The social significance of the Arizona massacre

We are now seeing a concerted attempt to obscure and confuse the meaning of the terrorist act that took place in Tucson, Arizona.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, many people expressed their revulsion at the violent rhetoric that’s become so much a part of contemporary conservatism, particularly in the US. Since then, however, the push back has begun.

Some commentators simply deny that the massacre possesses any political significance whatsoever. Look at his YouTube clips, they say. Jared Laughner, the alleged shooter, was nuts, a crazy person. That was all this was about: a disturbed man, living out a violent fantasy.

Now, at the most facile level, that’s obviously true. Most of us do not open fire on crowds. Normal people do not do go on killing sprees  –  by definition those who do so are not normal.

Mind you, you could make exactly the same point about almost any serious crime. Are all murderers abnormal? Well, in one sense, yes. But as an explanation, that tells us nothing. It’s an entirely circular argument.

The real question is why such crimes take the particular form that they do. As Mark Ames points out, gun massacres in the US are actually comparatively recent, dating, as a social phenomenon, from the mid-1980s. Obviously, there were disturbed people who did awful things in the US prior to then. The point is, though, that their acts took a different form, in a different social context. Ames thus argues that the rise of the workplace massacre (and the closely related school massacre) actually correlates with the massive social dislocations produced by economic reform in the US at that time.

Now, he might be right or wrong about that (his Going Postal is a very interesting book) but it’s a least a serious attempt at an analysis rather than a retreat to psychological banalities.

So let’s try something similar about Tucson. What was the context for this crime? In what particular social setting did it take place?

As soon as you ask that question, you have to acknowledge the cult of political violence associated with the contemporary populist right. In 2009, I wrote a piece for New Matilda that covered similar ground. Here’s a chunk of that argument:

In April this year, a man named Richard Poplawski ambushed and killed three Pittsburgh police officers. Poplawski was a paranoiac white supremacist. He feared a sinister cabal controlling the federal government, the media, and the banking system. These malevolent internationalists were, he thought, coming to take his guns. On the neo-Nazi site Stormfront, Poplawski illustrated his theories with Youtube clips of Glenn Beck discussing the supposed FEMA concentration camps with Congressman Ron Paul.

Naturally, in the wake of Pittsburgh, Beck professed outrage at any association with Poplawski. Why, the man was a Nazi, a nut, solely responsible for his own crimes. The vast majority of Beck’s fans were ordinary Americans, law-abiding folk as appalled at gun massacres as anyone.

Which was, no doubt, true. Yet, in his new book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalised the American Right, the journalist David Neiwert argues that Beck — and others like him — should not so easily escape responsibility for a violent fringe. For years, Neiwert has been monitoring the mainstreaming of the particularly dangerous kind of right-wing populism he calls “eliminationism”. An example: on a radio show syndicated to 160 stations, Beck once mused: “I’m thinking about killing [filmmaker] Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it.”

It is, Neiwert says, increasingly common to hear media figures with mass audiences discussing liberals as carcinogens on the body politic. In prominent blogger Michelle Malkin’s book Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, liberals are insane; in Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, they are fascists; in widely syndicated radio host Michael Savage’s The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military (and in scores of similar books) they are traitors, destroying the nation from within. The three titles above were all bestsellers.

Yes, the last decade saw an equal proliferation of Bush-bashing texts. For Neiwert, however, eliminationism fundamentally differs from the anti-Republican stylings of Moore or Al Franken because of its rhetorical violence. Once you diagnose liberalism as a cancer, its excision is already implied. There is, therefore, a certain inevitability to the tone of Savage’s radio show. “I say round them up and hang ’em high,” he tells his listeners.

The columnist Ann Coulter’s best-selling books include a text entitled Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. With treason traditionally attracting the death penalty, it’s no surprise when Coulter tells an interviewer that she prefers to communicate with progressives via “a baseball bat”. On another famous occasion, she said of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, “My only regret […] is he did not go to the [liberal] New York Times building,” a quip that she subsequently amplified and repeated.

That was more than a year ago. Since then, the rise of the Tea Party movement has led to massive rhetorical escalation. Consider the collection of images that TBOGG compiled from recent Tea Party events.



