American politics, the right, and the culture of the gun

Over the last five years, a deadly new trend has developed in American politics — a willingness of mainstream voices, and law-abiding citizens, to introduce the gun into our democratic system.

There was a time, decades ago, when the left indulged in the same rhetoric and symbolism, suggesting constantly that violence would be a reasonable alternative if goals couldn’t be achieved peacefully at the ballot box.

When Malcolm X promised progress “by any means necessary” it was an implicit and irresponsible threat.

But this latest resurgence of violence-tinged rhetoric is largely the province of the right.

When a conservative activist  brings an assault rifle to one of President Barack Obama’s rallies; when one of the nation’s most prominent right-wing broadcasters, Glenn Beck, warns that Democrats are taking Americans “to a place to be slaughtered”; and when a top Republican politician talk about “2nd amendment remedies,” it’s time for decent Americans to push back.

Here’s what Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle told an interviewer during last year’s campaign:

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Today we’re all wrestling with the news that a Democratic congresswoman has been shot in Arizona.

We’re learning, moreover, that last March Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s windows were smashed or shot out after she voted in favor of the Democratic healthcare bill.

And we’re learning that following a political event in August 2009, a conservative protester opposed to the healthcare bill was ejected from one of her allies, after a pistol fell from his pocket.

And we’re learning that in June 2010, Gifford’s Republican opponent held a political rally called “Get On Target For Victory,” at which attendants were encouraged to “shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

This followed on Sarah Palin’s Tweet manifesto to “commonsense conservatives and lovers of America,” urging them:  “Don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!”

This fromt he New York Times:

Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin’s political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Ms. Giffords said last March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”

We don’t yet know whether Gifford’s assassin had political motives and it appears that he was mentally ill.

But this isn’t the first time in the last 12 months that the gun-fueled political rhetoric has translated into terrifying action.

In July 2010, a right-wing activist named Byron Williams fired at police after they spotted him driving erratically.  Williams was captured wearing full body armor and carrying an arsenal of weapons.

It turned out Williams had set out to murder “progressives,” and was motivated in large measure by information gathered on Glenn Beck’s radio and television programs.

In April 2009, Pittsburgh man was accused of killing three police officers in Pittsburgh.  According to the Washington Post:

[T]he Anti-Defamation League reported that the accused killer had, as part of a pattern of activities involving far-right conspiracy theories, posted a link on a neo-Nazi Web site to a video of Beck talking about the possibility that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was operating concentration camps in Wyoming.

Were these men all mentally ill?  Perhaps.  But they were also manipulated by the right’s increasingly virulent rhetoric.

I worry that dialing back this kind of bile and hate will be difficult for conservatives.

Too many politicians have come to rely on a kind of gun-related “southern Strategy,” one which uses revolutionary rhetoric and zeal in the place of racial tension to motivate voters.

But it’s long past time that the right’s leadership — from Fox News’ Roger Ailes to House Speaker John Boehner to national conservative spokesman Rush Limbaugh — take specific and forceful action to curb this activity.

They must make it clear that guns, violence and the threat of violence have no place in our politics, period. That means no winks, no nudges, no veiled rhetoric, no code-words.   It all has to stop.

The peaceful transfer of power that we saw last week in the House of Representatives is a sacred principle of our people.  Those who erode and threaten that principle should be marginalized by every responsible American.


60 Comments on “American politics, the right, and the culture of the gun”

  1. phahn50 says:

    Mervel – there seem to be multiple issues here – One is the mentally ill (schizophrenia?) going on killing rampages. This seems to happen to college age young adults and we need a better way to identify and treat these people. But the fact remains that this particular rampage killing most likely was triggered by the conservative language. Maybe he would never have gone off, or would have gotten into treatment first (or killed other people instead). The second issue is all the other politically motivated killings mentioned by oa. Many of those are by sociopaths, not schizophrenics, but still, they are all motivated by conservative ideology. Probably there are many sociopath murders that are just killing people for its own sake, or sexually motivated, but I bet you cant find any that are motivated by liberal (or even leftist) ideology at least in the last 40 years.

