Violence in American political rhetoric.

On January 8th Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Gliffords was shot in the head by Jared Lee Lougher in Tucson, Arizona. Miraculously Gliffords survived. Among the other victims were Federal Judge John Roll, a nine year old girl, and four others. Thirteen other people were wounded in the shooting. Sarah Palin has received criticism for allegedly encouraging the shooting by identifying Gliffords’ Arizona riding with a gun sight on a map and declaring that her supporters must reload to defeat Gliffords.

This event will probably bring about the usual cries to reduce gun possession in the United States through a stricter process of registration, higher licensing fees or the abolition of gun ownership in general. Lougher, according to MSNBC, purchased his gun legally. This fact will no doubt receive much attention as proof of lack of adequate gun control measures on the part of the American government. These allegations will be voiced as the American government grows its own stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and retains its unblemished status of world’s largest producer and proliferator of arms.

It is reported that Lougher made anti-government videos, including one entitled “I can’t trust the current government.” Truly a revolutionary statement. That Lougher was involved in such activities will probably mean that other groups seen to possess subversive or anti-government ideas will see their monitoring, and possibly persecution, by the government increase. This will include the usual suspects such as peace activists, anarchists, radical environmentalists, libertarians, small government conservatives, outspoken Muslims, and whomever else the government can think of as posing a threat to Democracy and Freedom.

That Lougher was making Youtube videos might lead to calls for greater regulation and monitoring of the internet or social networking websites.

This is all business as usual. Whenever there is a crisis that Shakes the National Consciousness the government always seeks to consolidate power and isolate those whom might cause it harm. The most interesting reaction to this event though is the belief among many that the shooting is at least in part a consequence of the present state of American political discourse, specifically, the increasingly violent dialogue used by politicians during election campaigns. Sarah Palin’s recent antics on the campaign trail are seen as the epitome of such political trash talk.

John Nichols’ blog post in The Nation quotes Congressman Raul Grijalva, also a Democrat from Arizona, who claims Palin needs to “…look at her own behaviour.” Grijalva then goes on to call the climate of political discourse “toxic” and claims that “If you’re an opponent, you’re a deadly enemy.” Nichols than goes on to say himself that “The incident has sparked a national dialogue about violent political rhetoric and political violence…. and [strikes at] deeper questions about how a democracy maintains a robust national debate while maintaining [a] measure of civility…” Both Glifford and the Judge John Roll had faced death threats before only making Palin’s conduct more controversial.

In another blog post at The Nation titled “An Attack on Government, an Attack on the Public, an Attack on Democracy”, Richard Kim makes the claim that when Loughner shot Gliffords he did more than attack her. He attacked “political free speech”, a political crime in the “broadest and most egregious sense”.

When making the claim that Palin’s conduct may have had some influence on Loughner’s decision to commit murder, it is relevant to look at other figures in the United States government, and media establishment and their own recent statements on the subject of murder, free speech and the treatment of political opponents.

Start with Barack Obama who called the shooting of Gliffords a tragedy. President Obama has himself explicitly acknowledged the government’s right to assassinate both American and non-American citizens around the globe whether or not their exists any evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities. This decision has been influenced by the alleged activities of the American radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, has not been charged with any crimes. Despite this, the US government reserves the right to assassinate him and other Americans without a trial or any due process.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, also announced in early 2010 that the American government was prepared to kill American citizens if there were reasons to suspect (that is, not evidence) they were involved in terrorism.

Both of these statements were made by members of the executive branch and occurred in early 2010. Take the more recent outcries against Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks and someone who certainly has stretched the boundaries of “political free speech” beyond what most governments are willing to accept. Outside the United States, former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a University of Calgary Professor, Tom Flanagan called for Assange’s assassination via drone or other method.

Inside the US, Rep. Peter King (R – New York), himself a former supporter and member of the Provisional IRA, and the previous chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has designated Wikileaks as a terrorist organization and declared that the US government should submit Assange to “drones and Gitmo”.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has called for the execution of Bradley Manning, the person who allegedly leaked information to Wikileaks, if he is found guilty of treason. Manning has been held in solitary confinement by the US government for several months without being charged with any crime. His conditions are described as equivalent to torture.

Mike Huckabee, presidential candidate in 2008 has declared that Assange should be tried with treason, declaring that “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty”. Assange is not an American citizen so trying him with treason would be difficult.

Sarah Palin has called for Assange to be handled in the same manner as members of Al Qaida and the Taliban. Interpret that how you will.

Conservative political commentator and writer for the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol has argued that the United States government “destroy Wikileaks in both cyberspace and physical space”

K.T. McFarland declared on Fox News that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization and has stated that, if Manning is found guilty of treason, he should be executed.

Bill O’Reilly, the immensely popular TV and radio personality has said on the air that he wants Manning to be executed and would like to see a drone kill Assange.

In the Washington Times Jeffrey T. Kuhner has a column entitled “Assassinate Assange?” While in the article he never explicitly calls for Assange’s killing he claims that Assange qualifies as an “enemy combatant” whom “should be treated as such.” According to Kuhner the US government should treat Assange the same way it treats other “high-value terrorist targets”.

“If you’re an opponent, you’re a deadly enemy.” Indeed.

Contrast the calls of various government and media figures for the assassinations and executions of Assange, Awlaki and Manning, all individuals who have never been charged with actual crimes, to the comparatively childish and harmless conduct of Sarah Palin. Palin did not call for a drone strike on Gliffords, she did declare her actions as treasonous, she did advocate her detainment and torture at Guantanamo Bay. Palin did not declare Gliffords a terrorist or enemy combatant. Yet, in the present American political culture, where life is anything but valuable, Palin, surrounded herself by those who are neck deep in the blood of innocents, is the one whom receives criticism for allegedly instigating violent behaviour.

It should be considered whether the present years old US government policy of openly advocating assassination of individuals who have never been convicted of crimes may have at least played an equal part in contributing to the Gliffords’ shooting. Americans are every day bombarded with propaganda that tells them that a dozen lost lives are meaningless so long as one or two “suspected militants” are killed. Bradley Manning has been held in conditions which have been verified by physicians and psychologists as “torture” for over 5 months. His imprisonment has been defend by elected government officials and key media figures as just and deserved. American soldiers’ react to gunning down journalists, children and those trying to pull them out of the line of fire by laughing and blaming the dead for bringing their kids to “battle”.

While there is no proof that the calls of public figures in the United States for the assassinations of innocent people as well as the official policy of shrugging off mass civilian deaths affected Lougher’s decision to commit his crime, it should be obvious that American political discourse has been “toxic” for quite some time before Sarah Palin put a gun sight on Gliffords’ Arizona district.

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