Commenting on Jared Loughner’s assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8th, when he seriously injured her, killed six others and injured another 13 people, Andrew Sullivan, a conservative blogger wrote: "There is no way to understand the politics of this without Palin. She has long been the leader of the movement that drapes itself in military garb, that marinates in violent rhetoric, that worships gun culture, that has particular ferocity in the state of Arizona, and that never ever apologizes for anything" (Guardian 1/11/11).
Since January 2009, when Obama took the oath of office, there have been (excluding the attack against Giffords) at least seven separate cases of political murder and dozens of attacks by unhinged right-wing elements. The reason why there have been so many killing sprees can be attributed to the deep economic crisis, as well as the rise of extremist right wing rhetoric, in the mass media. It is important to note that during the recent midterm elections, sections of the Tea Party movement and at least one Republican senatorial candidate were calling publicly for a “Second Amendment solution” to the political issues – i.e. the use of firearms.
It should also be noted that the killing spree took place in Arizona, site of the extreme right-wing “deport them all” immigration bill, SB 1070. This law would target not only immigrants but also those who looked “suspicious” of being undocumented. This contributed to the atmosphere of racism and tension in this state.
In a period of unprecedented economic crisis and mass unemployment, right wing demagogues like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage among many others, have used Rupert Murdock’s Fox News and the vast right wing network of corporate-funded radio programs and blogs to target immigrants, homosexuals, socialists, public sector workers, unions and progressive activists. The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 was also followed by a vicious upsurge of political tensions and polarization from the right wing that culminated in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995 with hundreds of deaths of innocent workers including children.
The New York Times and Fox News both reported that the 22-year old Loughner may have links to a white supremacist website (“Suspect's Odd Behavior Caused Growing Alarm,” NYTimes, 1/10/11). Other evidence also point to connections between Loughner and extreme right wing influences, including references to “treasonous” laws by the government, currencies not backed by gold, the “second” US Constitution, government mind control, etc (NYTimes, 1/10/11).
It is true that many of Loughner’s ideas are delusional, deranged and more laced with conspiracy theories than overtly political. But that is not the whole story. Crucial to understanding these events is the political climate. Giffords, a Jewish, conservative Democratic Congresswoman, had just won a close election against a right-wing Tea Party extremist candidate.
According to the New York Times, there had been threats of violence, including the smashing of the plate glass window of her Tucson office last March, because Giffords supported Obama’s health care bill, and opposed Arizona’s racist anti-immigrant profiling law. Due to the threats of violence, Giffords herself had said that she was armed and would defend herself if attacked.
At his first press conference, the sheriff of Pima County Clarence Dupnik spoke openly of the “the vitriol and rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from the people in the radio business and some people in the TV business,” which he said was related to the attack. Referring to racist measures against immigrants, he said that the state of Arizona has “become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” The sheriff was referring to the anti-immigrant hysteria and the activities of armed vigilantes along the border with Mexico in Arizona. In response to Dupnik’s comments about the circumstances that led to the massacre in Tucson, the state’s right wing media brazenly denounced him and called for his resignation!
Response by the Media and the Democrats
The New York Times commented that while it would be “a mistake” to attribute Loughner’s actions to Republicans or the Tea Party members, “it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge.”
Commenting on the massacre, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial that Loughner was “mentally disturbed,” “confused” and he targeted Giffords simply because she was “prominent.” Incredibly, another part of Murdoch’s media empire, the right wing Fox News which has been at the forefront of inciting demagogic, hateful and inflammatory rhetoric, denied any responsibility for the massacre. Fox News even demanded that Obama denounce those who want to blame anyone other than Loughner for the violence, as if Loughner had acted in a vacuum.
In their editorial the New York Times (1/09/11) wrote that Loughner “is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery.”
This “squall of fear” has given rise to a populist right-wing phenomenon within the Republican Party, as was shown in the gains they made in the last midterm elections on the basis of demagogic attacks. The right-wing propaganda by Fox News, the Tea Party, candidates like Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin against immigrants and unions became necessary as the ruling class looked to deflect blame for the crisis, create scapegoats and try to forestall united struggles of the working class.
While Obama and the Democrats call for unity and make appeals against violence, they are sending drones to kill civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are called on to salute the “bravery” of all politicians while they slash education and child care for our children and oversee a system that offers little hope for a decent future for people or the environment. Corporate domination and their political puppets are all to blame for a sick culture that creates isolation, alienation, violence and fear. The media fills the airwaves with stories about why you should be afraid of your neighbors while Glenn Beck says repeatedly that “the Republic is hanging by a thread.”
According to the FBI, there was a 300% increase in threats against members of Congress in 2010, and over a 1,000 death threats a month against President Obama. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security warned that “right-wing extremism” was increasing because of the economic downturn, the election of the first African American president, and pointed to the recruitment of returning vets into right-wing extremist organizations.
Bigoted, hysterical anti-Muslim attacks are now in the mainstream media and part of the Republican establishment. Just before September 11 last year there were several instances of arson, bombings and vandalism against mosques in Tennessee, Texas and Florida as well as the stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver in New York City.
The same could be said about the hysterical attacks against LGBT people from the right-wing mass media linking homosexuality with pedophilia, and even the calling for execution of gays by a series of far-right organizations, like the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council, that are all at the moment trying to enter the mainstream of the Republican party.
Hate crimes against Latinos increased 53% from 2003 to 2009 as right-wing demagogues like Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly lied about the “illegal alien crime wave” and conspiracy theories about plans from Mexico to take over parts of the US. These ideas did not remain on the realm of rhetoric alone, but white supremacists and right wing militias like the Minuteman Project and the so-called Patriot groups started actively taking part in attacks against immigrants and their supporters across the country.
A Warning to Workers
The attack and serious injury of Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six other people in Tucson was not a random event. It is a warning to working people about the serious political danger involved in the rise of the extreme right wing and the need to challenge their racist, militarist and anti-worker propaganda.
Because of the massive disappointment with the policies of the Democrats, there is a serious danger that the pro-corporate, well-organized, well-funded by billionaires, Tea Party will continue to build its forces across the country. Although the far right will initially become undermined by this event, they will become a battering ram against the interests of working class people who have suffered the most from the economic crisis.
The Democrats and the liberal left have shown that they are incapable of solving problems like mass unemployment and cuts in services which are fueling the “squall of anger.” Furthermore, the Democrats are incapable of taking on the Tea Party by exposing its corporate backing because they are also funded by the same corporate system.
Serious workers and young people recognize the danger that the rise of the Tea Party represents and the need to confront its ideas. The Democrats cannot do this. It is urgent to call on unions, immigrant workers organizations, antiwar groups, anti-cuts coalitions, and socialists to organize rallies and demonstrations against the Tea Party, exposing their true backers and their racist and militaristic, pro-corporate propaganda.
This should go hand in hand with serious mass campaigns to oppose the avalanche of budget cuts in education, health care and services coming on the state and city level. We need to prepare to run independent left candidates to put forward an independent working class, fighting program of good jobs, full benefits and an end to wars and racist scapegoating. In this way, we can start to deal with the real source of the enormous social discontent that is increasing in the US because of the devastation in the lives of tens of millions of ordinary people as a result of the crisis of capitalism.