When Radicalized Political Rhetoric and Anti-Intellectualism Meet

jared loughner nraA chilling silence is taking place around the mass shooting tragedy that occurred at an Arizona Congresswoman’s constituent town hall rally in Tucson. Six people died and 14 others were wounded in what appears to be a random shooting by a mentally unstable student. Everyone is searching for motives and looking for answers. Some want to say it is Arizona’s pervasive “gun culture,” but Arizona’s gun-mania is no more pervasive than in Texas, or California, or New York, or Tennessee — places where other high profile shootings (killings) of political figures have taken place.

Others want to say America is just a less tolerant, more violent culture now that the video game generation has come of age. There might be some truth to that. But some have also pointed to the extreme political discourse that took place during the health care and mid-term election debates. American political discourse has gotten more than disagreeable. It has gotten downright uncivil. The same kind of incivility that brings about civil war, ten-year massive resistance movements, and even racially charged “days of optimism,” as some now call the Reagan Revolution. This may be a significant clue as to what happened, and one we need to highlight as an emerging issue in our highly conflictive society. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others is an example of what can happen when radical rhetoric meets anti-intellectualism.

The “uncivil discourse” has gone beyond the “I don’t like you, you don’t like me – let’s agree to disagree” dialogue that takes place in the civil debate of issues. The radicalization of political opposition has taken such an ugly turn that no healing takes place after the election is over. The Republican Party, and its Tea Party offshoot, took a “don’t retreat, reload” mantra into the post 2008 election era that was branded with “get your gun and rebel” rhetoric. Before President Obama took the oath of office, the fourth quarter of 2008 was in near depression, except for gun and ammo sales that were at a ten-year high, driven by the “Obama is going to take our guns” rhetoric.

Former Vice Presidential Candidate, Sarah Palin, decided to resign from office and continue her “pop culture” persona, branding herself as a rifle-toting, moose-shooting “hockey Mom” who has more social dysfunction going on in her family than any you’d find in any urban city in America. She literally is a walking reality show. Sarah Palin has replaced George W. Bush as the quintessential anti-intellectual in our less-than-intellectual society.

You have to admit that a society whose high school graduation rates are challenged by its dropout rates isn’t exactly prone to being considered one of higher thinking, in advancing the best interests of the total society. Yet, Palin’s dumbed-down radical rhetoric resonated with large anti-intellectual segments of the Midwest and Southern parts of the country that did not vote blue in the last election, for racial reasons, not acknowledged, but clearly in evidence.

sarah palinHard economic times make us all susceptible to scape-goating. Thus was born the Tea Party Movement, the latest iteration of “States Rights” movements that pop up every 50 years or so. Both major parties have acknowledged that Tea Partiers are a “rag tag” group of political extremists, ideologues and fringe element activists, and yet Republican wannabes for President in 2012 have made Tea Party events a “must stop” on their campaign routes. Protest for the sake of protest only because progress has advanced for the sake of progress. Palin is their poster girl. This time, Palin’s “tough talk” has created a situation that we all know isn’t totally faultless in the Tucson tragedy when you consider that Giffords was on a Palin “hit list.”

Last March, the Tea Party began publicizing that it would be seeking to “take out” Democrats who voted for Health Care reform in conservative states, Palin, telling tea partiers, “don’t retreat, reload.” Palin posted on her website a “hit list” of 20 Democrats targeted for defeat in November. Giffords was #4 on her list. Each “target” has a crosshairs symbol on their face. A crosshair symbol is a gun or rifle scope. It implies someone has a gun on them. Symbolism communicates non-verbal language. When combined with incendiary language, an anti-intellectual zealot could interpret the language and symbolism to mean more than just putting someone out of office.

Giffords was successful in retaining her seat but received threats. Palin denies having anything to do with inciting the shooting and stated that this is nothing more that liberal media spin.

Oh really? American history is fraught with violent acts that were precipitated by hateful, radicalized rhetoric. Coincidentally, the crosshairs target map on Palin’s website has been taken down. Republican ideologues like Rush Limbaugh are putting their relativist spin on it, but the bottom line is that political disagreement shouldn’t be infused by radical symbolisms of violence. America had a problem when the Panthers did it. The Panthers may have espoused “kill whitey” but none of them ever shot a congress person. The rhetoric was dangerous during a dangerous time in America, when America was killing black political leaders. What is the Tea Party’s rhetorical rationale? They have none, beyond ideological extremism.

Anthony SamadFree speech is one thing. Symbolic speech is covered by the First Amendment, but don’t say your coded messages don’t have anything to do with violence consequences. Many times they do, when people think they’re doing the will of mass sentiment. Defending oneself is one thing; using guns to assault others is another.

In this instance, the gun symbolism and the “gun talk,” when combined with an anti-intellectual following, certainly can’t be ignored as a possible cause.