Yes, there’s over-heated rhetoric at left-wing rallies, too. But when the Tea Partiers talk about armed resistance, they’re doing so to a constituency in which guns have an almost talismanic significance. Hence the photos of protesters carrying machine guns.

(Just in passing, ask yourself what would happen if armed Muslim or black radicals massed in Washington. Would that be dismissed as harmless hijinks, do you think?)

Furthermore, while the Tea Party likes to describe itself as a grass roots phenomenon, it’s closely connected to a well-funded conservative infrastructure that includes FOX news, thousands of talk radio shows, think-tanks and publishing houses. Glen Beck might be a fringe thinker but he’s a fringe thinker who reaches millions of people. When he thus explains that the Federal Emergency Management Agency plan to establish concentration camps for dissidents or he enthuses about armed groups of conservative whites fighting against the government in a civil war, it’s a message that gets heard across the country.

And here’s a typical Beck broadcast, delivered against a backdrop of goose-stepping Nazis:

“It all adds up to me having to admit that I was wrong. Our government is not marching down the road towards communism or socialism. … They’re marching us to a non-violent fascism. Or to put it another way, they’re marching us to 1984. Big Brother, he’s watching … Like it or not, fascism is on the rise.”

Gabrielle Giffords was targeted by the Tea Party Right on the basis that she supported the Obama health care plan – a plan that Beck and others like him have regularly explained to millions of Americans as representing totalitarian communism. Indeed, Sarah Palin’s notorious gun site map was only part of the eliminationist rhetoric unleashed against Giffords. For instance, her local Republican opponents held a fundraising event for his campaign that included the following message: ‘Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.’

And Jesse Kelly, Republican candidate and Tea Bag favourite, the man with whom you could shoot a fully automatic M16 with? In his election push, how did he distinguish himself from moderate candidates? Why, by using a photo of him posed with a gun on his lap, boasting about his credentials as a combat veteran!


In that context, with the opposition to Giffords explicitly posing itself in military terms, is it really so surprising that she became the focus for a disturbed young man’s violent fantasies?

Indeed, as has been widely reported, Giffords herself was quite clear what the gun imagery represented and what it might mean. After her office was vandalised, she told the media: ‘Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district and when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.’

One of the reasons why she could give that warning is that the pattern’s played out again and again and again, as various oddballs put into practice the theory they’ve heard from Beck and from others.

Here’s a timetable compiled by David Neiwert:

July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how “liberals” are “destroying America,” walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

December 2008: A pair of “Patriot” movement radicals – the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted “to attack the political infrastructure” – threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear “dirty bomb” in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama’s purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

May 2009: A “sovereign citizen” named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Topeka, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one “domestic terrorism” too.)

March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

May 2010: A “sovereign citizen” from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

May 2010: Two “sovereign citizens” named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year-old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the “Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.

But that’s still only part of the context.

It’s both tempting and reassuring to focus exclusively on the Becks and the Coulters and the Teabaggers, precisely because they seem so extreme and so deranged.

But we also need to acknowledge the connection between the increasingly violent rhetoric in American politics and the state of permanent war that the US now maintains.

Since 2001, we’ve seen, in the context of the war on terror, a normalisation of violence that once would have been unthinkable. Take torture. In his recent memoir, George Bush openly acknowledges ordering Americans to employ water boarding on a captive. Water boarding is, of course, a torture technique developed by the Spanish Inquisition and then refined by the Imperial Japanese Army and Pol Pot.

Once upon a time, it would have been unimaginable that a US president would have so casually admit to complicity in torture. But, then, again, an enthusiasm for inflicting physical pain on detainees has, in the last few years, become a hallmark of conservative populism.

And this has an effect on the culture. Americans are, surveys show, among the people on earth most supportive of government’s torturing prisoners.

Put simply, you cannot fight prolonged colonial wars, with all that they represent (Guantanamo Bay, assassinations, mercenaries, etc) without degrading the culture and fostering an increased tolerance of the unthinkable. In a different context, the eliminationist rhetoric from Beck and others – the calls to take up arms, to water the tree of liberty with blood and so on and so forth – might seem as harmless as the ghoulish threats issued by a professional wrestler prior to a staged bout.

