The Right's Rising Tide of Violent Rhetoric Is Deadly
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Perhaps most telling at the time was the fact that veteran members of Congress told Giffords that they’d never seen the kind of angry, anti-government madness that was unleashed surrounding the health care vote.
But rather than unequivocally condemn, or even rationally discuss how the violent rhetoric had become increasingly indefensible, and rather than encouraging partisan activists to dial it down before somebody got hurt, conservative pundits urged followers to forge ahead with their calls to arms, even blaming Democrats for bringing the deadly threats and acts of violence upon themselves by voting in favor of health care reform.
Indeed, after bricks were being thrown through offices windows and audible death threats left on answer machines, the conservative media mocked the idea that Democrats were being targeted and suggested the well-documented incidents had been somehow manufactured. Last March, Glenn Beck complained, “It's almost as if the left is trumping all of this up just for the politics."
Rush Limbaugh agreed: “Our side doesn't do this kind of stuff. It's all made up -- 95 percent of it's made up and it's being done to divert everybody's attention."
And from Andrew Breitbart's site, Big Government: "We doubt these threats are actually real and, certainly wouldn't condone them."
For those who didn’t get the point, Fox News’ Stephen Hayes shrugged off the acts of violence and threats, suggesting, "This happens all the time," while his Fox News colleague Charles Krauthammer said, "I'm sure a lot of this is trumped up."
Or as the Daily Caller’s S.E. Cupp put it on Fox News at the time, "Democrats who did this, who sort of rammed this down our throats regardless of the fact that it actually won't save us any money -- it's is going to bankrupt us and that the American people didn't want it -- want us to feel sorry for them that they've gotten a couple of angry, you know, voice mails. They should read my e-mail. You know, what did they expect? No one condones threats. No one condones the violence, but I'm glad people are angry. I hope they stay angry.”
Even after Byron Williams, in a jailhouse interview, told reporter John Hamilton that he was heavily influenced by Glenn Beck’s conspiratorial rants at the time when Williams plotted to assassinate leaders at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, what did Sarah Palin do? What did Fox News’ Palin do in response to a direct request that she act as a true leader and call for a cooling off of the increasingly deadly rhetoric that had become a cornerstone of the conservative movement? Palin reaffirmed her support of the talker’s incendiary fear mongering: “I stand with you, Glenn.”
Whatever the reason for Saturday’s semi-automatic killing spree in Tucson, what’s inescapable is that the government and government officials have been elevated to prime targets of physical attack in the last two years. We’ve certainly never seen them targeted so casually within segments of the popular media. The spike in attacks, both the actual attacks and threatened ones, comes amidst a spike in explicit, insurrectionist rhetoric that singles out the government as being a source of intentional evil within America.
There’s a political and media movement in this country that’s eagerly painting a bull’s-eyes on the back of the U.S. government and its representatives. Not surprisingly, more and more marksmen are taking aim.
Eric Boehlert is is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. He's the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006) and Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, 2009). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics.