The Politics of Hate—and Hate Speech

gunman rouletteJust about anything that could be said about the murders in Tucson have been said.

We know that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was holding a “Congress on the Corner” meeting outside a Safeway grocery store.

We know that a 22-year-old named Jared Lee Loughner is in FBI custody, and has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the United States and two counts of intent to kill employees of the United States. We know that six people are dead, that 14 were wounded, several of whom were in grave or critical condition. We know there will be additional state charges filed against Loughner.

We know that among the dead are John Roll, a Republican and the senior federal judge in Arizona, who had come by the rally to support his friend, the Democratic representative; and Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old who was born on 9/11, and died on another day of violence. We have heard the names of George Morris, one of those shot, who tried to protect his wife, Dorothy, who didn’t survive; of Dorwin Stoddard, 76, who was killed while trying to protect his wife, Mary; of Phyllis Schneck, a 79-year-old widow who lived in Tucson eight months a year to avoid the snows of her native New Jersey; and of Gabe Zimmerman, 30, Giffords’ outreach director.

We know that Loughner was rejected by the Army, withdrew from a community college prior to being suspended, became more abusive the past year, and that many, even before the shootings, have called him mentally unstable.

We know the shooter used a Glock 19 9-mm. semi-automatic weapon, with a 33-bullet magazine, which he purchased legally. We know that Congress did not renew the assault weapons ban, which allowed civilians to own pistols but with only a 10-bullet magazine capacity. And, we also know that sales of Glock pistols following the murders, in a nation steeped in a gun culture, increased by 60 percent in Arizona and 5 percent nationally.

We know that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a conservative in his 30th year in office, called Arizona a “mecca of prejudice and bigotry,” and condemned the “the kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh,” whom he called “irresponsible” and who bases his talk show upon partial and wrong information to inflame his listeners. Three months earlier, the sheriff, possibly the most respected law enforcement officer in Arizona, said the Tea Party “brings out the worst in America,” and implied that the atmosphere of hate was partially responsible for the resulting murders.

While most Tea Partiers are White, middle-aged or senior citizens who are angry but not violent, whenever there is violence, whenever there is racism, discrimination, or homophobia, there are Tea Party sympathizers present.

We know that armed citizens, some carrying signs that advocate violence, attend Tea Party rallies, and speak of the overthrow of government, while apparently not understanding that their actions border on sedition.

We know that numerous members of Congress, including Rep. Giffords, had received death threats after they voted for health care reform. We know that some Tea Party leaders openly urged their followers to throw bricks through the windows of those who supported health care reform, and that several offices were vandalized.

We know that during the 2010 mid-term elections, Sarah Palin had targeted 20 Democratic representatives, including Rep, Giffords, by placing cross-hairs targets on their districts on a map of the United States. “When people do that,” said Giffords at the time, “they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” We know Palin frequently uses gun analogies and has called for her supporters to “take up arms,” exhorting them not to retreat but to rearm. After the murders, Palin claimed the cross-hairs weren’t really targets but surveyors’ marks.

We know that Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old disabled veteran who was one of those shot in Tucson, lashed out against hate speech. “If you are going to scream hatred and preach hatred, you’re going to sow it after a while if you’ve got a soap box like they’ve got,” said Fuller.

We also know there are liberals who have threatened others, and that the rhetoric of the Radicals of the 1960s, with limited media, may have been close to the rhetoric of the Reactionaries of the 21st century. But, the instances of liberal threats pale in comparison to those launched by the extreme right-wing, which is adept at full use of the newer social media, as well as near-monopolies on radio and television talk shows.

We also know the extreme right-wing, usually without facts or bending facts to their own purposes, fired back at Sheriff Dupnik and others.

Rush Limbaugh, with absolutely no evidence, not only claimed the sheriff is a “fool,” but that the Democratic party “seeks to profit” from the shootings, but that Loughner knows he has “the full support” of the Democrats.

