Tea Party and the Right  
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Why Right-Wing Fearmongers Have Blood on Their Hands

The Right bears the lion's share of the blame for creating a toxic environment in which unstable people come to believe their political opponents are pure evil.

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Put simply (and colloquially): There's been a lot of crazy talk from the American Right in recent years. And crazy talk — especially condoned at the highest social levels — has a powerful effect on people who are already crazy.

I often refer to a case that happened here in Seattle back in 1986 to help explain the dynamic at work here: On Christmas eve, a mentally ill loner named David Lewis Rice showed up at the Madrona-neighborhood home of Charles and Annie Goldmark and their two boys. Posing as a deliveryman, he forced his way into their home with a toy gun, tied the family up and chloroformed them, and then proceeded over the next several hours to torture and slowly kill them.

Why did Rice do this? It seemed he favored hanging out with a local collection of former John Birch Society members, ardent McCarthyite conspiracists, who called themselves the "Duck Club." Their regular gatherings at a local watering hole were largely devoted to extemporizing on the evils of local suspected Communists — among them the Goldmark family. Charles Goldmark's father, a Chelan rancher and state legislator in the 1950s, had been at the center of a landmark early-'60s libel case in which some Spokane-area Red-hunters were successfully sued for falsely smearing Goldmark and his wife as "card-carrying Communists." In the minds of the Duck Clubbers, there was no doubt they were Communists then — and still were now.

Of course, in reality, not only were the elder Goldmarks innocent of the smear, as they proved in court, but their children were equally if not more so. Nonetheless, when the libel case turned back up in the news in 1986, their names were prominently mentioned in angry discussions at the Duck Club — where David Lewis Rice lapped up every word. Indeed, he decided to take it upon himself to rid the world of the awful Communist menace posed by Charles and Annie Goldmark and their two children, and so he did, on Christmas Eve.

Now, could those murders, which gripped and horrified the city of Seattle, especially as the details emerged, be blamed on the Duck Club? Well, no — at least not criminally speaking. They had broken no laws and had not directly incited Rice to violence. But ethically and morally speaking — that was another matter altogether. The people involved in the Duck Club, some of whom had once been prominent in the Republican Party, were forever tainted, their reputations destroyed. Everyone in Seattle understood that, having filled David Lewis Rice's head with lies and smears — the kind that dehumanized and demonized the victims — the blood of the Goldmark family was on their hands as well.

Likewise, when:

  • An avid consumer of right-wing talk radio (notably Michael Savage) and Fox News punditry (including Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity) walks into a Knoxville church in 2008 and opens fire, killing two and wounding four, having written a manifesto declaring: "Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them. Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather";
  • Another avid consumer of Bill O'Reilly's columns walks into a church in 2009 (following O'Reilly's 28 on-air references to "Tiller the Baby Killer") and shoots abortion provider George Tiller in the head;
  • Another Glenn Beck fan, having been convinced from watching Beck's Fox show that the Tides Foundation was playing a leading role in a plot to destroy America, sets out in 2010 armed to the teeth with a plan to shoot up the Foundation's Bay Area offices, only to be short-circuited when Oakland police pull him over and he engages them in a shootout instead;

When these things happen, common sense tells us that, even if the blood of these victims doesn't fully coat these hatemongers' hands, it is at least splattered on them. That is to say, there was a level of moral and ethical culpability involved in the irresponsible speech that inspired David Lewis Rice, as well as in the speech that inspired these other acts. When you fill an unstable person's head with a pack of crazy ideas that fuel their anger and give them a target for it, and when they then act out violently against that target, social and economic consequences should ensue.

 
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