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The Right's Rising Tide of Violent Rhetoric Is Deadly

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords appears be the latest victim of anti-government violence that has taken hold in America since 2009.
 
 
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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords appears be the latest victim of anti-government violence that has taken hold in America since 2009. It’s a wave of violence that’s cresting along with a tide of hateful, insurrectionist rhetoric that far too many conservatives refuse to condemn. Instead, the toxic talk is routinely defended as being nothing more than spirited debate.

It’s not. It’s deadly. And until those in positions of power say so, the dangerous rhetoric is likely to continue.  

Whether that rhetoric played a role in the gun massacre that erupted at the Tucson shopping center on Saturday, we don’t yet know. Note that over the weekend the local Arizona sheriff, Clarence Dupnik,condemned “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business,” and especially the influence it may have on “unbalanced” people, like the Tucson shooter.

What’s undeniable is that the attempted assassination of Giffords took place against a right-wing media backdrop that has been targeting the government, and specifically Democrats, in an unconscionable manner:  

* “The suicide-bomber-in-chief, Barack Obama

* Beck suggests Obama admin might kill "10 percent" of population 

* Quinn: "Yes," Obama is "trying to destroy the country"

As facts of the Giffords shooting continue to come in, let’s understand what has transpired in recent months as right-wing partisans have rushed past any sense of common decency and responsibility to endless attack and condemn Democrats. For instance, let’s recall that last March when Congress was preparing to vote on passing health care reform, partisans in the far-right press denounced the vote in apocalyptic language as they depicted Democrats as monsters who deserved to be physically tortured.

Recall that at the same time, a surge of  political violence erupted across the county as Democrats became the target of what were essentially terrorist attacks. 

  • Rep. Tom Perriello's (D-VA) brother's address was erroneously posted online by a Tea Party blogger who invited activists to descend on the house. A gas line outside the brother's house was cut.
  • Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) was the target of threatening faxes and phone calls, including death threats.
  • A brick was thrown through the window of the Democratic Party office in Rochester, New York.
  • Rep. Anthony Weiner's office in Kew Gardens, New York, had to be evacuated after suspicious white powder was found in an envelope mailed to the office.
  • A thrown brick smashed a window at Rep. Louise Slaughter's district office in Niagara Falls, New York.
  • Slaughter also received a message claiming that "snipers were being deployed to kill those members who voted yes for health care," according to Politico.
  • The FBI arrested a California man for making threatening phone calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • A tossed brick demolished a window at the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.
  • devoted Glenn Beck fan left a serious of death threats (“Kill the fucking Senator! “) on the voice mail at the office of Sen. Patty Murray

And of course, there was the attack on Gifford’s Tucson office last March. Hours after voting in favor of health care reform, vandals smashed the front door, along with a headquarters window. Days later, Gifford spoke about being targeted.  

“Our office corner has become a place where the Tea Party has congregated. And the rhetoric has become incredibly heated. Not just the calls, but the emails, the slurs,” she told MSNBC. “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”

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."

Chilling.

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.
 
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