The immediate aftermath of tragedy

By Phil Plait | January 9, 2011 7:00 am

Yesterday, as you are no doubt aware, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot by a gunman at a constituent meet-and-greet. As I write this (late Saturday night), 6 people have died — including a small child.

Like everyone, I was shocked when I heard. I happened to be reading Twitter, and saw a link about it. For quite some time it was being reported that Giffords had been killed, but this was later amended to her being in surgery. As I write this, she is out of surgery and the doctors are optimistic, which is a thin ray of hope in this otherwise terrible situation. My heart is heavy with all this, and my sincere and deepest condolences go to family and friends of those hurt and killed.

I’ll note that Mark Kelly, Representative Giffords’ husband, is a NASA astronaut and is scheduled to command the last flight of Endeavour — the last flight of the Shuttle program — to the space station. I have not heard anything from NASA yet on what this will mean for that flight, though a brief statement about the shooting itself was issued by NASA Admin Charles Bolden.

I want to take a minute and talk about what I saw on Twitter in the hour or two after the shooting was announced. Rep. Giffords is a Democrat, and one of the first comments I saw was about the Tea Party and how they must be a part of this. For those unaware, in the media the Tea Party members have been played as a fringe group of angry, mostly racist whackos. I’ve mentioned them a few times here on this blog, mostly to point out their overwhelmingly antiscience stance (or, in the case of one or two, gross misunderstanding of the Constitution). Obviously, I am no fan of that political party.

Also implicated was Sarah Palin. Last year, her political action committee (PAC) put together a graphical ad — still up on her Facebook page –that shows a map of the US with crosshair targets placed over 20 Congressional Democrats’ districts… one of which was Rep. Giffords. As I understand it, she also made a series of tweets, where one linked to that ad, and another one telling conservatives "don’t retreat – instead RELOAD".

No wonder a lot of folks on Twitter were so ready to point at Palin. And other cases of Tea Party and right-wing fomenting abound (including this unbelievable event held by Rep. Giffords’ 2010 opponent, "Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly").

Let me be clear: I find that sort of rhetoric repulsively abhorrent. And with so much of it around, and so much of it targeting Giffords specifically, it’s natural to assume that it’s at least partly to blame for what happened in Arizona yesterday. But the thing is, even as I write this, many hours after the event, we don’t know what motivated the shooting (though what evidence we do have indicates the shooter was apparently mentally ill), and we certainly didn’t in the immediate hour after the news broke. There might be a connection, but there might not. We didn’t and still don’t have any good evidence either way… and what we do have is circumstantial.

At the time, I could see that the rumor mongering on Twitter was about to blast off (the misreported news of Giffords’ death was started in the mainstream media but burned rapidly through Twitter), so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to say something. Speculation on Twitter is a positive-feedback loop that works on a very short timescale, and can quickly escalate way beyond what the evidence supports. So I tweeted this:

Let me be clear: it is way too early to know motives here, and speculation is counterproductive.

I followed up with some specifics and a discussion with some other people; you can find the discussion on Twitter if you care to. I wasn’t too surprised to get some support for this, nor to get attacks. A lot of people were convinced Palin (and the others mentioned above) were setting up an atmosphere where violence was inevitable. That may be true, but we don’t know what led up to this specific event.

And I want to be clear: don’t confuse my not wanting to jump to conclusions with me saying Palin’s actions and statements don’t play into this at all. It’s entirely possible they do. It would be foolish to deny it. But without any evidence it’s equally as foolish to simply assume they do.

The shooting and the rhetoric are, for now, related but separate issues. Connections may come later, or they may not. Certainly, I would very much like to see the hateful speech gone from politics, and perhaps, if any good will come of this awful event, a spotlight will be focused on that issue. I just watched a short segment on CNN where they discussed this very topic, and I was surprised to see them being careful and saying the rhetoric may not be connected to the shooting, but also careful to say that it’s past time we do discuss the tone of politics these days. Perhaps there’s something to be hopeful for yet.

I suppose my point in all this is that it’s completely understandable that people want to vent and point fingers after a horrible event like this. The temptation for me is great as well, especially given my own predisposition against some of the people involved in the discussion. But we have to be very careful when evidence is scanty, because it’s all too easy to fill in the gaps with whatever our biases want.

And that is why we must be even more vigilant, even more ready to use critical thinking in the wake of tragedy. It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to be horrified, and it’s OK to be angry. I’m angry, damn angry. But we cannot let that impair our judgment. It is times like these that we are most likely to rush in, to make snap judgments, and to make mistakes. And in a situation as serious as this, that is the thing we can least afford.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Skepticism

Comments (350)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper
  2. Lawrence

    This was a horrible tragedy & I would be opposed to anyone that attempted to fix blame before we fully understand the circumstances of this particular individual – from first reports, it sounds like this was a very disturbed young man, who may have gone ahead & done this regardless of what might have been going on in the greater political arena.

    My heart goes out to the families of those killed and injured.

  3. Grand Lunar

    Excellent statements, Phil.

    I figured some histerics would occur on the social media about this event (which of course made headlines in my local paper in Scottsdale).

    I can bet some conspiracy theorists will have a time with this event as well.

    We can only wait for the facts to emerge.

  4. Steve

    Crazy people rarely fit into molds that are defined by sane people, so there’s little sense in trying to characterize the killer as a right wing loon or a left wing loon. It’s very sad that people are already politicizing this tragedy.

  5. BachFan

    You’re right that we’re all speculating about the assassin’s motives/intent without enough facts to back up our speculations. But the human brain is built to discover patterns — whether those patterns are actually present or are merely inferred from scanty evidence. And ex-Gov. Palin’s and the Tea Partiers’ inflammatory rhetoric form an unmistakable pattern of incitement to violence against the demonized “other side” (whether the “other” is the Democratic Party or liberals or climate scientists or so forth).

    In any event, Rep. Giffords’ brother-in-law, Scott Kelly, has posted a note to Facebook from his posting in the International Space Station: see http://yfrog.com/h46lbfj (hat-tip to @ageekmom via @keitholberman at http://twitter.com/ageekmom/status/24020254707417088)

  6. Jeff

    If you have seen Loughner’s youtube videos it is clear he is disturbed. A look at his favorite books in his profile reveals the Communist Manifesto, not a usual Tea Partier choice.

    As far as violent rhetoric, look to the Left as well as the Right. http://legalinsurrection.blogspot.com/2011/01/congresswoman-gabrielle-giffords.html
    Democrats have maps with bullseyes on them, statements that Giffords is “dead to me”.

    There is also a history of calling any recent violence linked to the Tea Party. http://legalinsurrection.blogspot.com/2011/01/two-sicknesses-on-display-in-arizona.html

    “Here is just a partial list of events in which the left-wing and Democratic Party media operation has immediately blamed right-wing rhetoric, only to be proven wrong when the facts finally came out: Bill Sparkman, Amy Bishop, The Fort Hood Shooter, The IRS Plane Crasher, The Cabbie Stabbing, and The Pentagon Shooter.”

    Can’t we just agree the guy is crazy and be done with it?

  7. Eric

    Thanks for throwing a wrench in that “feedback loop” that developed yesterday. I was following @XeniJardin during the episode and with every tweet from her the rhetoric stepped up a notch. Twitter was about get to the “shovels and pitchforks” stage of rebellion against the tea party.

  8. Another Phil

    As Molly Ivins would have said, “Good on you, Phil.”

  9. Go ahead, Phil. Be as vigilant as you want to be. I’ve no obligation to entertain your contempt for my politics than you have to entertain mine. Call upon Tea Partiers to tolerate your libel and misplaced, impotent anger until your lungs give out. I sincerely hope your words fall on deaf ears.

  10. Travis Roy

    Completely agree. The thing that I found even more annoying was that a lot of skeptical friends that were screaming about Palin and the Tea Party on twitter went completely silent once the shooter was reveled as basically some loon (that seems to be more liberal but I don’t even think that matters) that seems that they wouldn’t be a fan of Palin.

    That and a lot of them would attack others that said it’s to early to tell. It’s like that didn’t matter to them, they had somebody they wanted to attack, and this gave them that opportunity.

    Palin wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last person to use political campaigns with references to targeting an opponent.

    Finally, Gifford, according to her record and the info I can find, was pro 2nd amendment. I’m wondering what she would think of all these people using this to push their anti-gun agendas when she doesn’t seem to lean that way. They seemed to assumed that since she was a Democrat, that she would be anti-gun rather than do their research and check.

  11. Reggie
  12. Martha

    It does appear that the shooter was mentally ill, but the sheriff on the scene does believe that violent rhetoric played a role. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1345460/Sarah-Palin-sheriff-Clarence-Dupnik-blames-political-vitriol-Arizona-shooting.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  13. Radwaste

    Phil (and others),

    When you have population increase dilute the perceived worth of the individual, combined with political machines that make noises to frighten people into backing them; when you have a widening distance between the public and their leaders, as shown by statements like, “we have to pass this bill so we can see what’s in it” – the number of these incidents will go up.