  2. Paul says:

    This “violence-tinged rhetoric” as Brian calls it is not something that is owned by the right as this title would imply. I think the most famous quotes was “If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun” uttered by president Obama in 2008, or “we must punish our enemies” referring to republicans in 2010. Now remember these are quotes from the president of the United States, a person that we are supposed to look up to for guidance and leadership. Not some political pundit or talk show host.

    Yes, there is too much of this type of stuff. But what really is crazy is how we see people bring this up at a time when the reference to recent events is going to continue to divide the country. I was happy to see that polling indicates that the vast majority of Americans are intelligent enough to understand that we do not know why this shooting took place, and that this “violence-tinged rhetoric” may have had nothing at all to do with it. But in this world of the 10 second news cycle folks simply can’t help themselves and have to get folks way off on a tangent. This is all they are talking about right now, and are pretending that people won’t tie the two things together. It is insane.

    This shooting in Tucson may be a new addition to oa’s list but at this point we have no idea.

    “We don’t yet know whether Gifford’s assassin had political motives and it appears that he was mentally ill.
    But this isn’t the first time in the last 12 months that the gun-fueled political rhetoric has translated into terrifying action.”

    Brian you don’t think it is somewhat irresponsible for journalists to stir the pot like this when they we don’t have a clue?

    It could just as easily be Mr. Obama’s rhetoric that drove this nut nuttier. But why not wait till we know more.

  3. dave says:

    – Abhorrent political rhetoric.

    – Easy access to guns.

    – Lack of funding to community mental health support programs.

    – A church picketing the funerals of the victims.

    Go ahead and pick which one you think is the worst societal ill to be highlighted by this tragedy.

    But I am personally done acting as if this is some shared American responsibility. Each of those is largely the domain of the right-wing. From talk radio/G. Beck, to the NRA, to the small government movement to defund essential programs, to religious extremists. One side has their stamps all over this thing… from beginning to end.

    Any conversation that suggests these issues are somehow a product of “both sides” is simply a dishonest conversation and not really worth having.

  4. dave says:

    “If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun”

    This was a movie quote. Do people not get that?

    There wasn’t an actual knife fight, and no one was actually suggesting anyone bring guns to it.

    The fact that the right is taking that quote literally and that they appear to lack the ability to understand context makes me even more nervous about the rhetoric they are constantly exposed to…

    On the other hand… right wing politicians and commentators actually HAVE suggested that their supporters arm themselves… with literal, actual, guns. Armed resolutions to political problems has actually been suggested. Armed revolution has actually been hinted at.

    Can you not see the difference? It should be obvious as day. But it doesn’t seem to be? If not, maybe this conversation about political rhetoric needs to be backed up a step and the differences more plainly explained.

  5. Mervel says:

    Well Walker, this guy who did this shooting was a Liberal we could start with that. But of course that is just silly it makes no sense.

    I have to say Rush is correct on this issue this is totally bogus and a cynical ploy to use a tragedy in this way.

    Now if language does cause violence in this way what about music, what about violent movies, video games; television, what about narco ballads and gangsta rap etc. If we can draw these direct connections between violent language and mentally ill people killing people; why isn’t anyone talking about ALL of the language that glorifies violence? Why the focus only on some pretty mild and I agree pretty stupid, political language from some politicians?

    The reason of course is to score some cheap political points and silence the language.

  6. Bret4207 says:

    Sorry I’m so late. Computer died.

    A few points-

    A Glock 19 doesn’t hold 31 rounds Pete. The Glock 17 was the issue gun of the NYSP for many years. IIRC the 19 uses the same magazine that holds 10 or 17 rounds, depending on when it was made. There are some higher capacity mags made but they are 18″ long and feed poorly. They’re rare.

    One all the “right wing” hate speech- I don’t buy it folks. I think those of you sitting there judging all the problems to come from the right have your blinders on. I don’t recall you all crying foul when left wing celebrities were calling for Henry Hyde to be stoned to death, for Bush to be killed, for Cheney to be killed, when the left wing media was completely ignoring the books and movie about assassinating Bush, when right wing and left wing nuts got together and decided Bush and Co took out the Trade Center and engineered 9/11. We went through 8 years of people on the left spouting violent rhetoric about Bush and I didn’t hear a peep from good old NCPR saying it was wrong or bad. In fact, NCPR tended to support the party line.

