January 09, 2011

I don't know the motivation behind yesterday's targetted shooting of United States representative Gabrielle Giffords and many of those who happened to be around her at the time. I can make guesses certainly: but unless Jared Lee Loughner decides to tell us anything more, all we have to work with is the action itself and his previous statements.

I can say something as to the state of modern political rhetoric in the United States.

The target image from Sarah Palin's webpage, which was removed todayMore than two years ago, long before Sarah Palin was a household name, two politically motivated killings occurred within two weeks of each other. In one case, the chair of a state Democratic Party was shot. In the other, two people were killed and several were injured because an unemployed man had come to the conclusion that all liberals must die. At that time, I ran a Google search for the phrase "liberals must die" and another for the phrase "conservatives must die", and also searched for patterns of violent events in the United States which could clearly be linked with politics.

Both phrases gave more than half a million results: but "liberals must die" came up more frequently and more vehemently. I have lost track of the number of webpages and blogposts titled some variant of "Liberals Must Die!!!" but liberalsmustdie.com is even a registered website. (The rest of the analysis can be found in that post.)

These kinds of phrases are now considered normal in polarised rhetoric in the United States. Most people say them automatically, thoughtlessly -- but at least some some people truly believe them. Given certain premises, reason would even dictate that "liberals must die" is a completely rational conclusion, in fact the only possible rational conclusion. If liberals truly are indistinguishable from "America's enemies" and "terrorists", as so many Tea Partiers claim: who would rationally think otherwise?

Even Jesse Kelly, Giffords' Tea Party opponent in last November's elections, held a campaign event which was described as "Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly". This is mild compared to the comment exchanges I read every single day, and not from a tiny minority of posters. We would never consider shouting it aloud from the rooftops: but a fair number of us seem to have absolutely no problem with writing it down for all too see.

On the Internet, where we can surround ourselves entirely with support of our own opinions and easily forget that behind other printed comments are real people who could be our neighbours and our friends: what could be easier?

Until today, only one United States representative has ever been killed as a direct result of his views and actions. He was Leo Joseph Ryan Jr, an outspoken critic of damaging charismatic cults, who had just completed an investigation of the People's Temple on November 18, 1978, when he was killed along with several reporters and others who had accompanied his delegation or who were trying to leave the Jonestown compound. Those deaths precipitated the Jonestown Massacre later the same day.

He is still the only United States representative ever to have been killed in the line of duty. Giffords will probably survive, although she will certainly have terrible consequences from her injuries for the rest of her life. Six people around her were killed, including a nine-year-old girl who had been born on the 11th day of September, 2001. At least a dozen people around her were also injured, some severely. Had Loughner not stopped to reload, even more people would be dead.

Will this killing become a call to sanity and some modicum of simple decency in the way we now talk to each other? or will it be dismissed, as every previous such killing has been dismissed, as yet another "isolated" incident by a lone "lunatic"? How many "isolated" incidents do we need to have before we start reconsidering our entire basis of interaction?


Update:

This blog has now been discovered by several searches for "liberalsmustdie" -- but not by a single search for "conservativesmustdie". Judging by the minimal amount of time spent on the site, this blog was not what the searchers were looking for.

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