But the ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan serves to normalise the use of deadly force. Eliminating one’s perceived enemies with an automatic weapon doesn’t seem like such a fantasy when, in Iraq and Afghanistan, you see Americans doing it every day.

That’s why it’s so wrong to see the Tucson massacre as an isolated incident, the result of an individual crazy flipping his wig. It’s a symptom of something much more than that, a society in a profound social crisis.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Indeed. I wonder what kind of crisis this is. Perhaps it’s America’s crisis of faith in itself – a collective anxiety at the decline of American hegemony and, with the end of the Cold War, a loss of (self-perceived) world-historical purpose.

    One can either deal with this decline by denial and defiance (Bush) or by coming to terms with the gradual change in status (Obama). In terms of this crisis, I would see the wars as symptomatic rather than causal (though there is a feedback/reinforcement aspect to them: a vicious cycle).

    The reason that Obama administration’s policies, despite being centrist and extremely diluted (thoroughly marketised healthcare; realignment of emphasis from one war of imperial aggression to another; a retreat from brazenly boasting of torture back to the hypocritical policies of the twentieth century, i.e. outsourcing and obfuscating), provoke such extremes of reaction from the Right, is their gut sense that America is en route to losing its preeminence.

    The way to avoid this, they think, is to be steadfast (thus the constant bleating about their constitution, a retreat back to the sacred text – a secular version of religious fundamentalism), to project a militaristic bravado (Afghanistan, Iraq, and the next round of wars the Right are itching to start) and to embrace a certain kind of insularity (Palin, ‘Ground Zero mosque’ fracas, conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace).

    That’s why the Democrats’ willingness to move in the direction of European social democracy – however slight the move, however debased by neoliberalism the actual policies – is viewed as an act of utmost treachery. Conservatives sense that the days of American hegemony are over, but they do not want to admit it even to themselves; that’s why they are so angry with every step backwards from absolute exceptionalism. Liberals have accepted reality, but dare not say this openly.

    Listen to the cadences of their voices. America is a wounded beast, increasingly impotent but still dangerous. Limbaugh is the voice of its pain and its instincts to thrash and to gore. Obama is the voice of the veterinarian, trying to soothe it to a state in which it can take its medicine.

  2. You know, I am honest to God terrified about what’s going on in US politics. I don’t understand how this happens. As far as I can tell, when liberals lose elections, they and their supports whinge a bit, then try and come back next time. When conservatives lose elections, they start attacking the legitimacy of the elections, a la Bush vs Gore, then start rhetoric about attacking people. I’m sure – I hope – this is oversimplifying. But I just can’t think of an occasion where I have heard the left wing advocate violence as a response to electoral defeat. Maybe it’s because they’re all tree hugging peacenicks? Or maybe I’m wrong.

    That said – at the end of the day, I don’t really care what happens in America, it’s their politics and their people. I DO care when they start influencing the way Australian politics runs, and when their policies start affecting their international relationships. And I do care when Australians are closely identified with Americans, and when we receive the backlash against american corporatisation and conservatism. I think that’s where Australians need to start being worried, because I don’t want the US culture of violence to become normal here.

  3. What happens in the United States is of overwhelming importance to what happens across the rich countries. The economic instability and neoliberal restructuring of the last 30-plus years provide the wider context for the forces that Jeff examines. It’s been a period where mainstream politics has struggled to hold together more than temporary and unstable constituencies, and then mainly through an absence of mass active resistance.

    One key method of binding suffering citizens to elite interests has been the definition of the “other”, whether it be an external threat (illegal immigrants, Muslim terrorists) or an internal one (Black welfare queens, big government socialists). Fundamentally these themes are about the construction and reconstruction of a national identity that papers over growing class inequality and polarisation. You can see the contradictions in the somewhat unusual (by Australian standards) invocation of low-tax, anti-government populism run by the Teabaggers alongside their not-so-coded calls for greater state coercion against those interlopers who have stolen the imagined America of the past.

    The class polarisation is an objective fact, not a state of mind. The fact that the RIght sees the need to acknowledge real suffering, to attack Wall St bailouts, tells you that this is more a defensive strategy than some renewal of the radical (or even mainstream) Right’s ability to build a lasting social consensus.

