All over the web I’m seeing people talk about Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year old male who shot and killed several people in a crowd at a meet-and-greet conducted by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
News stories are talking about his motives, but comments on blogs are talking about his political
affiliations. Due to some strange word choices and motifs of some internet videos he had published, the debate is pretty much equal on both sides.
The point of pointing a finger at one of the political parties will give weight to the left if indeed Jared was a right-wing extremist. This will only fuel the fire that has ignited against Sarah Palin and her controversial crosshairs map.
So what’s our approach, here?
Let’s first take a look at Sarah Palin’s overt use of statements like “don’t rest, reload” when a republican candidate is defeated, and using crosshairs to denote their physical locations. Let’s take a look at some thoughts on Freedom of Speech:
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that government may not prohibit speech that advocates illegal or subversive activity unless “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395U.S. 444, 89 S. Ct. 1827, 23 L. Ed. 2d 430 ). Applying the Brandenburg test, the Court ruled that the government could not punish an anti-war protester who yelled, “[W]e’ll take the fucking street later,” because such speech “amounted to nothing more than advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time” (Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105, 94 S. Ct. 326, 38 L. Ed. 2d 303). Nor could the government punish someone who, in opposition to the draft during the Vietnam War, proclaimed, “[I]f they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want in my sights is [the president of the United States]L.B.J.” (Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 89 S. Ct. 1399, 22 L. Ed. 2d 664 ). Such politically charged rhetoric, the Court held, was mere hyperbole and not a threat intended to be acted on at a definite point in time.
Fighting Words Fighting words are words that “by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” or have a “direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom, individually, the remark is addressed” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S. Ct. 766, 86 L. Ed. 1031). Whereas subversive advocacy exhorts large numbers of people to engage in lawless conduct, fighting words are directed at provoking a specific individual. Generally, only the most inflammatory and derisive epithets will be characterized as fighting words.
Fighting words also should be distinguished from speech that is merely offensive. Crude or insensitive language may be heard in a variety of contexts—at work, on television, even at home. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that speech that merely offends, or hurts the feelings of, another person—without eliciting a more dramatic response—is protected by the First Amendment. The Court has also underscored the responsibility of receivers to ignore offensive speech. Receivers can move away or divert their eyes from an offensive speaker, program, image, or message. In one case, the Court ruled that a young man had the right to wear, in a state courthouse, a jacket with the slogan Fuck the Draft emblazoned across the back, because persons at the courthouse could avert their eyes if offended (Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 91 S. Ct. 1780, 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 ). “One man’s vulgarity,” the Court said, “is another’s lyric,” and the words chosen in this case conveyed a stronger message than would a sublimated variation such as Resist the Draft.
While Sarah Palin did not directly endorse using guns to stop the congresswoman, were her words and campaign slogans directly related to the violence that has terrorized Arizona? Did anyone else provoke this event? Keith Olbermann took a moment to share his thoughts:
If Sarah Palin, whose website put and today scrubbed bullseye targets on 20 Representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics – she must be repudiated by the members of her own party, and if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling, and they must in turn be dismissed by the responsible members of their own party.
If Jesse Kelly, whose campaign against Congresswoman Giffords included an event in which he encouraged his supporters to join him firing machine guns, does not repudiate this, and does not admit that even if it was solely indirectly, or solely coincidentally, it contributed to the black cloud of violence that has envellopped our politics, he must be repudiated by Arizona’s Republican Party.
If Congressman Allen West, who during his successful campaign told his supporters that they should make his opponent afraid to come out of his home, does not repudiate those remarks and all other suggestions of violence and forced fear, he should be repudiated by his constituents and the Republican Congressional Caucus.
If Sharron Angle, who spoke of “Second Amendment solutions,” does not repudiate that remark and urge her supporters to think anew of the terrible reality of what her words implied, she must be repudiated by her supporters in Nevada.
If the Tea Party leaders who took out of context a Jefferson quote about blood and tyranny and the tree of liberty do not understand – do not understand tonight, now what that really means, and these leaders do not tell their followers to abhor violence and all threat of violence, then those Tea Party leaders must be repudiated by the Republican Party.
If Glenn Beck, who obsesses nearly as strangely as Mr. Loughner did about gold and debt and who wistfully joked about killing Michael Moore, and Bill O’Reilly, who blithely repeated “Tiller the Killer” until the phrase was burned into the minds of his viewers, do not begin their next broadcasts with solemn apologies for ever turning to the death-fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust, for ever having provided just the oxygen to those deep in madness to whom violence is an acceptable solution, then those commentators and the others must be repudiated by their viewers, and by all politicians, and by sponsors, and by the networks that employ them.
This cannot stay a debate over the mental health of Jared, but it also cannot propel itself into a debate about whether Jared was a left-wing nutjob or a right-wing nutjob, even though that’s exactly where this will go.
Take a look at this story from the Atlantic, which describes and email from Tea Party Nation’s founder Judson Phillips to his email newsletter recipients stating that Jared Loughner was a leftist lunatic and the left will try to blame the Tea Party and their recent success in office for Jared’s actions. “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,” he wrote.
It amazes me that people can say this. Left-leaning individuals are the last people I would think would advocate the use of violence (“2nd amendment solutions”) as a means of solving political discourse. Rather, it’s people like the aforementioned Beck, Angle, Kelly, West, and Palin who fuel the sparks of analogical violence and then proceed to blow on the sparks, never taking responsibility for starting the fire. “If the wind blows,” they would say, “and so do I, then who is to say that it was me who started the fire?”
Then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church, who has decided it to be a good idea to protest the funerals of the fallen Americans. That is something that we could have expected, and by no means do I associate the WBC with the group who I call “the right”, but I will associate them with the group I will call “extremists”. There are extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, and when fueled by seemingly harmless motivational speeches and “calls to arms” by people in power (to include people with popularity) these extremists resort to juvenile problem-solving tactics that have an adverse effect on the evolution of our species.
You would think that both sides would recognize this, but it’s the left and left-center that figures this out. What does the right say? Watch the video on this page and see for yourself. Instead of addressing the issue of a possible link between Palin’s crosshair callosity (more specifically, whether or not these kind of statements have a place in today’s political discourse) Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) instead says we should ignore it, forget about it, stop talking about it. Because by talking about it, you see, we keep it alive, so we should instead just pray for the loved ones and don’t investigate the possible cause of this act, because after all, God has a plan for everyone… Alright, I’ll digress because the topic of religion in politics is an entirely different subject!
So what is the answer: Is Jared Lee Loughner a Right-Wing Extremist?
There’s absolutely no way to tell. The left will find reasons why he is right and the right will find reasons why he is left. At the end of the day, we should figure out some of the gaps in our knowledge that may help us prevent this sort of thing in the future.
- Who are his parents and where are they? What do they have to say about him and his behavior?
- Who’s gun is it?
I’m opening up the floor to my readers, now. Please discuss your theory on why he did this and how we can prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.