    The Founders shot their way into American independence, they didn’t talk it out, because talking quit working.

    This situation is like dealing with terrorism. To truly stop it, you have to recognize the causes and remove those causes, because when the cause is left standing, the cannon fodder will continue to step right up and volunteer to be violent.

    Call this guy crazy if you want. That’s just who shows up first, because they figure they have the least to lose.

  14. Daniel J. Andrews

    Heart-breaking news. Perhaps this tragedy will help tone down the political rhetoric, at least from the candidates themselves. ??

    A thoughtful post, BA.

  15. Dan I.

    Dr. Plait;

    While I agree that we certainly cannot hold the Tea Party as a whole responsible for the actions of a single (or now it’s looking like it might a small group) of yahoos, they do bear some degree of responsibility.

    Sarah Palin, for example, may not have told anyone to kill anybody, but her rhetoric of “Don’t retreat…reload,” “These are the people we have to target and stop.” etc. could be said to have pushed people over the edge.

    A good point a friend of mine brought up. Charles Manson never killed anyone and by all accounts he never TOLD anyone to kill anyone. He said, “These are the types of people we need to stop. These people need to be stopped. Someone needs to get this started…” etc. We still hold him responsible.

    Now I’m not saying Sarah Palin should be criminally charged in any of this. But she has to come out and say “Look, my rhetoric was over the top. Using gun sights on people’s districts was irresponsible.” Etc.

  16. All too true. Each time a public tragedy such as this hits the mainstream news, the initial reactions set a tone which, usually, end up being blatantly untrue once all the facts and information is brought to light.

    Columbine is a perfect example. Everyone still thinks of it as a shooting, but, it was actually a failed bombing attempt. That was perfectly reported at the time, but once the public got brought into the mindset of the ‘Trench-coat Mafia” and such, the real events and reasons all become overshadowed.

  17. Steve

    Radwaste,

    You have a lot of nerve, sir. Speech akin to that of which you just posted is exactly the problem we have here in America.

    I’m sick of hearing about “The Founders”. Guess what, you throw-back — what the founders did have no place in contemporary American politics. Things have changed drastically, and quite frankly the right-wing is impeding American progress. I’m sick of all this talk about going back to the constitution, and Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. It’s literally sickening. Things have changed and we need to adapt to those changes in order to prosper, that’s what these “constitutionalists” don’t understand. If we don’t continue to evolve as a nation, we will eventual fall out of dominance — it’s simple natural selection.

    It’s unwise of the right-wingers to talk so much about violent upheavals, especially considering that the majority of the youth reside on the left, and historically, the youth wins in clashes of violence. Keep talking about violence, and you’ll get violence. And no one wants that, do they?

  18. Sir Chaos

    @Daniel J. Andrews:
    Dream on. This is going to get a lot worse yet before there is any chance of this getting better.

    Sure, Palin et al didn´t pull the trigger. They didn´t order anyone to do this, either. But… in a nation full of armed nutcases, you don´t use rhetoric like this if you don´t want to see anyone dead, any more than you tell your knights and nobles “Won´t somebody rid me of that troublesome priest?”. I don´t know if the US has any laws against incitement to violence, but if not, you should get them ASAP.

    @Radwaste:
    I´m sorry, but the causes you speak of are the complete inability of the bulk of the right wing to accept that someone other than them is in power. You know, that whole “ballot box, jury box, bullet box” rhetoric – elections didn´t work, birther lawsuits didn´t work, now they think it´s time to try violence. How do you remove that?

  19. The one thing skepticism has taught me is that humans seem programmed to want to find a cause to events, like this, that cause sadness, anger, fear, etc.

    I think the immediate backlash after the reports came in about the shooting, from the differing ideologies was an example of this, where people are trying to make sense of it, look for a cause (of which aligns with their worldview), and lash out against those that they perceived had an influence/cause in it.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t find it surprising that people would jump (and are still jumping) to conclusions without knowing the details. And that’s why I didn’t get too upset about it.

  20. Bryan D

    Trying to pin this guy to one particular political side based on what we’ve seen from his writings is a fools errand.

  21. Daniel J. Andrews

    SirChaos…yeah, probably a dream-on scenario. I certainly hope you’re wrong that it will get a lot worse though.

    I was just looking at Sarah Palin’s ad–the one with the crosshairs and the Help Us Prescribe the Solution header, and felt slightly sick at the association.. Don’t want to do a Godwin, but didn’t anyone at the Palin HQ tell them not to use those words as they have a negative connotation–you’d think an ad that would alienate a large demographic would get vetoed.

  22. DrFlimmer

    It is times like these that we are most likely to rush in, to make snap judgments, and to make mistakes. And in a situation as serious as this, that is the thing we can least afford.

    Fear, hate, aggression – the dark side of the force they are!

    My condolences to everyone involved!

  23. Tavi Greiner

    As much as I seriously doubt that yesterday’s tragic event was inspired by any particular group or persons, I do believe that recent violent rhetoric, espoused by certain politicians, paves a subliminal path of acceptable behavior. I don’t find it at all unusual that many people would immediately recall the abhorrent actions of people like Sarah Palin and Jesse Kelly at a time like this; in fact, I think that this is EXACTLY the time that we would be most apt to remember those things.

    I saw thousands of tweets, yesterday, and while a great many strongly admonished people like Palin and Kelly, not one of them actually lay specific blame, other than to the shooter, himself. In as much as I agree with you, Phil, that jumping to conclusions is counter-productive, I disagree that so many people are actually “politicizing” the event; rather, I believe that they are recollecting the thorns of a rose bush at a time when that plant appears its most treacherous.

    While I did not participate in yesterday’s twitterfest, I do believe that it is exactly this kind of backlash (unfortunately) that will finally focus proper attention on those who would infer violence against their political opponents. Quite obviously, they have turned a deaf ear to reasonable discussion against their behavior ; in fact, they have even defended such actions as something not to be taken literally; and I suspect, had there not been the outpouring of anger expressed yesterday, they would continue their violent rhetoric, possibly even with a gleam in their eyes. (Recall the broken windows, when a few people merely objected?)

    Directly related or not, this is the moment. We must not let it pass.

  24. CaptTu

    The Cloudy Logic of ‘Political’ Shootings by James Fallows

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/01/the-cloudy-logic-of-political-shootings/69147/

    Actually found this on twitter last night.

  25. SimonJ

    ok. lets cut this “the graphic with crosshairs was obviously incitement to murder” nonsense off now. So when in our (UK) recent general election, each party had “target seats”, this means they were literally targets – to be shot/arrowed? (or whatever the word is)
    Of course they weren’t, it is merely a commonly used expression – as is the use of cross-hairs to indicate targets for action/electoral overthrow.
    For god’s sake, there’s enough paranoia around, without adding more.

  26. As one of the Tweeters who help circulate the Palin quotes and graphics, let me be clear. Ultimately, the final blame goes to the shooter. No question there.

    But the Half Governor seems to have spent time scrubbing all her violent inspiring rhetoric from her internet foot print. I for one , didn’t want to see that get swept under the rug.

    And let us also not forget, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) saying “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue…”

    Nor should we forget the quote from Sharron Angle, which she floated the idea that the public would bring down an out-of-control Congress with “Second Amendment remedies.

    Phil, do I want these people prosecuted for their words. Hardly. You might have to look very hard to find a more complete advocate of free speech than me.

    But remember what Mr. Shaw said a century ago. There is no freedom from responsibility. Freedom IS responsibility.

    These people should be reminded, as everyone should, there are people out there who cant tell your rhetoric from instruction.

  27. Geomaniac

    It’s too many nut jobs running around with too many guns. Guns are too easy to get in this country. Mentally disturbed individuals can get guns very easily. Too easily. I live 20 miles from one of the most gun happy cities in the country, New Orleans. There was a drive-by shooting just last week on the freeway in the middle of the day that resulted in the death of a 20 year old. Thankfully there was no “collateral damage”, innocent individuals who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police said that the victim was the intended target. What a relief.

    I personally know people who are receiving carry permits because they are afraid of all the violence and want to protect themselves. Arizona is also a gun happy state and undoubtedly one or more individuals in the crowd had concealed weapons on them. Did that help one bit? No.

    My wife and I are considering carrying weapons with us. I don’t like that idea, but since we have apparently gone back to the Old West where lawlessness was rampant and everyone walked around with a weapon strapped to their hip, I guess we have to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. Or try to anyway.

    Too many guns in the wrong hands.

  28. Gary Ansorge

    I just want to know what happened to your post with the cartoon? I was posting a response when it went away.