    How this plays out will have a deep and lasting effect on the balance of forces globally. The US has for a long time been the model for a brutalising, nakedly avaricious form of capital accumulation that we now name neoliberalism. The American working class will be forced into a response by the scale of the current crisis — if it succeeds in destabilising the mainstream elite consensus further, it will send a message far and wide that US state power, domestic and international, can be beaten.

  4. I know, as a Canadian, how you feel Georgia.

    Our annual trip to Florida is cancelled this year, I do not feel safe in America anymore.

  5. Tad: \The American working class will be forced into a response by the scale of the current crisis — if it succeeds in destabilising the mainstream elite consensus further, it will send a message far and wide that US state power, domestic and international, can be beaten.\

    It’s not entirely clear to me what you mean by this. I don’t think that such a response will necessarily be a political one. Sometimes – alas – growing polarisation means the fragmentation and disintegration of working class unity and strength. It seems to me that the response will largely determined by political factors – what forms of organisation can harness the growing discontent? I’m not sure if such forms are there for the response to find productive channels.

    1. Yes, I agree with Rjurik. I reckon we need to pretty wary of formulations that the working class will be ‘forced’ into any particular responses. It may well be that ordinary people will respond by either retreated into passivity and the realm of the private, or by gravitating to Tea Party like formations, which, although they’re incoherent and right wing, at least seem to recognise that there’s a crisis, in a way that the mainstream Left does not.
      Incidentally, that’s why the Stewart-Colbert call for moderation and civility is so wrong, since it comes across as telling ordinary people that there’s nothing to be angry about even though they’re losing their jobs and their houses. The trick is not to dismiss that anger — it’s rather to channel it in a productive way.

      1. I guess my point is that sometimes there is no retreat into the realm of the private possible anymore if the social crisis is deep and intractable enough, as this one is showing signs of being.

    2. There is no question in my mind that the scale of the crisis will cause a reaction by sections of the US working class that involves collective activity *on a class basis* at least locally (but probably wider because of the scale of the attacks being planned). It will necessarily be politicised because of the circumstances in which such struggles will occur (a wide and deep crisis of legitimacy of the existing political order).

      None of that is to say that there will necessarily be victories for our side, or that they can start to be generalised into a powerful progressive movement. But there is a danger for the Left to read the last 35 years of defeats onto what is possible now. Or to presume that workers are just as likely as sections of the middle class to be pulled by Tea Party-like demagoguery… all the studies so far seem to indicate they haven’t been to date.

      What is least likely to happen is for those at the base of American society to endlessly assume a position of fragmented passivity. That notion just minimises the depth of the crisis the capitalist class is facing because of the inherent problems in their own system.

      1. Tad,

        I’m not sure I can agree with you there. You seem to be taking something of an economic-determinist reading, not unlike the ones drawn by the Trotskyist movement in the late seventies and which sent a number of them into sectarian spirals, most obviously the US SWP. Those organisations argued that there was about to be a wave of neoliberal attacks on the working class, and that this meant that the working class would be forced to fight back. They were right about the first part, terribly wrong about the second. There may well be working-class struggles which break out in the US. Some may well be ‘spontaneous’. But it’s equally true that there is nothing inevitable about it. The political here seems to me to be, to use an Althusserian term, dominant. The Left defeats are here crucial because they’ve eroded the organisational base and forms of struggle, the historic memory, and so on. The great defeat of the left has been on this ground – that of strategy and organisation.

        1. Rjurik,

          I think you are mixing two things up here in criticising my position: what I think is an inevitable level of resistance and what the outcome of that resistance will be—which I think is anything but predetermined. They are certainly not the same thing.

          The scale of this crisis means the ruling class and state will seek to wage direct war on workers, even if they combine that with appeals to nationalism and scapegoating to try to take the heat off themselves. Yet as recent US opinion polling shows, for most people economic issues are front and centre in their consciousness. It would be truly remarkable and unprecedented in US history for workers to simply accept such massive attacks without significant fights breaking out.

          Workers will struggle, and union leaders will feel forced to organise struggles, despite the conservative ideas and traditions of defeat and demoralisation they carry into those fights. I feel there is a certain sense in which your view of politics being “dominant” misses the way that self-activity in response to the workings of capitalism can itself shape political ideas. Indeed, I think politics properly defined includes activity lacking full consciousness of its historic aims.