    I think this is nothing more than perception and a use for a tragic event perpetrated by someone unbalanced to make political hay for the left.

    On the whole gun control/freedom of speech thing- we still have inalienable rights, do we not? No one forces anyone to protect themselves, it’s up to the individual to make that choice. If you choose to own a gun and legally carry it, good for you. If you don’t, good for you. That’s your choice. Same for speech, if you never say anything, fine. If you’re a squeaky wheel, fine. According to the reports I’ve seen this nut job had made MULTIPLE death threats. He was under mental care. Now, at the Federal level, being a mental patient BARS YOU FROM BUYING A GUN! Locally here in NY if you are under mental care the County Court will often have your guns held until you are deemed “responsible” or they get melted. I don’t know how this guy got the gun, but around here he never would have had the chance because when you make multiple death threats you wind up in jail. So chances are someone dropped the ball. I’m guessing the Sheriff who’s doing the CYA boogie would be a prime choice for slippery hands. Regardless, there’s no law I’m aware of that allows a known mentally unstable person to possess guns. So the guy was a criminal in the first place.

    Why is it most of you jump right to “BAN RIGHT WING SPEECH” at every opportunity? Ban right wing “hate” speech? Like what? Stop spending our kids future? Stop taxing me to death? Stop taking away my rights while creating new rights for special interest groups? That’s hate speech? No, it’s only hate speech or violent rhetoric because of your political views. Using examples of “having them in my sights” is EXACTLY the same as Obamas “gun to a knife fight” comment- it’s descriptive terminology. There is zero difference, except for your political view.

  7. Bret4207 says:

    Walker, here’s a list-

    Left wing violent nut jobs? There aren’t ANY? You mean like The Unabomber”? None of them call for violence? Like Ted Rall? It really doesn’t take much Google-fu to find listings just like you asked for-

    Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dorhn, of the Weather Underground, didn’t think his group went far enough in committing violence against the government.

    Left wing extremist Van Jones, who resigned as Obama’s Green Jobs Czar, now calls for violent revolution and now works for Media Matters.

    Obama’s pastor of twenty years, Rev. Wright, who preaches black liberation racist theology and hatred of whites and America.

    Trumpka of the AFL-CIO calls for violence to achieve “social justice.”

    Andy Stern, Obama’s buddy, allowed his SEIU thugs to beat up a black conservative.

    More leftist violence in the United States.

    1. It was Bill Maher who “joked” about Sarah Palin being the first of the useless people to be killed.
    2. Ed Schultz on PMSNBC has stated many times that Conservatives need to be killed.
    3. SEIU beats down a black Conservative and an elderly Tea Party man.
    4. Liberals want to kill Bush. The books and movies were A-Okay!
    5. Vandals smashed a large glass door with a section of cinder block at the Republican Party headquarters in downtown Flagstaff.
    6. Brownshirts for Kerry.
    7. Leftist spits on Major Jerry Boyle, USMC Iraq War Vet and Congress candidate.
    8. Joseph Stack crashes his plane into the Federal Building in Austin, TX.
    9. Clay Duke walked into a Florida school board with a handgun, spray-painted a “V for Vendetta” (left-wing gang symbol) on the wall, and then tried to shoot the board members before shooting himself. (They tried to pin that one on the right as well.)
    10. Norman Leboon (registered Democrat AND Obama donor) shot into Eric Cantor’s office in Virginia.
    11. The Left embraces a film where Bush gets assassinated.
    12. An anonymous liberal called Congresswoman Jean Schmitt and left the following message:

    “Yeah, I’m glad the president passed health care. Yeah. Republicans hate that, don’t you? Jean Schmitt, when you got hit by that car, you should’ve broke your back. And Boehner, that Mitch McConnell. All you racist Republicans. Why don’t you just change your party name to racist? Cuz if one of those Tea baggers had spit on me, I’d have shot all them in the face with my 9 millimeter. $%^& all you racist mothers.”