We know that Glenn Beck, two days after the murders, finally spoke out, extending sympathies—and condemning those who argued that a climate of hate was partially responsible for the tragedy. This is the same Glenn Beck who in June erroneously claimed that the media and those in Washington “believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head.” This is the same Glenn Beck who, on his website, posted a picture of him holding a pistol. And, we also know he defended Sarah Palin, stupidly charging that attacks on her following the tragedy could somehow destroy the republic.

We know that four days after the murders in Tucson, four volunteer officials of the Arizona Republican party resigned, citing the threat of violence by the Tea Party faction. Anthony Miller, chairman of Legislative District 20, a heavy Republican area near Phoenix, told the Arizona Republic that during his re-election campaign, Tea Party members threatened him, some making hand gestures imitating a gun. Many resorted to racial hatred, calling Miller “McCain’s boy.” Miller, an Afro-American, was on John McCain’s paid campaign staff in 2010. McCain’s opponent for Senate was a Tea Party sympathizer, with heavy support of controversial and racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix.

We know that 27,000 people of almost every American demographic and political belief attended a memorial service at the University of Arizona. We know that President Obama told that audience and the nation that Americans, in honor of those who gave their lives, need to be civil, that we should “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

We know that the day of the memorial service, Palin, on her Facebook page, launched an eight-minute video, defensive and accusatory, in which she claimed she and the extreme right-wing, not the 20 hit by gunfire, were true victims. She refused to acknowledge that a climate of hate could have been a part of what surrounded the killer. In that video, Palin called media criticism of extreme right-wing rhetoric and hate speech “blood libel,” a phrase associated with extreme anti-Semitism. The term refers to accusations that Jews use the blood of Christian children in the making of matzos for Passover and other rituals. Giffords is a Jew. Gabriel Zimmerman was a Jew.

Two days after President Obama’s speech and Sarah Palin’s whining defense, in a daily newspaper in northeastern Pennsylvania appeared a letter to the editor, written by one of the leaders of an organization allied with the Tea Party movement. In that letter, the writer incredulously, and with no knowledge, blamed the Pima County sheriff for “his official inactions/failures” and college professors. She wrote that Loughner was a “left-wing philosophy professor’s PERFECT STUDENT. . . . [who was] subjected to listening to liberal ideology.” Although she never attended college, she blamed “the politics of our liberal universities where our young people are being taunted and challenged to be violent in the name of ‘social justice.’”

walter m. brasch

We know that it isn’t liberals, most of whom fully understand not just the words but the meaning of the First Amendment, who are the ones who try to shout down opposing views. And, while incensed at the violence that often comes from hate speech, liberals don’t demand that the government shut down free expression, only that persons recognize there may be a correlation.

Yes, we know a lot. But, one thing we don’t know is why these “super patriots” of the Reactionary Right who believe they and no one else has truth or knowledge of how to improve the nation, can advocate violence and, thus, destroy the principles of reasoned discussion advocated by our Founding Fathers.

Walter Brasch

Walther Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, is a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.

Published by the LA Progressive on January 17, 2011
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About Walter M. Brasch

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former multimedia writer-producer, newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and is professor emeritus of mass communications from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, geological, and economic impact of natural gas horizontal fracturing. He also investigates political collusion between the natural gas industry and politicians. Among his 18 books--most of which integrate history, politics, and contemporary social issues--are The Press and the State, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, The Joy of Sax: A Look at the Bill Clinton Administration, and Social Foundations of the Mass Media.
He is also the author of dozens of magazine articles, several multimedia productions, and has worked in the film industry and as a copy writer and political consultant. He is the author 16 books, most of them focusing upon the fusion of historical and contemporary social issues, including America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights (2005); Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of Geroge W. Bush (2008), Black English and the Mass Media (1981); Forerunners of Revolution: Muckrakers and the American Social Conscience (1991); With Just Cause: The Unionization of the American Journalist (1991); Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris (2000); The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era (2001); and Sex and the Single Beer Can (3rd ed., 2009). He also is co-author of Social Foundations of the Mass Media (2001) and The Press and the State (1986), awarded Outstanding Academic Book distinction by Choice magazine, published by the American Library Association.