    Gary 7

  29. Thanks for being a voice of reason here, Phil.

  30. @ buffalodavid:

    These people should be reminded, as everyone should, there are people out there who cant tell your rhetoric from instruction.

    Hear hear.

  31. Lawrence

    When you have a political climate that has been built around the idea that our sitting president is a “muslim-communist-foreigner-traitor” and democrats are actively labeled as “destroying our country & unamerican” it creates an atmosphere of intense paranioa and distrust (on both sides of the aisle).

    The discourse in this country has been pushed to the far right and far left, with no room left in the middle for rational discussion and compromise on the important issues that we face. Either everything is right or everything is wrong, there doesn’t seem to be any in-between.

    Quite a bit of the rhetoric has been directed using the imagery of a “fascist-like takeover” of our country, that the government is actively attempting to suppress the general population (seize guns, etc), that when taken as a whole, does create the right combinations for irrational violent responses. Regardless of where these messages are coming from, it does our whole country a disservice to distill our politics down to “I’m always right & you’re always wrong, oh, and by the way, you’re a traitor to the nation too.”

    Unfortunately, most of these messages are being related by individuals that get paid as “entertainers” and generate more ratings and revenue the more inflammatory they are & the harsher the message. These are not individuals with a stake in the political process, they are concerned with the economics of their ratings – the more ratings they get, the more money they get paid. We had this same problem back at the turn of the 19th Century – William Randolph Hearst used his influence and media to plunge the country into the Spanish-American War (great for his circulation).

    Today, we are seeing this done again, on a much grander scale – and it scares the crap out of me.

  32. Grizzly

    Whether the actions of this nutjob were in any way set off by the violent rhetoric or imagery present in US political discourse today or not, I think that one thing is clear – at least to this Canajun.

    You all, right, left, middle, whatever – need to ratchet down the violent rhetoric. It has no place in a democracy. You are all Americans.

    It used to be that while you disagreed with the “other” party or a political opponent you could still respect them and even extend good wishes should they win. Now everyone is the devil incarnate.

    It has infiltrated our political discourse north of the border and it is one export under NAFTA that we could do without.

    Sarah’s rhetoric is tacky at best in light of the tragedy, but don’t you think that every pundit, every politician, every citizen who even inadvertently uses rhetoric that involves violence – of whatever stripe or party – should stand down?

  33. The Pima County sheriff’s office released a photo of a man they described as a person of interest who was wanted in connection with Saturday’s shooting, which left 13 wounded, including Democratic Rep. Giffords, 40. The unknown person was photographed by a surveillance camera near the shooting suspect

  34. Franklin

    Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle also called for “second amendment remedies.” What exactly she meant by that, she never said. But then, she also thought the press was only there to make her look good.

    This is just an example of the kind of violent rhetoric that needs to stop happening. When climate scientists are receiving death threats, then you know the air is bloody toxic.

    But yeah, for all we know, this guy shot those people to impress Jodie Foster.

  35. Martha

    Just when you think that haters can’t get any lower along comes Fred Phelps to cheer on the shooter in Arizona and announcing that his church is going to picket the funerals of those who were murdered yesterday including the service for the 9 year old girl.

    http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2011/01/predictable.html

  36. Palin’s hands are dirty. She fosters a mindset that thinks it’s cool to create metaphorical gun, shooting and death imaging to get their message across. It’s this type of thinking that puts guns into criminals hands. In this case, I think she wrote ACT 1 and was waiting for someone to finish the play.

  37. TheBlackCat

    I agree that it is too early to lay specific blame. On the other hand, if they didn’t inspire this guy, it is only a matter of time until they inspire someone else.

    I’ve been hearing quite a bit about cheering for the shooting in particular ultra-right-wing websites. I can’t bring myself to visit any of these sites myself, but if it is true, whether the shooting was done by one of these people or not doesn’t really matter that much, it is still a sort of behavior these sorts of people support. Can anyone confirm that this sort of talk is going on?

  38. Joel

    “saying Palin’s actions and statements don’t play into this at all. It’s entirely possible they do. It would be foolish to deny it.”

    Phil, overall i think i got the meaning of your post, but why bring Palin into this AT ALL!? AT ALL! lol. This is insane. All things being neutral, this guy doesn’t fit seem to fit into the tea party mold, but its too early too tell. But i’ll speculate as much as you did in your post (and denied doing), by even bringing sarah palin’s name into this. (btw, i dislike sarah palin with a passion).

    From the little unconfirmed evidence available, the guy is a mentally ill loner from the cyber generation who posted indecipherable views on youtube. He was once allegedly a left of center guy, but then became such a recluse who can say? a loner. who lists a bunch of contradictory entry level philosophy and political books as his favored reading.

    There is no indication he was involved with the tea party or indeed supported anything to do with their philosophy. There is no indication he was against the tea party or had anything to do with the far left philosophy. He seems to have indicated some disenchantment with religion as well, but not enough evidence to say in what manor. The guy was a cyber generation recluse with odd references to sleeping disorders perhaps, and as you said, perhaps mentally ill. Why mention sarah palin or the tea party at all? You should have just stayed neutral and posted your final line and left it all that lol.

  39. Well said, Phil. For me, the tragedy rekindles an outrage that I have in Sarah Palin’s tactics, and more specifically, the silence from her supporters on those tactics. I don’t consider myself a hardcore liberal, as I sway conservative on certain issues, but I do bristle at hateful or incendiary propaganda from either side. The majority of people I know are sane, rational people who do not hate each other. These politicians are fueling a divide between us, rather than celebrating how much we have in common. Perhaps that’s how it’s always been.

    Whether her hateful rhetoric spawned this incident or not, it’s a reminder that we, as a populous, have settled for that brand of politics. Blaming Palin is obviously not the answer, but as long as we continue to reward hate mongers with actual attention, we are all complicit.

  40. Well said, Phil. We also have to be sure to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Perhaps the shooter played video games or drank milk…

  41. teobesta

    I have been reading this blog for a long time now but had never felt the need to comment until now. I feel too strongly about this entry and cannot pass on the opportunity to post two links (via twitter) I find most relevant to this discussion:

    1. Early warnings of the consequences of violent rhetoric
    from @johannhari101 heartbreaking footage of giffords complaining last yr @SarahPalinUSA pictured her in rifle crosshairs http://on.msnbc.com/fuO6i

    2. The stigmatisation of the mentally ill
    fr @vaughanbell the Arizona shooting & mental illness as an explanation for violence on Slate http://is.gd/kpoy9

  42. tmac57

    My wish is that this tragedy can be used by all sides to move back to an era of civility in politics.Then at least some good will have come from this sad event.

  43. gia

    It does not matter whether the vitriol from the Right provoked this attack or not. What matters is that they spewed hate and spread violent imagery and then this happened. In the atmosphere they created, an atmosphere of violence and fear, the two issues are interconnected. The attack highlights the hateful words and the hateful images and just points out how wrong they are, even if they did not provoke it. The right likes play the guntoting cowboy but when someone does pull the trigger they’re the first to backpedal and say “Nooo, we never wanted something like this to happen.” It does not matter what you wanted, it only matters what the results are. And what your actions look like in the light of those results. They played with an extremely serious things and used such imagery for cheap politicking and backstabbing as it should have never been used, because as we all saw, the reality of these images is terrifying. This is not a game and yet the Right tried to turn it into one. That is their folly, not whether or not their words actually provoked the attack.

  44. teddy

    i blame it all on the liberals!

  45. I think you are wrong. We have a very good idea of what was going on with this guy. He wrote rants about currency and the gold standard. This is tea party talk. This is Ron Paul libertarianism. That you and others refuse to recognize it will end up being bad for this country.

  46. Palin’s violent rhetoric and the shooting may very well be two separate issue. People who were quick to assign blame, are the same people who are tired of political rhetoric that supports (and perhaps incites) violence. The frustration was quite visible. This country is chock full of un-educated, religious people who own guns. When you introduce political, religious candidates who dispel violent rhetoric and appeal to fear, you must know there will be a connection drawn by someone. Maybe not THIS particular killer, but others lurk. In that, the two are connected: the action and the rhetoric. I fail to see how YOU fail to see the repercussions of violent political rhetoric and the potential connection to others waiting in the woodwork. You are speaking to this case in particular. I am saying other cases and tragedies are waiting to come to pass because of violent rhetoric. You fail to see a connection, unfortunately.

