gunning down 20 people inside the Safeway on North Oracle Road on January 8th, the murder trial of Shawna Forde, head of the anti-immigrant Minutemen American Defense group, was getting underway in nearby Pima County Superior Court. Forde and two associates have been charged with the shooting death of a man, the wounding of his wife, and the killing of the couple’s nine-year-old daughter during a June 2009 robbery aimed at funding her extremist political activities.
These are America’s killing fields, coast to coast, yet the commentary and debate in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting revolves around political rhetoric in Washington. Both sides need to tone it down, we’re told. There have been endless discussions on television and radio, newspaper commentary and Internet postings all focused on the issue of overheated political talk -- as if Jared Loughner somehow leaped full-grown from the forehead of Glenn Beck.
Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck did not send Jared Loughner out to kill, even if their extreme lock-and-load rhetoric -- Beck, brandishing a baseball bat, has warned his viewers to watch out during the next “killing spree” -- has helped legitimate such talk. What they have certainly done is help create an inspirational environment where it is perfectly normal for Tea Party extremists to attend political rallies while packing pistols. Indeed, packing pistols is the point, isn’t it?
That said, conservative columnist David Brooks, in an astonishingly superficial argument, wrote in the New York Times that those who drag politics into public debate over the killing of political figures and government officials are leveling “vicious charges” and lack empathy for the mentally ill. Brooks gravely wagged his finger at those -- he singled out MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman, former Senator Gary Hart, and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas -- who have argued that violent rhetoric from the Tea Party and Sarah Palin set the table for the Tucson shootings. (Of course Congresswoman Giffords herself chastised Palin for putting her district in the now-infamous gun-sight crosshairs. Does Brooks include her, too, in excoriating “vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness”?)
excerpted from Tomdispatch