    But they have a history that goes back to the 60’s.

    It was John Kerry who was involved with the Winter Soldier program that worked on a plan to assassinate Congressman/Senators who they disliked for whatever reason.

    “In 1971, the pro-Hanoi anti-war group that presidential candidate John Kerry was principal leader and spokesman of debated and voted down a plot to assassinate U.S. Senators who supported the Vietnam War. Numerous media outlets claim witnesses and FBI documents conclusively place Kerry at that November 1971 meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in Kansas City.”

    That Kerry resigned immediately afterwards is not clear but what IS clear is that he never reported the plot to the police. He also lied to the Senate as he slimed American Vietnam Vets.

    Valerie Jarrett and Van Jones have openly called for violent revolution in America. Van Jones left the Obama Administration and now works for the Soros mouthpiece, that spreads Obama propaganda, Media Matters and Valerie Jarrett is still in this corrupt administration and has Obama’s ear. Sidenote: Valerie Jarrett’s father In-law was very involved with the CPUSA and worked with the radical commie pedophile and Obama mentor Frank Marshall Davis.

    1. Bill Ayer’s Weather Underground. Grew out of the SDS and Revolutionary Youth Movement (a faction of the SDS). Members included: Karen Ashley, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, John Jacobs, Jeff Jones, Gerry Long, Howie Machtinger, Jim Mellen, Terry Robbins, Mark Rudd, and Steve Tappis. (Many now involved with the Democrat Party)

    2. The Black Liberation Army (BLA) helped the WUO rob a Brink’s truck of $1.6 million. They murder a Brink’s guard and two police officers and wounded three others. The BLA is credited with murdering 13 police officers and over 60 acts of left-wing violence from 1970-1980.

    3. M19CO was formed in the late 1970s. They had three objectives: to free political prisoners held in American prisons, to use appropriation of capitalist wealth to fund the third stage, and to initiate a series of bombings and terrorist attacks. They also freed JoAnne Chesimard who had murdered a state trooper.

    The United Freedom Front: Responsible for 29 known robberies and bombings from October 4, 1975, to September 26, 1984. One of the members, Thomas Manning, was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper.

    More recently:

    In 2009, the Left came through Pittsburgh, smashing windows, setting fire to public and private property, and injuring police officers.

    The shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum were committed by a left-wing nutjob by the name of James Von Brunn.

    Union thugs harassed the 14 y.o. son of a BoA executive in his home as the police did nothing.

    At the RNC in 2008, they attacked buses with Boy Scouts in them and tried to drop rocks, bricks, and sandbags on the buses, trying to kill the drivers AND sprayed Republican delegates with toxic materials.

    At the John Liebowitz (Steward) and Stevie Colbert rally, the Left trashed the mall AND the WW2 memorial.

    Left-wing eco-terrorist groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have set to people’s homes and businesses on the West Coast since 1997. They have also burned down universities, car lots, government offices, ski resorts, and whaling vessels performing legal business on the high seas that the Discovery Channel sees fit to legitimize. (Sea Shepards)


    “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” Obama to CEOs.
    “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
    “Get in Their Faces!” Obama to his doorknockers.
    “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!” Obama to ACORN crowd.
    “Punch back twice as hard!” Obama to his Obomunists.
    “We talk to these folks…so I know whose ass to kick.” Obama to the Left on the private sector.
    “A Republican victory would mean hand to hand combat.”
    “It’s time to Fight for it.” Obama in a speech to his supporters.
    “Punish your enemies.” Obama to Latino supporters.
    “I’m itching for a fight.” Obama to Democrats in a speech.

    Note-AZ State Senator Linda Lopez on Fox News early on the 8th blamed the Tea Party even though the Daily KOS had Giffords on their site with a bulls eye on her, likely because she stood with AZ Governor Jan Brewer on immigration. So, the Left, it appears, needs a crash course on their violent past.

  8. JDM says:

    Media bias.

  9. Paul says:

    This post is way off base in my opinion. I think that this Washington Post commentary says it best:

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