  47. Darryl Mott Jr.

    I believe I was one of the ones on twitter commenting on your statement in a negative fashion. Due to the nature of twitter and the rapid political polarization of the events (at that time, there were already people claiming that there was no violent speech at all from Tea Party/Conservative/Republican pundits and elected officials while Sarah Palin’s staff was already working to remove any indication that the gunsight poster or “don’t retreat – reload!” statement had ever been made), as well as the inability to go into much detail in 140 characters, I think we both may have misunderstood each other’s intentions. In reiterating the statements of Palin, Beck, Angle, and Bachmann repeatedly; I was attempting to keep the violent rhetoric and polarization of our political discourse at the forefront of the discussion while we were in the two hour lull between press conferences and no new information was coming out. I was not intending to lay direct blame on any of those political figures nor on the Tea Party as the motivation of the gunman as we still, almost 24 hours later, can only speculate. I was laying blame to those pundits and elected officials for creating a situation where such violent and threatening language is considered matter of course. I was attempting to state such in my replies to your posts on twitter, but I’m not sure if that came across and I apologize if my statements might have been taken out of context by me having to figure out how to cram that much into 140 characters. I also apologize as I saw your statements as yet another attempt to bring focus away from this particular issue as many others on Twitter were in an attempt to either obfuscate or completely deny any wrongdoing in the use of this sort of violent and threatening language.

    As great a tool as Twitter is for communication, it really sucks sometimes having to over-condense your statements into what can barely be considered a full sentence in most cases…

  48. mike johnson

    Dr Phil,
    This is such a horrible tradgedy. I noticd that you said several times you didn’t want to point fingers or speculate, but more than that, you mentioned and speculated that the tea party and Sarah Palin incite violence with their retoric and imagery. True, they do…but both sides do. This guy was obviously mentallly unstable…but that does not mean he was part of the tea party or the right radicle right wing…nor does it mean he was a liberal who was upset that that Ms Gifford didn’t vote with Obama or Ms Pelosi. He was a crazed sociopath, plain and simple. According to his posts, he knew right from wrong, but just didn’t care. I think that instead of placing blame on ANY party or ideology, we need to let law enforcementdo it’s job and gather it’s evidence, pray (if that is what you believe in) for Ms Gifford, her family and all the victims….and NOT incite anymore finger pointing. Your words carry a lot of weight in the bloggisphere, and to speculate like that (leaving open ended one sided questions) is a disservice, regarless of your political ideology. What we need is calm, open conversation with both sides. Not right wing or left wing…liberal or conservative..but Americans trying to make a better society.

  49. Nanobot101

    This news is heartbreaking and the politics is getting worse. We should not be surprised that our world has come to this. This individual, was apparently mentally ill and decided to carry out an act of violence that we will not soon forget. Our First Amendment, hopefully will not be another victim after the fallout. It is one thing to disagree with your neighbor, it’s another to kill or hurt someone because their views don’t match anyone else. My political leanings are meaningless when faced with such hate either coming from the “left” or the “right”. Is this our future? Is violence for the sake of violence all that we have left to bequeath our children? Do we have to hate each other so much that the only answer that seems reasonable is to KILL?

  50. Wesley Struebing

    Thank you, Phil, for, unfortunately, one of the few well-reasoned reactions I’ve read to this tragedy.

  51. Cory

    Probably wasn’t vaccinated as a child…

  52. JohnW

    There is no violent rhetoric or incitements to violence coming from either Palin, or the Tea Partiers, or Barack Obama when he says things like, “If they hit us, we’re going to hit back twice as hard,” or

    “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said in Philadelphia last night [June 13, 2008]. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

    This is not an incitement to violence. No reasonable person would read that and think Obama is urging his supporters to start a physical brawl, or shoot people. It’s an allegory, a metaphor, its getting folks motivated and fired up politically. This impulse to blame the actions of lone whackos on political groups is really revolting, and IMHO much more dangerous than the rhetoric itself.

  53. JT Lancer

    The events that happened in Arizona are tragic and disturbing, for sure.

    Yet, isn’t it hypocritical for some to blame certain groups for the violence that occurred when so many of those same people embrace the state-sponsored violence that may have provoked this action in the first place?

    All government actions are violent in nature. Unlike market exchanges – which are voluntary, peaceful, and for mutual benefit – government acts require compulsion to enforce them. In the case of a government action, the ‘customer’ (the taxpayer) has no choice in the matter. He must consent to the demands of the state (say, by paying for a govt program he does not want or need), or face punishment if he refuses.

    In other words, government is nothing more than a monopoly on the LEGAL use of force – often against peaceful citizens.

    Virtually all government actions would be considered criminal acts if performed by private citizens.

    The government can steal from the citizens (via taxation, printing money, eminent domain, asset forfeiture, etc.). But if a private citizen robs someone, or is caught counterfeiting, the individual will be thrown in jail.

    The government can kill with impunity. How many thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade? How many US soldiers have been held accountable for these deaths? Yet, private citizens who kill innocent people are locked up, often for life.

    The government will even put people in iron cages for engaging in peaceful or consensual behavior that harms no other person (illicit drug use, prostitution, etc.).

    Except in cases of self-defense, violence is never the proper way to remedy a perceived wrong. Nonetheless, when that violence comes in the form of a government agent (politician, police, soldier, etc.), few question it.

    Perhaps it is time to question it.

  54. As I previously commented via Twitter, we need more people like you who can provide levelheaded and rational responses to tragedies such as this. What unfolded on Twitter yesterday was a circus with the immediate finger pointing and inaccurate information regarding the situation. People really need to put some thought into their words before they click on “Tweet.”

    Aside from that, my only other personal opinion on this matter is to paraphrase something (and put into more polite words) a friend of mine said yesterday: Public figures need to be held to a higher level of accountability for their words. Violent rhetoric can all too easily inspire the mentally ill to make bad choices.

  55. James H.

    Here’s an idea: Lets ask the guy why he did it. He will get his time in court, and I don’t think that he will stay quiet, even though he has the right to. The reasons for this tragedy will be made clear in time, if we have the patience to wait that long, and haven’t moved on to the next crisis…

  56. Elian Gonzalez

    Guess what? It’s not going to any bit of difference.

  57. Utakata

    I see a lot of arse coverings and hand washings over the “we don’t know why he did it because he was insane.” Just saying.

    …in the meantime, I am still waiting to hear about the second suspect. Once apprehended, he will be the most likely telling evidence on what the motivation was behind shooter’s intentions. And if the shooter was given “a little push”…using The Joker’s phrase from Batman, The Dark Knight.

  58. Joel

    Well said James H.

    By the way, something odd:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/giffords2

    The congresswoman’s youtube channel (likely run by an aid) is subscribed to the channel of her alleged shooter. It has been subscribed to this channel since at least early december.

    Mirror screencapture in case channel gets removed. http://img717.imageshack.us/img717/7531/2d6af69edcf4.jpg

  59. Laogai

    Oh dear! The initial reaction is that it is all Sarah Palin’s fault. When it turns out that it is a lone nut, who wasn’t even detectably right-wing, there’s a long pause for breath, and then it’s somehow Sarah Palin’s fault anyway.

    How is it that on a post specifically asking people to dial back on the political hate assumptions, we still have a long list of comments trying to make political connections out of a tragedy that also killed a Bush-appointed judge and a 9-year old girl? Have you no sense of shame? Or is it that you have no awareness of what it is you’re doing?

    Should the Right wish to bring up the past, they have plenty of ammunition. (If you’ll pardon the expression.) Don’t go there. Please.

    This is not a political thing, and it would be just horrific if you all turned it into one. Think for a moment about what effect your words will have on others before trying to blame someone.

  60. Leslie

    I agree with you and I disagree … I am horrified-sad that this same congresswoman stated this:

    “We need to realize the rhetoric and firing people up, and even things for example we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but, the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

    We cannot simply think that it doesn’t matter if we can explain away these shooting as not “directly” related. We need to take a strong and adamant stand against hate and the explicit inciting of it.

    It’s not acceptable as sane, rational, individuals to stand idly by and use our “moderation” as a way out of being as responsible as those who incite hate. Freedom of speech requires accountability and responsibility.

    I was inspired by Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity and or Fear … I am inspired by this congresswoman’s words and this kind of inspiration needs to be spread as quickly as hate is.

  61. tesstricks

    If politicians’ vicious rhetoric is responsible for this, then we all are responsible for this. Our everyday conversations, our heated arguments, our blogs, our tweets, our comments, and more contribute to the public discourse. If we use insults, disdain, and generalizations about the other side and reject civility, respect, and basic manners, we only help this kind of environment grow.

    Sanity in our discourse cannot happen unless we’re all on board. It must start with you – and by you, I mean US – first, with our own words and our own behavior. I think we need to take a look at ourselves and our culpability as much as we look at the loud, out of control types on TV and point to theirs.

    (I’m afraid I might be preaching to the choir here, for the most part.)

    I am so, so sad for the victims and their loved ones, especially the little girl. How terrible, and how terribly ironic that she was there to learn more about government.

    Keep calm and carry on.

