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Terror In Arizona: Sorting the Details, Emotions Around Attempted Assassination of Rep. Giffords

January 9, 2011

“We know that silence equals consent when atrocities are committed against innocent men, women, and children. We know that indifference equals complicity when bigotry, hatred, and intolerance are allowed to take root. And we know that education and hope are the most effective ways to combat ignorance and despair.” ~ Representative Gabrielle Giffords

When gunfire rang out in Tuscon Arizona on Saturday, it was as if the clock on a ticking time bomb finally ran out.

22 year old Jared Lee Loughner has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to killing a federal employee in his attempt to murder US Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Giffords remains hospitalized after being shot once through the head while hosting an event to give constituents in her district an opportunity to meet and talk with her.

A little after 10:00am, Loughner walk up to Giffords and shot her once in the head, then members of her staff, and anyone else in his path. 6 died that day, the youngest just 9 years old.  Christina Taylor Green was invited by a neighbor to go meet Rep. Giffords because she herself had an interest in politics.  She was recently elected to her school’s student council.  She was shot in the chest and bled to death in the parking lot of her neighborhood grocery store.  In all, 20 people were shot before bystanders disarmed Loughner. The entire incident was caught on tape.

The hours immediately following the shooting were marred with misinformation reported by the media. NPR and others reported Giffords was dead before she even made it to the hospital.  An intern who was with Giffords in the ambulance says she was conscious the entire time.  Miraculously, Doctors say they are cautiously optimistic about her recovery.

The Palin Factor

Palin PAC "hit list"

Giffords’ name became known on the national stage because former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin- and thePAC that supports her, listed Giffords on a target/hit list of politicians up for re-election last November, complete with sniper scopes.

Giffords was well aware of Palin’s efforts against her and the violent undertones that came with it.  She was concerned- but also undaunted.

Sarah Palin didn’t put a gun in Loughner’s hands, she didn’t direct him to shoot Giffords or any of the other victims. Nevertheless, progressives and moderate conservatives blame Palin for what happened on Saturday.

Palin has sent condolences to Giffords via facebook, but came far from denouncing violence in politics or elimination-speech; one of her favorite phrases seems to be “don’t retreat, reload!”  A Palin aide insists Palin’s message and Loughner’s actions have no relation.

I think we’re all fooling ourselves if we think one has nothing to do with the other.  We have known sometime, or at least felt the foreboding of impending violence post Obama election.  The anger and fears of staunch conservatives- as well as the ignorant and uneducated were stoked by the likes of Palin, Glenn Beck, and Michelle Bachmann who recently said she wanted to see people “armed and dangerous” over decisions made by the Obama Administration.  They have passively and even directly encouraged violence, and for the most part, their actions have gone unchecked.  The media has been too distracted in their ratings orgy and selfishness to care or take actions.  The have given this hate speech an unconditional platform and for that, they are culpable.

We have politicians and pundits and down right ego fame whores plucking the strings of this country at their ignorant will. It’s a game to them. It’s book deals, tv appearances, ratings and money. Meanwhile, people are suffering, and worse, dying.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik summed it up in his very controversial comments Saturday evening:

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” said the sheriff. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Sheriff Dupnik has been praised for his comments, but also criticized heavily by those who thought them inappropriate for a law enforcement briefing, and still others who said the Sheriff simply had no proof to make such a connection.  Either critique is ridiculous.  As first responders, members of law enforcement have a unique perspective of those in our society who suffer from emotional and/or mental health issues and the factors that set can set them off.  What he said was right on point.

Domestic Terrorist

Jared Lee Loughner, alleged shooter

We’re still learning about Loughner and his motivation for the killings, but one thing cannot be denied- he was unwell, he was angry, and he allegedly decided to take matters into his own hands.  He may have intended to kill himself or for police officers to shoot and kill him, but that didn’t happened. We haven’t heard the last from Jared Lee Loughner.

It was someone at CNN who stated there was no “terrorist” link between the suspect and his violent act.  It was an assertion that upset many.

The FBI defines terrorism as:

“The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Many have also pointed to race as a factor for the network’s statement.  Had Loughner been anything other than white, the “terrorism” label would have been immediately applied, they say, and perhaps they’re right.

