Only one US Congressperson has ever been assassinated – Leo Ryan during the Jonestown Massacre. Gabrielle Giffords may become the second after a gunman shot her and others, killing at least one, in Arizona. This appears to be part of a rising tide of violence from America’s far-right Tea Party movement, driven on by Glenn Beck and others.
Ever since Barack Obama became President, and even before, the rightwing media in the US has been fomenting paranoia among their target audience. You’ve seen the youtube clips of Beck crying about his ‘fear for my country’ and drawing elaborate conspiracy theories on his blackboard – and you’ve laughed (hopefully). But a lot of Americans take the message very seriously and I’ve been worried for a long time about how they will act.
With Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limburgh, Ann Coulter, and others spreading fear that Obama is planning a socialist military coup and calling for opposition in quasi-militaristic terms to ‘defend the constitution’, it was inevitable that some of their audience would react with violence towards Democrats.
Congresspeople are receiving an unprecedented number of threats, mostly from this Tea Party Right. Last year, a man ‘expressed his constitutional right’ by openly baring an automatic weapon at a rally attended by President Obama. A man recently plead guilty to calling former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and threatening to blow up her house. In July, a man got in a gunfight with police on his way to attack the leftwing American Civil Liberties Union. The architects of the Tea Party movement have encouraged their followers to want their opponents dead – it was only a matter of time until someone acted successfully.
Yesterday a gunman, identified as Jared Laughner (now in custody), a US, opened fire with an automatic weapon on Congresswoman Giffords, her aides, and constituents meeting her at a supermarket. At least one aide is dead and Giffords is in critical condition having been shot in the head.
In a sign of the times, Laughner left what he thought would be his last statement on Youtube. It’s a confused, ranting all-text message that calls the Obama and the Democrat’s laws are treasonous, talks about defending the Constitution, says the revolutionaries have taken control, and says that the currency should be backed by gold or silver. All these are regular themes of Beck and his peers.
The Tea party movement, a creation of extreme rightwing media outlets like Fox News and funded by rightwing billionaires the Koch Brothers, has brought a new level of hatred to the US political environment and incited violence. Perhaps this who movement is just an inevitable expression of the turmoil that always occurs when an empire collapses on itself but, as long as the rightwing elite continue to whip their followers into a frenzy, we will see more and more acts like this.
PS. the pic on the front page is of a Tea Party protester. His sign is a reference favoured by Tea Partiers to Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Update: illuminatedtiger has supplied links to two Sarah Palin messages that imply violence towards Giffords. A map with Giffords’ seat in the crosshairs and an event message saying “target victory … remove Gabrielle Giffords … shoot a fully automatic M16.”