  62. Dan I., # 15, I totally agree with everything you wrote. Very reasoned.

    Phil, Sarah Palin is a political extremist, that is to say an opportunist. So is Barry Obama. The importance difference between them: Barry is intelligent. Palin is of average IQ, although there is nothing wrong with that. Unless they become President, with extremist views, and their average IQ is easily manipulated. Then we should fear for our country. And she might.

    But pls folks, stop with the whole “he was mentally ill” angle. Sure he was, but ask yourself, of the two extremes, which attracts more nutcases than the other?

    I’m a political moderate. I was 50/50 on whom to vote for, McCain or Obama, until McCain made his Veep choice of Palin. Bad choice. The Vice President has only 2 jobs, and Palin got them both wrong. Average IQ, and ignorant of the very job she was running for. Bad.

    The Tea Party ATTRACTS nutcases. Palin says what they want to hear, period. But it’s not just her. This culture of hate started mildly with Bill O’Reilly, then took a quantum leap with Rush Limbaugh, got “smart” with Sean Hannity, was put into practice by Karl Rove, successfully, then went nuts with Glenn Beck, nutjob.

    I like Sarah Palin as a person, but as has been said, the Sheriff speaks the most plain truth. Very Lincolnesque. Heck, let’s vote for HIM as President.

  63. tesstricks

    And thanks to Cory. That little comment got a much-needed laugh out of me. :)

  64. wesmorgan1

    It’s a very simple equation. Violent rhetoric, regardless of its source, encourages unstable people to commit violent acts. This point MUST be addressed to some degree.

    It’s one thing to hear such rhetoric from Joe Blogger or Jane Commenter in the online world, but quite another to hear it from elected officials, candidates or media personalities. The latter group have megaphones–their political operations and the media–that you and I simply cannot match. There is no comparison to be had between a blog post/comment from an online unknown and a tweet/press-release/campaign-ad from a well-funded or nationally-known political voice.

    Political dissent does NOT make one ‘evil’ or ‘un-American,’ but only a willfully ignorant person would argue that the political right has not used that very rhetorical tool to excess in recent years. One can go back to 1996, when Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC explicitly advised Republican politicians to define their opponents as (among other terms) “traitors” and “radical”. In the most recent election, we had “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!”, “Second Amendment remedies”, “I want Minnesota armed and dangerous”, and the innumerable references to “watering the tree of liberty”, the bulk of which came from the political right. Giffords’ opponent, for his part, talked about “removing” Giffords and held a campaign event titled, “Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly” (sic). One version of the Palin “crosshairs” graphic bore the legend, “We’ve diagnosed the problem…help us prescribe the solution!” Are we really going to consider this “typical” political rhetoric? Does resorting to ever-more-violent metaphor make anyone proud of our democracy?

    Are these speakers responsible, in that ultimate sense, for the actions of yesterday’s shooter. No, they are not. Are the heated rhetoric and excessive use of both character assassination (“un-American”, “tyranny”, etc.) and violent rhetoric (as sampled above) contributing factors in motivating unstable people to violent action? Yes, they are. I would suggest that the various “scrubbing” actions taken after yesterday’s events–tweets removed, graphics removed, entire websites taken offline–show us that even the speakers involved realize that reasonable people WILL name them as contributing factors.

    The answer is simple – call them on it. I don’t care if they’re Democrat or Republican, Independent or Socialist; if they use euphemisms for violence against individuals, criticize/denounce them publicly. If they engage in character assassination, tell them to get back to issues. THAT is how we “take back our democracy” from what it has become.

  65. Tail

    You say we should avoid jumping to conclusions but write, “…what evidence we do have indicates the shooter was apparently mentally ill…”.

    As an astronomer how are you qualified to decide that?

  66. It’s tempting to hold a person or group of people responsible for this, especially when they’re people you don’t like, but it’s not useful. What’s important to understand is that a culture that supports outrage and unchecked anger can only result in disaster. None of us are immune to this behavior. Just read the comments section of any web article about this incident to see evidence of people wearing their anger like a badge of honor.

  67. Dan

    Thanks for this post, Phil. I, too, was quick to point the finger of blame yesterday morning. I find the tea party’s political rhetoric disgusting and there’s some comfort in feeling certain in the cause of a tragedy like this one.

    But you’re absolutely correct. This is a complex issue and we should all treat it as such. As the evidence trickles in, it’s becoming easier to visualize the full picture.

    Speaking of evidence, I came here to post a link to this article in Slate that urges us not to stop at the conclusion, “this guy was crazy, end of story.” Mental illness does not equal violent behavior and it’s very likely that the story runs much deeper, especially considering the likelihood that he didn’t act alone. Ending the discussion by faulting mental illness is little better than pointing the finger at the tea party. http://www.slate.com/id/2280619

  68. Catherine Jefferson

    Thanks for the good sense, Phil, here *and* on Twitter. :/ I’m disgusted and sick at heart about this, like most people. I also own and shoot guns. Perhaps I can add some useful background information for those of you who do not own guns about gun laws are in the United States and who is allowed to buy a gun.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or just “ATF”) has a web page that describes the process of purchasing firearms across the United States, and provides a simple overview of the requirements:

    http://www.atf.gov/training/firearms/ffl-learning-theater/

    Basically, a firearms purchaser must be:

    1) A citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States.

    2) Of legal age. That is eighteen for purchasing “long guns” (shotguns and rifles) and twenty-one for purchasing handguns.

    3) Not a “prohibited person”. A prohibited person is somebody who has been convicted of a felony, certain violent misdemeanors, or who has been involuntarily committed for treatment for mental illness.

    Before a federal firearms licensee (FFL) sells any firearm in the United States, federal law requires that he contact the FBI and run what is called a NICS check to verify that the purchaser is legally allowed to purchase and keep firearms. The FBI has a web page that describes this process:

    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics

    We’re still figuring out why the shooter acted as he did, but I don’t believe that it is too early to tentatively conclude that he was mentally ill. It appears that he purchased the semiautomatic pistol that he used at a well-known and well-respected sporting goods store that sells firearms, Sportsman’s Warehouse. My husband and I have purchased a couple of guns from another branch of that same store. (We don’t live in Arizona.) They’re “by the book” when it comes to checking eligibility to purchase a firearm; this is not a sleazy, fly-by-night place where people who are not qualified to purchase firearms can convince the seller to ignore that fact.

    So why was this guy who has had encounters with police for making violent threats, and who has years-long track record of making statements that indicate that he is (not to put too fine a point on it) a few fries short of a happy meal, able to buy a handgun from them? The answer appears to be straightforward — he met the NICS criteria. Remember, the criteria are set by federal law, not the firearms seller. This guy is a U.S. citizen, of legal age to buy a handgun, and was not a prohibited person. He had no felony or violent misdemeanor convictions on his record, and (despite clear evidence of mental issues) had never been committed for treatment involuntarily.

    This suggests to me that the point of failure in the gun purchase process was not with the store that sold the gun or the FBI, who cleared the sale through the NICS program. It was in the criteria for who is allowed to purchase a gun. The current criteria allow anybody who has not been *involuntarily* committed to purchase a firearm. The majority of people who have moderate to severe mental illness are never involuntarily committed.

    First, many of these people are responsible citizens despite their mental illness, and most no more likely to commit mass murder than most other people. Second, many people who *have* been committed undergo successful treatment and are trustworthy, responsible citizens who probably could have firearms with no danger to themselves or the public. Third, many (probably most) people who are dangerously mentally unbalanced and should NOT own or use firearms have never undergone mental health treatment — one of the biggest issues with mental illness is that the illness often interferes with a person’s willingness to undergo treatment. :/

    In my opinion, the problem is that “involuntarily committed” is simply not a useful standard or tool for determining who should and should not have a handgun. We need something better. And I’m not sure what it is.

  69. Deanna

    Thank you. I read your blog out loud to my children, ages 14 and 17.

  70. Joe Fatzen

    You may also want to remember that largely when people point out the SarahPAC graphic or the Jesse Kelly blurb or Sharron Angle’s comments about “Second Amendment remedies” or people bringing guns to political rallies, or, or, or…

    They are not necessarily looking to assign blame or create a case for criminal culpability. They share a distaste for repulsively abhorrent rhetoric, and are highlighting said examples.

    You should also be skeptical of the amount you’re reading into things.

  71. I think anyone who’s going to walk up to a grocery store and shoot a 9 year old girl and several people in their 70s is clearly not someone who has rationally digested political messages from anyone and decided that this is the only reasonable course of action. I don’t want to throw out “crazy” irresponsibly, or smear the mentally ill- but it’s most likely that this person’s actions had a lot more to due with internal motivation than external messages received from TLC reality stars.

    With that said, our country does have a long history (in it’s relatively short period of existence) of political assassinations. Abraham Lincoln, our country’s greatest president, is one of 4 presidents who were assassinated, along with at least 20 attempts on other presidents. We have seen minor political figures and social luminaries like Martin Luther King struck down as well. My point is that no one should take this “let’s reload”, “come and shoot an m-16 with me”, “second amendment solutions” style of rhetoric lightly. It should not be used at all because we have not demonstrated ourselves to be a society that has ruled out assassination as a political tool.