One thing is certain, no news network is qualified to determine when something is not terrorism.  Everyone wants to know what Loughner’s motive was, and the AP is reporting that he may or may not have been tied to an anti-government group. Whether that connection is made definitive or not, the 22 year old himself took to myspace and youtube to express his own distrust at the US government.

[vsw id=”nHoaZaLbqB4″ source=”youtube” width=”300″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Like Timothy McVeigh before him, there is likely no category more appropriate than domestic terrorist.  He distrusted the government and resorted to violence against an elected government official.  Aside from the FBI’s official version of what terrorism is, there is a far simpler and equally accepted definition: to cause terror itself.  Loughner accomplished that in the 60 seconds it took to shoot 20 people.  Though many lawmakers are hesitant to increase security, there is speculation that this event means the end of access to politicians by constituents. Because of fear it could happen again; because of terror.

In statements about the shooting, many lawmakers have sought to demonize Loughner, calling him “inhuman”, and an animal.  Here’s a cold, hard fact: Jared Lee Loughner is human.  Of course it’s tempting to want to clarify that he’s the kind of person that would do things many of us would never consider, but based on his actions that goes without saying.  Trying to turn Loughner into a beast is a cop-out.  It’s a defense mechanism.  This alleged shooter has not been possessed by some demonic entity that took over his mind and body and forced him to do this.  His mother didn’t lay down with the devil to conceive him.  If we’re going to discuss the impact that mental and/or emotional illness can have on a person or their actions, let’s get real.

Those that knew Jared Loughner say he was obviously troubled.  In school he often interrupted class with nonsensical rantings.  He was a loaner, socially awkward- a textbook list of observations that apparently led nowhere.

The shooting has ignited debate as to whether Loughner was mentally disturbed or if political vitriol pushed him to the brink. It doesn’t have to be one or the other- it can be, and likely is, both at the same time.

The Innocents

Christina Taylor Green, just 9 years old is dead today.  She was invited by a neighbor to meet Rep. Giffords.  

What can be said about the life and murder of this little girl? She was born on 9/11 and considered, just by her birth, to be a symbol of hope for this country. She will never grow up to accomplish her life’s goals. Her father will never walk her down the aisle. She will never be someone’s wife, someone’s mother.

Christina was not the only person murdered by the accused gunman, nor is her life anymore significant than the others. Perhaps it is her young age, her desire to do good in the world that leaves us sickened by her murder.

Perhaps it is also that we all feel a bit responsible for her death- at least as much as we are responsible for the current political climate in this country.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. eRiC permalink
    January 10, 2011 4:08 am

    You’ve brought me up to speed…about to see what more I can find. That Sarah PAC poster is quite telling….especially in light of what has happened.
    I see the temperature is rising–which doesn’t surprise me. But, it still doesn’t take away from the fact this is a horrendous event.

  2. Kaelyn permalink
    January 13, 2011 5:50 pm

    Sable, first let me say that I appreciate the work that you do and think that the alternate narratives that you present are thought provoking and needed in this world today when the perspectives presented by the mainstream media too often seem like an echo of the same spectacle-laden and fear-mongering voice.

    I also appreciate the fact that you recognize the victims, even providing a name and back story for Christina Taylor Green. I believe that as consumers of mainstream media, people (not just Sarah Palin) are complicit within the systems that generate terrorist actions like that of Jared Loughner– in essence our society constructs the serial killer through the spectacle that is created around the person who commits said crimes. Jared Loughner was successful in killing 6 people and wounding many others– yet the story comes to revolve around him and in doing so further silences the victims of this tragedy, by turning them into nameless and voiceless bodies. Thus, he comes to hold even more power through the representations that occur in the media. I would assert that it is too simplistic of a perspective to merely blame people like Sarah Palin for pushing him towards his actions, though I don’t deny her culpability. People need to start assessing how the media they consume places power into the hands of people who are willing to commit acts of terror and violence.

    On a side note, is it not a heterosexist and patriarchal assumption to assume that Christina was destined to walk down the aisle with her father? Is it possible to envision what her life may have been without using words that perpetuate heterosexuality as the norm?

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