Anthony Samad

Republished with permission from The Black Commentator


  1. Wallace says

    The shooter was a left wing radical look it up you liberal narrative pushing pseudointellectual ps being against liberal pseudointellectualism is very different from being anti intellectual which is a trait of liberals who have a nasty habit of shouting down anyone that disagrees with them in order to avoid critical thinking

  2. George A. Crackuh says

    A “chilling silence”? Nonsense. Is Mr. Samad hard of hearing? The lamestream media have been chattering about almost nothing else for the past week!

    Not everyone is casting far and wide for motives, though. It’s abundantly clear the man hasn’t been rational for a long time. It also seems clear he was a lefty, although mostly apolitical. Just like in the Fort Hood, Texas killings, we don’t have to search for motives. There, Major Hassan announced his motives at the top of his lungs. Likewise in Arizona, Loughner had been visibly mentally ill for years before his rampage. Clarity like this gives no political wedge point for the left, though. So what do they do? They run the same old playbook – “Blame whitey, blame righty.”

    The author decries an “ugly turn” away from “civil debate” and then instantly starts sneering at and smearing a very good woman, Sarah Palin; a patriotic, hard-working, family-loving, community-supporting, girl-scout type who’s never hurt anybody and had absolutely nothing to do with the Arizona event. (And calling the tea parties a ‘rag-tag fringe element’? Heh heh. You are whistling past the graveyard of your political dreams, and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, my friend.)

    Mr. Samad is like so many on the real radical fringe, the statist left. Living constantly in a fog of denial and projection, they blame conservatives for the left’s own glaring flaws – because, honestly, when has the left ever been a leading light of “civil debate”? Not during the last decade of unbelievably vitriolic Bush Derangement Syndrome, for sure! And actually, not ever, in my lifetime.

    The malcontent left has always been howling at the top of their lungs with recklessness and viciousness; always fomenting division and mistrust. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s was always the leftists on campus shouting down their political opponents, monkeywrenching our civil society, refusing even to listen to any classically liberal ideas that threaten their narrow groupthink. Of course, the same subversive close-mindedness is in evidence these days, too. So, nothing’s really changed then, has it? **

    Mr. Samad, before you flail out again with your cheap-shot cartoons and your childish name-calling at people with whom who disagree politically, maybe you should have the wisdom and decency to clean up your own act, edit your own rhetoric, and tone down your own extremism – and that of your Media Matters and Daily Kos buddies, too. Not to mention your king and queen of nastiness, the contemptible Keith Olbermann and Randi Rhodes.

    I would put Sarah Palin and her heart, mind and skills up against this trash-writing scape-goating author any day, in a debate written or spoken, and I feel confident she’d not only be more intellectually coherent, she’d also be more sensitive and compassionate, and more fair and respectful than this Mr. Samad could ever manage.

    Mr. Samad, if you feel Sarah Palin is extreme, I suggest that’s only because you view the world from an extreme America-hating position of your own. And your fatuous pointing toward “gun symbolism”, a metaphor which usage has, for millennia, been common if not ubiquitous in all types of contests, sporting, political, business, and elsewhere, shows your own ahistorical, anti-intellectual, ideologically-motivated self deception.

    If you really believe “symbolic speech” (a condescending tautology, to be sure) is a possible cause of violence, then what has your sloppy blame-shifting article done to improve the level of discourse?

    ** (In this regard I have to applaud Dick & Sharon’s LAP. Thanks for keeping your forum open to commenters across the spectrum)

  3. Richard Packard says

    I have to say that your premise of “radical rhetoric and anti-intellectualism” is right-on-the-mark. The proponents of this ideaology can neatly hide behind “plausible denialbility”.

  4. pigdog67 says

    I like your article. At the same time though I am not sure there is any linked cause and effect here between the Tea Party and this incident. This fellow was mentally ill. I feel sad that he received no treatment. That shows a breakdown in the society that a mentally ill person gets no help. I think this man came to his own independent conclusions and took his own independent actions. His focus on Giffords started in 2007. Its parallel to the Tea Party. I have been expecting these kind of random acts of violence as more and more of our society becomes dispossessed. In a heavily armed society that is 90% dispossessed ‘random’ bad things are going to happen more frequently. A former aide to Bush was found dead in a dumpster. It got little news. I think the two incidents are related. Both arising from a moral breakdown in our society. Random acts of violence with a political twist.

  5. annieR says

    Of course the shootings in Tucson were political. The shooter didn’t have to be motivated by one comment or on the comments of a single individual. Daily, he saw people openly carrying guns, which looked attractive to him. It meant power, which he had little of. The laws that allow the proliferation of guns are enacted by politicians. Of course, the shootings were political.

    • hunakai says

      It’s ironic, too, that Ms. Giffords, herself, boasted of toting the same sort of firearm that was used to gun her down.


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