    Earlier this week, an official in Pakistan was shot over 20 times because he didn’t think that a woman deserved to be executed for alleged words against a person who died in the year 632. There was a lot of hang-wringing and looking down on those unenlightened folks in Pakistan who have to settle their arguments with gunfire. Well, it turns out that we’re not so far off from Pakistan as we thought.

    In watching the coverage yesterday, one of the first things that popped into my head was, “Why on earth would a decent person with good intentions and a family want to run for public office these days?” In addition to the danger of running for office, the “second amendment solutions”-style rhetoric and noxious atmosphere created by the Beck’s and Olbermann’s of the world serves as a commercial for why people should stay in the private sector. If good people don’t want to enter public service, then who’s left to run the government?

  72. Charles Schmidt

    There are those that wish to fix blame for the shooting but lets fix the problem and what is the problem, being civil with others and especially those that we disagree with. The name calling of the other side needs to end not just by those in office, the media and blogs but also by the rest of us. All that is done by the name calling is to inflame those on the other side and any point that may be made is over looked but then most people in all walks of life chose to engage their ire before engaging their brain. Name calling should have ended in grade school but it seems that it is on the rise by those that should be adults and that is what we teach our children.

  73. This whole thing reminds me of the motive in Charles Manson’s grisly murders – his motive being to blame it on blacks and start a race war. If the nutcase shooter was trying to start a political war he has definitely succeeded. The internet forums and even among my aquaintences the blame is flying back and forth “it’s the Tea Party’s fault because they instigate hate” “It’s all the liberals faults with their pot smoking, lawless ways”.

    I hold firm to my belief that the motive was insanity, just as the motive for Reagan being shot years ago was not Jodi Foster, it was insanity. I think Palin should tone down her crazy rhetoric, as should Limbaugh and Beck and all of them because they are just trying to instigate hate. But if they were truly responsible for this, then all their followers would be gunning down people. This AZ shooter was crazy and if Palin did not exist, he would’ve latched on to something else to fuel his violent agenda.

  74. Somite

    If skepticism and critical thinking are important then apply them. Don’t make a post or tweet about stopping discussion of the arguments. The criticism of Palin and the tea party has a basis on facts with references to what they have said and published. Why should we not point this out?

    Like any other discussion the opposing view could be explained. Why would anyone think that violent rhetoric would NOT lead to acts like these is beyond me but it could be argued.

    What is unnecessary and offensive to those trying to hold a discussion are those that with the purpose of self-promotion step in the middle and try to derail the process with a behavioral request rather than an opinion. This is the least skeptical thing to do.

    As an aside I would just like to point out that only the GOP and tea party has high level representatives openly promoting violence and the use of firearms. You have to scrape the barrel quite a bit to find fringe individuals in the left calling for violence.

  75. ND

    Regardless of what was going through the killer’s head, it is legitimate to discuss the rhetoric coming from individuals such as Palin. Yes, people use terms such as hitting back and other gun euphemisms when they’re in non-violent competions such as games and elections. But there is a lot of emotion, anger and hatred intertwined when Palin, Beck, and Tea Party leaders are talking about political topics, the economy, future of the country. Things that many people feel threatens their lives and livelihood. Honestly, I don’t know what Palin’s intentions are when she has posters with crosshairs “targeting” individual politicians, but this rhetoric is within the context of intense and charged political environment. One can’t blame Palin directly, but she ain’t helpin’!

    What about Angle’s Second Amendment remedies comment?

  76. noen

    Sarah Palin belongs to a church that advocates using infiltration, subversion and violence to overthrow the secular culture and impose a theocratic dictatorship in America. Her husband is a traitor who belongs to an anti-American secessionist organization that advocates violence. Sarah Palin herself has appeared before a white supremacist group in Alaska and is shown in one photo pointing to John Birch literature. She has long engaged in dog whistle politics, using coded speech to address her white supremacist, Christian taliban constituency.

    A culture of hate and fear is known to cause violent upheaval in society. We’ve done the experiment. The experience of Rwanda shows that a constant flood of hate in a society’s media results in a violent explosion. Remember, the reason for the genocide in Rwanda can be laid squarely at the feet of the unrelenting hate machine of their media.

    The universe teaches us lessons. If you don’t learn them the easy way then you will be taught your lesson the hard way. America in the next 20 years will probably slide into a fascist dictatorship and genocide against liberals and gays.

    The universe gave Germany and Japan an attitude adjustment. America is about to receive one too.

  77. gss_000

    You know, while I’m trying to stay open to what is discovered, we can’t ignore how the rhetoric encourages these types of actions. Statements will always be made, but where were the GOP leaders to say, “Stop it!” If leadership came out against them except of tacitly encouraging it, maybe I’d be less inclined to link them together. This is why I don’t like gun jokes or jokes about violence, no matter who it is against. Phil, I’ve even had email conversations with you on this subject previously with a joke here I thought was inappropriate.

    These days, in the charged climate we live in, maybe we should take more responsibility for what we say even though we usually do have the right to say anything we like.

  78. Eric

    Very well said.

    I’ve been reading lots of commentary (from readers) about the assassination attempt in Arizona. Lots of it revolves around the issue of if Jared Loughner was a right-wing fanatic or just plain insane. Interpretations on this matter are naturally highly polarized.

    One thing that gets lost in all of this is the style of thinking rather than the content. Lougher had very incoherent, hard to classify beliefs. But they were clearly paranoid and conspiratorial.

    The conspiratorial or paranoid style is very much alive in our political discourse. Naturally, it’s not just a right-wing phenomenon. I live in Berkeley were a fraction of people sincerely think 9-11 was an “inside job” pulled off by the “Bush Regime”. There’s also the ChemTrail crowd that thought the Republican government used planes to dump toxins on liberal areas to make us sick, disrupt pregnancies, and sap our will to resist. Etc., etc., So yeah, that paranoid style is alive on the fringes of the American Left.

    But with the Right, it’s a bit different. The paranoid and conspiratorial style is much more mainstream (not largely limited to comment threads on website) especially with Beck and Fox. On Fox, there are shadowy links between Soros, the Tides Foundation, and other liberal causes that aim to bring America down. Obama is at once fascist and a socialist. Don’t forget Palin’s dark insinuations about Obama’s ties with terrorists and HCR’s agenda to impose of Death Panels. Of course, you have questions about Obama birth certificate sadly mainstream when Republican representatives and candidates claim it’s still an issue. All of these hidden and sinister forces add drama and help ramp up the emotional impact of politics. They’re great for ratings, and they help motivate the base.

    You’re absolutely right that Web magnifies all of this, since with the Web we’re participants in news creation and we feel much more personally involved in events like this. Knee-jerk immediate reactions get amplified over and over.

    But in any event, I won’t try to read too much into the content of Loughner’s beliefs. It seems all pretty secondary to me (actually, I don’t find Tea Party-ism that ideologically coherent either, rather it’s more of a loosely bundled collection of fears, nostalgia, and identity issues). Rather, this mentally disturbed and highly paranoid style of thinking has much more mainstream acceptance now, particularly in the right-wing media.

  79. Jason Dick

    Whatever the actual causes, the actual motivations, what is abundantly clear is that this tragedy serves as a rather visceral example of why the Tea Party’s rhetoric is absolutely unacceptable.

  80. Jim Keller

    If some child at some school drew a map of a school with “targets” on certain homerooms, and a list under the map of the teachers in each of those homerooms, would we, post-Columbine, treat that as a serious threat?

    If some other child — even if he espoused that he did not know the poster-drawing child and had never seen the poster — then shot one of the teachers on that list, would we, post-Columbine, treat it as if the poster-drawing child had not done anything wrong?

    I’m sorry, Phil, but we live in a society now where *no* threat of violence is ever O.K. — even in joke or in jest, because we have no way of knowing which threats are serious.

    As a result, any threat of violence that is later carried out comes right back to the person or organization that made the threat, regardless of whether or not a direct link can be rationally made after the fact.

  81. Gary Ansorge

    It’s well known among the military that the only way to get “normal” people to kill someone is to make the opposition appear less than human, to demonize them. We had the “Japs, Wops and Square Heads” in WWII, to reduce the Japanese, Italians and Germans to non-human status. Thus it becomes alright to murder them. ANY rhetoric that demonizes our opposition(like UnAmerican, racists, Facists, intellectually deficient, etc) reduces our inhibitions to killing. After all, they’re not like us, so they’re fair game.

    It’s one thing to disagree, quite another to murder.

    Here’s a quote from the assailant in this case;

    “The majority of people, who reside in District-8 are illiterate hilarious. I don’t control your English grammar structure, but you control your English grammar structure,” he said.