          For me that’s the really important point that the young Marx got at, and which explains the way movements can emerge rapidly despite having to do so on grossly unfavourable historical terrain. I also think you overstate the depth of the defeats of the past in the US (esp. insofar as they weigh on what is happening today) but that’s another discussion!

          1. Well, I dunno. I mean, if the point is simply that there will be some struggles, then, yeah, sure.
            But when you talk about it ‘necessarily becoming politicied’, that’s when I worry, particularly given the disastrous history of these debates.
            Rjurik’s right to suggest that there’s been a historic destruction of the Left organisations and traditions, which means that ‘politicisation’ is a much more fraught and complicated process now than thirty years ago.
            Not to say that our side can’t turn things around or that defeat is inevitable but I think we need to resist the temptation to slide directly from current attacks to future struggles.

  6. You’re right on the money with the Stewart-Colbert approach assessment Jeff. The most successful harnessing of left (& even right) social discontent occurs behind a figurehead…and there is unfortunately no-one ‘likely’ advocating an active and passionate response.

  7. The Beck-Fox-Tea Party take on the Arizona killings has already begun to follow its pre-ordained logic: Loughner was a nut – He read Mein Kampf and Marx – He was therefore a communist – This means he was in fact a liberal – Therefore charges that right-wing rhetoric encouraged Loughner are a liberal plot – Therefore the real victims are supporters of the Tea Party and true patriots.
    The pattern of violent attacks identified in Jeff’s post, suggests very strongly to me that it’s only a matter of time before there’s a greater escalation, and we see something on the scale of the Oklahoma bombing. The US Left don’t really appear to exist. Civil society appears to have disintegrated
    in the US, and the idea of there being a unitary entity called ‘the working class’ in the US just seems bizarre.
    The style of political lunacy, bigotry and outright hatred current in the US doesn’t have the same roots to feed it in Australia. Sure we have shifted to the right much more, but the idea and practice of civil society still means something.

  8. I only wish that something like this WOULD shift the American right into a more reflective ‘civil’ approach to the way they deal with politicking, but as some analysts have made clear, they thought there would be a move towards moderation in rhetoric after the Oklahoma bombing and it simply turned out to fade away. Sadly, I don’t think we’re much better, except that we have Gun Laws. Despite there being a lot of discussion about the pointlessness of mud flinging at the last election, and the thought that Australia still has some semblance of civil society, I was appalled at how quickly battlelines were drawn up again after the last election here.
    As for something bad happening: if Obama gets re-elected I hope he doesn’t become a target, such as Gifford was. Even her own view – that the rhetoric was inflammatory and potentially dangerous – doesn’t seem to have penetrated the conscience of the Right in the US.

  9. Just wanted to add that I agree that the mainstream Left offers little to cohere too and even less to hang one’s anger on, these days. Working class people inevitably in this situation drift to the right, probably because of the strong, clear messages that can be so difficult to rein in once they’re released.

  10. Excellent post and great debate. Thanks.

    Notice that Palin has distinguished herself on race relations again…by claiming those accusing her of inspiring the Tucson shooting were engaged in a ‘blood libel’, a term which is apparently offensive to Jewish people.

    From the Guardian

    ‘A pro-Israel lobby group, J Street, called on Palin to apologise for the reference because her use of it “pains and offends” many Jews.

    “We hope that governor Palin will recognise, when it is brought to her attention, that the term ‘blood libel’ brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds,” the group said.

    The Anti-Defamation League, a group in New York that campaigns against antisemitism, said that while it “was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy”, it objected to her language.’

    Not that Palin used this term in a premeditated fashion, it was probably just an off-the-cuff, everyday kind of racism, but I have wondered for quite a while how long the far-right in the US would be able to muzzle its innate anti-semitism in the name of not upsetting neo-con-Israel relations.

    1. That’s okay, litigator extraordinaire Alan Dershowitz has that covered:

      The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People,its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term.

      Dershowitz is a self-appointed expert on anti-Semitism, which he seems to limit to acknowledging Israeli war crimes or criticising the Israeli state, so Palin’s apples.

