Jan
12
2011

A Whole Lot of Lone Nuts

Jared Loughner

Jared Loughner

Right-wing pundits have come out vociferously against the idea that they, their colleagues and the political movement they identify with have anything to answer for in the wake of the Tucson massacre.

David Brooks (New York Times, 1/11/11) asserted that "the evidence before us suggests that [shooting suspect Jared] Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it," rejecting as "vicious charges" the notion that the gunman "unleashed his rampage because he was incited by the violent rhetoric of the Tea Party, the anti-immigrant movement and Sarah Palin." George Will (Washington Post, 1/11/11) bitterly denounced the "political opportunism" of "charlatans" who subscribe to the "superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment." Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post, 1/12/11) insisted that "there is no evidence that he was responding to anything, political or otherwise, outside of his own head," marveling that those who suggest otherwise would make a charge "so reckless, so scurrilous and so unsupported by evidence."

It's comforting to think that evil-doers exist in a vacuum, and the evil that they do has no relation to anyone else. Dismissing Loughner as a lone nut, however, is much more difficult when one considers the startling number of incidents of political violence in the last few years. From a lengthy list of violent events and reckless rhetoric compiled by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, I've excerpted the cases that involved gunfire or other overtly deadly acts; the complete timeline includes numerous other episodes in which police disrupted violent plans before they were carried out:

July 27, 2008–Jim Adkisson shoots and kills two people at a progressive church in Knoxville, Tennessee, wounding two.Adkisson calls it "a symbolic killing" because he really "wanted to kill every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book," but was unable to gain access to them….

April 4, 2009–Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski shoots and kills three police officers responding to a 911 call to his home in Pittsburgh.His friend Edward Perkovic tells reporters that Poplawski feared 'the Obama gun ban that's on its way' and 'didn't like our rights being infringed upon.' Perkovic also commented that Poplawski carried out the shooting because 'if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna stand by what his forefathers told him to do."…

April 25, 2009–Joshua Cartwright, 28, a member of the Florida National Guard, shoots and kills two Okaloosa County sheriff's deputies attempting to arrest him on a domestic abuse charge. Cartwright is killed in an enusing gun battle with police. Cartwright's wife reports that he was "severely disturbed" that Barack Obama had been elected president. Okaloosa County Sheriff Edward Spooner states that Cartrwight was "interested in militia groups and weapons training."…

May 31, 2009–Scott P. Roeder shoots and kills Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas.The FBI lists Roeder as a member of the Montana Freemen, a radical anti-government group.In April 1996, he had been pulled over in Topeka, Kansas, for driving with a homemade license plate. Police found a military-style rifle, ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder, and two 9-volt batteries in his car….

June 10, 2009–James W. von Brunn, a convicted felon and a 'hardcore Neo-Nazi,' walks into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and shoots and kills a security guard.Von Brunn believed that Western civilization was going to be replaced with a 'ONE WORLD ILLUMINATI GOVERNMENT' that would 'confiscate private weapons' in order to accomplish its goals….

July 13, 2009Gilbert Ortez, Jr. kills a police deputy in Chambers County, Texas, with an assault rifle.Police were responding to reports that Ortez or his wife had fired shots at utility workers in the area.Police searching Ortez's mobile home after a 10-hour standoff find more than 100 explosive devices; Nazi drawings and extremist literature; and several additional firearms….

December 23, 2009Warren "Gator" Taylor takes three people hostage at a federal post office in Wytheville, Virginia. He is armed with four guns, including a .40-caliber Glock pistol, despite a criminal record that includes convictions for lewd and lascivious behavior with a 13-year-old and attempted second-degree murder (Taylor shot his ex-wife three times in a parking lot in 1993). Taylor fires at least three rounds before the stand-off ends, including one at the station's fleeing postmaster. One of Taylor's hostages reports that he was angry about taxes and "the government taking over the right to bear arms."…

February 18, 2010Joseph Stack of Austin, Texas, flies a single-engine plane into an office building containing nearly 200 IRS employees, killing one and wounding 13. In a suicide note, Stack lays out his grievances with the federal tax agency, stating, "The law 'requires' a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that's not 'duress' than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is … Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."…

March 4, 2010John Patrick Bedell, a California resident, travels to Arlington, Virginia, and opens fire on police officers at the entrance to the Pentagon. Bedell is armed with two semiautomatic firearms and "many [ammunition] magazines." Bedell injures two officers before he is killed by return fire. Reports reveal Bedell to be a Truther who believed that the U.S. government had been taken over by a criminal organization in a 1963 coup. In an Internet posting, he writes, "This organization, like so many murderous governments throughout history, would see the sacrifice of thousands of its citizens, in an event such as the September 11 attacks, as a small cost in order to perpetuate its barbaric control."…

March 23, 2010After Mike Troxel of the Lynchburg Tea Party and Nigel Coleman of the Danville Tea Party post the home address of the brother of Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) and urge supporters to "drop by," someone deliberately cuts a propane gas line at the house. Rep. Perriello is targeted by the Tea Party activists because of his vote in favor of health care reform. Perriello's brother and his wife have four children under the age of eight….