    If this is accurate, the language structure is indicative of someone with defective intellectualization,ie, he appears to be schizophrenic. I expect only in a court of law, after significant psychiatric evaluation, will the truth be apparent about this persons psychological state. THEN we will have to decide upon an appropriate response, either imprisonment and sequestration from the general populace or the same in a psychiatric institution.

    ,,,and we really need to discuss what discourse we’re willing to accept in the political arena.

    (Personally, I think we should allow politicians to duel to the death in the Roman coliseum but then, I AM just a throwback to simpler times and I really have little appreciation for professional politicos.)

    Gary 7

  82. Michel

    “Atmosphere setting” can kill.
    Look up what happened to Pim Fortuyn in The Netherlands a couple of years ago.
    The set up was done by “PC” politicians (left, religious and rightwing) and the trigger was pulled by someone who thought it was ok since all politicians were screaming for his blood.
    He´s doing time now.
    So, words can and do kill.

  83. Ron1

    Phil, I’m really sorry to say that your post, if many of the comments are indicative, is falling on deaf ears. While many are rational, and are awaiting more information, many are simply clueless and the one that comes most to mind is that from @48 Mike Johnson, and I quote,

    … you mentioned and speculated that the tea party and Sarah Palin incite violence with their retoric and imagery. True, they do…but both sides do.”

    This comment makes me scream (you know the imagery) ‘The stupid, it burns’. Mike appears never to have heard of the term ‘false equivalency’.

    How do the comments of Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, for example, compare to those of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh when it comes to spreading hate speech, mistruths, or violent rhetoric? When have Rachel or Keith ever made comments about rising up in violence against your government or against individuals, as is so often seen or heard at Tea Party rallies? When did you ever hear ex-congressman Alan Grayson, one of the most outspoken Liberal politicians, ever state something untrue about the behaviour of Conservatives, or ever push for violent action?

    Yes Progressives say things about Conservatives that are mean but they are usually true and they NEVER condone or push violent action against anyone, unlike many of their Conservative or Libertarian opponents, Sarah Palin included. To think, and then to publicly state otherwise shows a worldview that is removed from reality.

    Phil, I applaud you for your attempts to educate and I really, really appreciate the intent of this post. I would hope that a good number of your readers would take a second look at it, then stop to think about it and then wait to see what the investigation will reveal.

  84. jasonB

    To Phil and the rest of you who get out of bed, eat breakfast and spend the rest of the day thinking about Sarah Palin and blaming everything on her, please give it a rest.

    As others have stated, the wacko seems to be way to the left of center, but of course that doesn’t fit Phil’s world view so somewhere in his post he has to drag in Palin and the Tea Party who have NOTHING to do with this. This murderous scumbag picked up the gun and CHOSE to take human lives. No one made him do anything, but being the good little liberal you are, you can never see fit to blame the actual perpetrator.

    Phil you are a political hack of the first degree and a joke.

  85. Robin

    Well said, Phil.

  86. I’m a little confused by people claiming (both here in the comments and on Twitter) that I want to censor discussion, or that I am not denouncing violent rhetoric, or that I’m pointing fingers at Palin et al, or that I’m not implicating her enough.

    I am not trying to stop discussion. I’m saying speculation and jumping to conclusions are not a good idea when the evidence isn’t all in.

    I’m not supporting violent rhetoric, or saying it had nothing to do with this. I’m saying we don’t know yet. And I was clear that this kind of speech is abhorrent.

    I’m not pointing fingers at Palin, nor am I saying what she’s done is OK. These are two different issues. I’m saying what she and others have said and done is reprehensible, and also said very clearly we cannot link it to this shooting based on what we know.

    And Tail (66), that’s a very misleading way of phrasing your question. I’m not diagnosing him, I’m making a common sense conclusion. If you saw the alleged shooter’s YouTube videos, you can safely say the evidence points to him being apparently mentally ill. Note the phrasing there.

  87. Vin

    While you did a good job pointing out recent examples of questionable speech I think you did forget something. There have also been many examples of not just speech but action. The Tides foundation shooter later admitted he did it because of things Glenn Beck had “exposed”. Then you have town hall health care riots, church shooters, crazy Christian militias , an IRS bldg plane crasher, etc. Clearly something is up in this country. It has become a more viable option to express oneself through violence instead of through the ballot box. A mentally ill murderer and an environment that promotes his acting out are not mutually exclusive things. So, even if this guy turned out to be a left wing loon I think it is still acceptable to talk about the current political environment and the pattern that seems to be developing in this country.

  88. Colin

    @Jason Dick:
    So, therefore terrorist attacks are also evidence of why Islamic rhetoric is completely unacceptable? Also, the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in the 1960s are visceral examples why leftist rhetoric is absolutely unacceptable? There are leftists who still say that Bill Ayers and he’s groups actions were not only justified but that they “Didn’t do enough…”

    Be very careful whenever you try to say that speech must be stopped to prevent action. They are certainly related, but when you ban one kind of speech, all other kinds of speech are in danger. Just because classic liberalism has become radical again, doesn’ t mean you should be able to ban it.

  89. “Be very careful whenever you try to say that speech must be stopped to prevent action. They are certainly related, but when you ban one kind of speech, all other kinds of speech are in danger.”

    —-
    There’s a difference between illegal speech and inappropriate speech. I’m against over-empowering words (i.e, having legitimate media sources having to write “the n-word” to avoid the actual word and a discussion of its meaning), but I’m also for increased civility in politics. People shouldn’t be put in jail for having ads with crosshairs on them or talking about “second amendment solutions”, but they should rejected from participating in the political discourse (i.e, other politicians should withdraw support, cancel campaign appearances, etc).

    There are certain things we don’t accept in politics. John Edwards had his career torpedoed because he was out there disgracing his marriage. Other people have withdrawn because they’ve been caught making racist comments. So why can’t we add “indirectly calling for violence against my opponent” to the list of things that we don’t find acceptable in a candidate for public office? This isn’t “stopping” speech- it’s making people professionally accountable for what they say in pursuit of a public office.

  90. Chris

    @jasonB
    Please read what Phil is actually saying. He is not blaming Palin or the Tea Party, but pointing out that many others have implicated them in a conspiracy theory. Correlation does not imply causation. Just because Palin and the Tea Party have much violent rhetoric and have inspired violence in the past and they put gun-sites over her district does not mean this particular shooting was motivated by them.

  91. Laogai

    “Phil, I’m really sorry to say that your post, if many of the comments are indicative, is falling on deaf ears.”

    Sadly true. On such a topic that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with left/right politics, the atmosphere of hate has reached such a pitch that people cannot stop themselves from making it worse. There are far more posts here criticising Palin or the Tea Party than even the murderer! There are more criticisms of politicians than expressions of sympathy for the families, or hope for reconciliation.

    Can you not see that this a part of that same violent rhetoric that you are complaining about? Can you not see that trying to connect the Right to every murderer and maniac that comes along is not the way to make peace and restore civility? Look in a mirror!

    Sane people can very easily distinguish between figurative speech and action. There IS NO CONNECTION between this event and political rhetoric. There is no connection between Sarah Palin and the assassination of JFK, either, (or Abraham Lincoln for that matter,) however much you might want to believe it.

    Can’t you see that the Right are going to have a field day with this? “The Left are so unhinged, that they’ll connect every unrelated tragedy to the imagined malign influence of their political enemies”, they’ll say. “They’ll make use of even this in pursuit of their political agenda.”

    If you turn it political, this is what will happen. But your ears are deaf.

  92. Somite

    This timeline would be helpful

    http://ht.ly/3AM0D

    “Just because Palin and the Tea Party have much violent rhetoric and have inspired violence in the past and they put gun-sites over her district does not mean this particular shooting was motivated by them.”

    The above is sarcastic right?

  93. It takes a special sort of wilful ignorance to read a post that says “Let’s not jump to conclusions and blame Palin” as blaming Palin.

  94. Ron1

    @85. jasonB Says: …

    “As others have stated, the wacko seems to be way to the left of center, but of course that doesn’t fit Phil’s world view so somewhere in his post he has to drag in Palin and the Tea Party who have NOTHING to do with this.

    … Phil you are a political hack of the first degree and a joke.”

    jasonB, you obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and, by the sound of your post, you are still not awake.

    First, one of Loughner’s ex highschool class mates (ie. Caitie Parker, in a series of tweets) does refer to him as “quite liberal’ and a ‘political radical’ as she knew him around 2007. However, his own work and videos clearly show that Loughner has moved way to the right since 2007, having taken up an obsessive interest in right wing conspiracy theories such as his refusal to “pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver,” or his inability to trust the current government because of “Constitutional ratifications”, or that the government was into mind control and brainwashing.