  11. When the imagery is ‘targets’ and ‘the firing line’ or ‘terrorism’ and “hate of difference’ it is a particular kind of message that – even to the less fanatical racists or extremists – gives them permission to hate.

    A friend told me how during the worst of the asylum seeker official vilification Aboriginal friends of his who had been working without major problems at their large workplace had experienced a definite shift in how they were treated at work and in their town. One described it as if there had been some official message sent out saying that showing your racism was now acceptable.

    Thanks for the post.

  12. Jeff,
    You may want to include the HBO Series “John Adams” made a few years ago which detailed the origins and events of the Boston Tea Party. I thought at the time it was an oddity in HBO’s scheduling and would be interested to know who auspiced and financed it. It certainly fed into the rhetoric and patterning of the actions of the groups of those who make up the support base for the Tea Party currently in the U.S.

    As for Sarah Palin “going on the front food” (and gaining plaudits for so doing)Americans should be wondering what’s wrong with pushing back?

  13. Good article Jeff. Something else which I think fits this picture is the size of the US prison population which I recently saw reported at more than 1.5 million. Prisons are breeding grounds for violence and inmates easy prey to anti-government messages. Frankly the US resembles a powder keg with a slow burning fuse…

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  16. Thank you, Jeff. I read the Overland blog every so often and read your piece this morning via another website or blog. (I became so engrossed in reading the blog and responses I can’t remember the name of the site or blog). As soon as I read about the shooting, I regarded it as a political assassination, knowing that the conventional media representation of it would be as ‘an isolated incident’ without any historical or social contextualisation. What your piece does is connect it to the wider social domain.
    The timetable of political violence by conservative and right-wing individuals and groups is downright scary. For a longtime, I wondered if incidents like the ones described have happened and now I know, they have and are happening.
    As there are many points raised in the discussion, I’m not sure which ones to respond to. However, I generally feel very pessimistic about any kind of ‘left’ response being organised. In fact, pessimistic is probably too genial a description. I feel the future is just depressing.

  17. I have a theory regarding this American phenomenon of gun-porn and violent paranoia: guilt. Guilt because, consciously or subconsciously, Americans know the USA was built on genocide and slavery.

  18. Jeff, your article obscures the point that a lot of the pushback you described is, to my mind, legitimate. It was extremely disheartening to see, within hours of this shooting occurring, a steady stream of commentary coming out linking Palin (specifically her “bullseye” map of targeted congressional districts) to the Tuscon attack, seeking to apportion blame and responsibility to her, without a shred of supporting evidence. This was low political opportunism, and (here I agree with Palin) did little to foster a more civil political discourse. These claims were not related to assessments of the “broader social context” in which the attack took place, but related to the specific motivations of the shooter. A lot of more sensible progressive commentators have (and did) recognised this.

    Nonetheless, I agree with much of what you have said. Words have consequences, and the toxic political discourse and violent rhetoric of populist right-wing demagogues such as Beck has no place in a civil society.

  19. Americans are living in fear; in fear of their economy, in fear of ‘terrorists’ and in fear of each other. To blame ‘right wing demagogues’, is really not the full picture.

    U.S. Society, as it stands, is a society predicated on violence, abdicated parental responsibility, class injustice (if you’re poor there’s no justice) media lies and gross corporate and government corruption and mismanagement.

    Looking at one private company in particular: The Federal Reserve Bank (System) would shed much light on the causa prima of many of the deep woes affecting the socio- economic ‘conditioning’ of the American peoples and their institutions.

  20. Like Lavatus Prodeo, methinks, you are too far away to be terribly insightful,and, to Americans of the Obama type, intellectual fodder for them, to feel they are completely right.It has not occured to you,it may not be the violence ever present in the U.S. ,but personal matters of not having power,where morons like Obama get elected. Approved by Interwrecks here in Australia,because of why!? He shows his intelligence by endlessly speaking into the teleprompter.!? Eugene’s post stands true to me.

  21. As an Australian, i have been appalled by the rhetoric about Julian Assange by various American commenteriate. We are an ally of your country and yet your prominent citizens are calling for one of my countrymen to be assasinated. It makes me wonder who is the true terror state?

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