April 7, 2010Brody James Whitaker, 37, is apprehended and arrested on charges including two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, aggravated fleeing, and attempting to elude. The charges stem from an incident on March 25, 2010 in which police attempted to pull Whitaker over for a traffic violation on I-75 in Sumter County, Florida. Whitaker led officers on a high-speed chase, fired shots at them from a 9mm handgun and escaped capture. During his arraignment hearing, Whitaker questions the authority of the judge and states, "I am a sovereign. I am not an American citizen." …

May 20, 2010Jerry Kane, Jr., 45, and his son Joseph Kane, 16, fatally shoot two Arkansas police officers with AK-47 assault rifles during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40 in West Memphis. The Kanes are killed during an exchange of gunfire with police in a Walmart parking lot 90 minutes later. Jerry Kane, an Ohio resident and anti-government activist, had a long history with police and had recently spent three days in jail for driving with an expired license plate and no seat belt. Kane considered himself a "sovereign citizen" and ran a business that centered on debt-avoidance scams….

July 18, 2010–California Highway Patrol officers arrest Byron Williams, 45, after a shootout on I-580 in which more than 60 rounds are fired. Officers had pulled Williams over in his pick-up for speeding and weaving in and out of traffic when he opened fire on them with a handgun and a long gun. Williams, a convicted felon, is shot several times, but survives because he is wearing body armor. Williams, a convicted felon, reveals that he was on his way to San Francisco to "start a revolution" by killing employees of the ACLU and Tides Foundation. Williams' mother says her son was angry at "Left-wing politicians" and upset by "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items."…

July 30, 2010–Camp Hill prison guard Raymond Peake, 64, is charged with robbery and the murder of Todd Getgen. Peake allegedly shot Getgen to death at a local shooting range and stole Getgen's custom, silenced AR-15 rifle. Investigators follow Peake to a storage unit when they find three firearms: Getgen's AR-15 rifle, a scoped Remington rifle that had been reported stolen from the range in May, and a second AR-15 rifle. Thomas Tuso is also arrested and charged with conspiracy, receiving stolen property and other crimes. Peake tells police that he and Tuso had been stealing guns "for the purpose of overthrowing the federal government."…

August 17, 2010–Patrick Gray Sharp, 29, opens fire on the Department of Public Safety in McKinney, Texas, and unsuccessfully attempts to ignite gasoline and ammonium nitrate in a trailer hitched to his truck. Sharp is armed with an assault rifle, a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, and a 12-gauge shotgun. He is killed after an exchange of gunfire with police arriving on the scene. Miraculously, no one else is hurt. Sharp's roommate, Eric McClellan describes him as "a great guy" and states, "We're Texans. We have a right to bear arms."…

September 1, 2010–James Jay Lee, 43, takes hostages at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Maryland, while armed with two starter pistols and four improvised explosive devices. After pointing a gun at one of the hostages, he is shot and killed by police. Lee, a radical environmental activist, had previously issued 11 demands through a webpage that Discovery was to meet "immediately." The demands involved the content of programming on the Discovery Channel. Lee had also declared on his MySpace page, "It's time for REVOLUTION!!!"…

October 22, 2010–Texas Department of Corrections officers searching for a missing person, Gill Clements, 69, are confronted by a neighbor while on Clements' property in Henderson County. Howard Tod Granger, 46, points an AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle at one of the officers, who recalls, "He told us to get off the property or he would kill us all." Later that afternoon, officers return to Granger's home with a search warrant and an armored vehicle filled with 13 SWAT members. Granger opens fire on the vehicle, discharging at least 30 rounds before authorities shoot and kill him. Police find guns and "many rounds of ammunition" in Granger's house. They also find the body of Clements, buried in a shallow grave on Granger's property….

January 8, 2011–Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shoots U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 others at a "Congress in Your Corner" event at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. He kills six, including federal Judge John Roll, and wounds 14, including Giffords, who is shot in the head. Loughner has an extensive history of mental illness and substance abuse, yet is able to purchase two handguns and a high-capacity ammunition magazine legally at Sportsman's Warehouse on November 30, 2010. In a YouTube video posted in December 2010, Loughner states, "You don't have to accept the federalist laws…. Nonetheless, read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws."

These individuals no doubt have a range of relationships to reality, and their ideologies may likewise vary from Tea Party orthodoxy to idiosyncratic conspiracy mania. (One person on the list appears to be a genuine ecoterrorist.) But it's hard to deny that this seems like a remarkable amount of political violence in a little more than two-and-a-half years. (This impression is bolstered statistically by reports that the Secret Service has had to deal with a 400 percent increase in threats against the president, that U.S. Marshals are facing double the number of threats against judges and prosecutors, and that Capitol Police found that threats against congressmembers tripled in the first quarter of 2010.)

Even more strikingly, this violence corresponds to a period that has seen a major change in the boundaries of political rhetoric from both pundits and politicians. A major media figures like Glenn Beck (Fox News, 2/20/09) can now fantasize about "citizen militias in the South and West taking up arms against the U.S. government"–and he could declare that government officials bent on forcibly vaccinating his children are going to "meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson." People with regular slots on major networks didn't use to talk this way. Nor did major-party Senate candidates declare that "people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies." (See the Coalition's complete list for many other examples of media and political figures evoking violence in explicit, non-metaphorical statements.)

People who insist that the Tucson massacre has nothing to do with any of this are engaged in a desperate and dangerous denial.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.