    His writings are clearly those of a wingnut, unfortunately a wingnut immersed in right-wing conspiracy theories.

    Second, your comment about Phil is perhaps a reflection on yourself. I think you are simply wrong.

  95. @Phil:

    The only reason “we’re” not jumping to conclusions about the shooter is because it was pretty evident early on that the guy was closer to your constituency than mine. We’re admonished not to jump to conclusions about Fort Hood, but we’re asked to condemn ourselves for Byron Williams. Now, we’re asked not to apologize for Jared Loughner, but to accept responsibility for Giffords attack regardless.

    Here’s an idea. The next time you go trolling for “empathy” from your opponents, maybe you shouldn’t spit in their faces first. We can spit back, you know.

  96. mike johnson

    @84 RONI1…I am confused. I cleary said that we should wait until the investigation is done before we start placing blame…
    ” I think that instead of placing blame on ANY party or ideology, we need to let law enforcementdo it’s job and gather it’s evidence, pray (if that is what you believe in) for Ms Gifford, her family and all the victims….and NOT incite anymore finger pointing.”

    And I also said that both sides engage in hyperbole. The right wing “scream machine” does incite a lot of inflamitory retoric…but I can also see it on the left as well. Olbermann’s nightly special comments are laced with venom to anyone he doesn’t agree with. You say that Olberman and Maddow don’t stoop to the level of conservatives, or Grayson either? Didn’t he compare his opponent to the Taliban and terrorist? Here is somthing I found doing a google of Olbermann hate speech (and the results were pretty long). Did the same for Rush and hannity…and the list was just as long. These are the folks who need to calm down, compose themselves and have some cilvility.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/04/25/keith-olbermanns-idea-for_n_98557.html

    Left and right love to eat their own and spew hateful language. It’s a sad day in America when we disagree with each other and resort to violence, name calling and hate speech instead of trying to discuss/debate/compromise and if need be, civially agree to disagree.

  97. Somite

    What exactly is it that people are waiting for before condemning violent rhetoric and its relation to this incident? No one believes there is a direct legal connection between Palin, the tea party and the shooter. The shooter is clearly unstable but the point is that he was stoked by violent rhetoric. Which is precisely what violent rhetoric is meant to do.

    This is not new. Many people have been warning this was going to happen sooner or later. So I ask in the spirit of the argument of the original post; what are we waiting for and what would be sufficient to attach blame and demand the violent rhetoric to stop,

  98. Largo

    I find this entire discussion hypicritical. I read this site because of my interest in astronomy and have felt that the skepticism gave a fresh look at the subject and am disapointed that the site has dejenerated into a political hack discussion based upon rumor and liberal rants. Is this an astronomy site or a liberal soapbox?

  99. Renee

    Ya. We don’t know why the criminal did this. True. But I was not surprised at all.

    What I do know, is that I work for a major US corporation and every day I have to passively listen to the hate-mongering right wing rhetoric all day long. Talk about mass murder, talk about the violence, both legal and illegal that they think should befall anyone who disagrees with their extremist position. And, there’s nothing I can do about it, because if you even hint disagreement then the whole weight of their hatred comes down upon you. This is how the world is in Arizona. This is the world the right-wing has built and continues to feed.

  100. JohnW

    Yes Progressives say things about Conservatives that are mean but they are usually true and they NEVER condone or push violent action against anyone, unlike many of their Conservative or Libertarian opponents, Sarah Palin included. To think, and then to publicly state otherwise shows a worldview that is removed from reality.

    Removed from reality? You really have blinders on, my friend. The Democrats put out campaign maps with targets on them, Obama has used “violent rhetoric” many, many times, there is example after example of lefty politicians using rhetoric about rising up or questioning the patriotism of people who disagree with their policies. Not to mention the Bush assassination fantasies – people actually wrote books and made movies about these – or the infamous “We support our troops when they shoot their officers” sign at a peace rally. I could go on and on with examples. You really have to be living in an echo chamber not to realize there is plenty of this going on on both sides.

    You also have to be pretty nuts to think ANY of this is to blame for lone wackos acting violently, whether it be this Loughner scumbag, Amy Bishop, Michael Enright, etc etc.

  101. Ron1

    91. Laogai … While you quoted me, You’re missing the point of my comment – how, in any way, does Phil’s post come anywhere near to being ‘violent rhetoric’? Your comment is a prime example of false equivalency.

    Furthermore, given enough time and repetition of the message, sane people do not always distinguish between figurative speech and action. I believe that used to be called brainwashing.

  102. Ron1

    @97. JohnW – Please provide clear examples and then let’s compare them, shall we?

  103. Steve

    As someone at church said this morning, the guy may claim to be crazy, but he had enough sense to clam up and claim his 5th Amendment rights! Why are more of these senseless attacks happening these days? I have my thoughts, but shall keep them private for now.

  104. Caleb Jones

    Sad, sad , sad.

    To me, it seems that the combination of rampant public vitriol, the ease in which to live an increasingly isolated life, and general economic frustrations can contribute to these outbursts of violence.

    What repulses me most is how quickly those who spew the vitriol step away from it and say, “It’s not my fault someone took what I said in that literal manner.” Myself, I stopped watching talking heads news 2 years ago and now almost exclusively get my news/debate in print or text online and radio. It’s much more difficult to command respect in a debate/opinion when it is in writing or merely with the sound of your voice than when you have 45 min. worth of makeup, a an expensive sexy outfit, and flashing music graphics–none of which have anything to do with the actual substance of your opinion.

    Although I’m not sure about the specifics of the perpetrator(s) in this instance, often these kinds of violent outbursts come from people who either have existing tendencies towards self-isolation or through involuntary social isolation. This, to me, underscores the paramount importance of each and everyone of us owning the responsibility to concern ourselves with the well being and inclusion of our fellow human beings. A smile, an invitation, or a simple genuine conversation can do more than we realize to help those around us. Those things may not cure complicated problems like schizophrenia or other mental illnesses, but they can make more of a difference then we realize.

    Whatever motivates you to do this: religion, conscience, karma, a general desire to be a decent human being, or all of the above–we need to tone down the rhetoric and hateful commentary and take more seriously our responsibility to be more respectful and understanding with each other.

    Reminds me an excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator Speech”:

    “Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

    We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
    The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all…

    You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure…

    Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.”

  105. Can’t you see that the Right are going to have a field day with this?
    ——–
    Um, they have a field day with everything. They’re masters of spin. They have people believing that there is a legitimate scientific disagreement and lack of consensus on climate change, evolution, and intelligent design.

    Pretty sure they’ll be able to spin this guy’s actions into yet another reason why everyone should have guns.

    As the comments on this board illustrate, we have a huge problem in this country with “well, the other side does it too, so we’re going to keep doing it.” Apparently there is a fundamental lack of understanding that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, or that -1 + -1 = -2 and not 0. So what if Obama has “used violent rhetoric” in the past? In a country where thousands of people die annually in handgun related violence, I think everyone could use to turn it down a notch.

    And it’s not like this “second amendment solutions” rhetoric is some sort of magical game winner, where if one party decided to stop using it they’d be fighting w/ one hand tied behind their back. Sarah Palin’s firearms-infused rhetoric is not a winning tactic. In 2008, she lost. In 2010, her backing of several candidates in NV, AK, and SC essentially cost the GOP control of the Senate. Giffords won her own district, despite the crosshairs web image. The only thing that angry or pseudo-militaristic campaign adverts succeeds at is driving people away from voting. There is nothing at all to be lost from abandoning this approach that is not only inflammatory, but is ineffective.

  106. I always respect your POV, Phil. It’s SO easy for us to look for ways to support our prior feelings towards a group but, as is everything else, I don’t think we can paint the Tea Party with a broad brush.

    That said, I had a very interesting talk with some friends involved in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial just yesterday before this sad business broke.

    The next thing we should be vigilant for is the Tea Party training candidates to run for school board positions. And, I bet you can guess where this goes… They advocate fiscal responsibility but, because of their personal worldviews, they want to reintroduce the vague language about “teaching the controversy” in science classes. Look for a push towards the allowance for “supplemental materials” in class. This is worrisome.

    While I would rather not paint their members with a broad brush, because people are varied, their party agenda is not healthy for the future of our country.

  107. Andy Fleming

    Well said Phil… good post.

    That being said, I don’t know what is happening to the western democracies. It can’t be just a US or a gun control problem as it happens in the UK too which has much tougher gun control (which I agree with). Last year Derek Bird shot 12 people in the Lake District and West Cumbria:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumbria_shootings
    in what appeared to be a bloodbath against mainly strangers. This follows Dunblane 13 years earlier and Hungerford 10 years before that.

    As for the Tea Party/Palin, they are just following the normal agenda of the populist extreme right wing… blaming every minority group imaginable for the country’s ailments except themselves, and at the same time simultaneously congratulating themselves with their self-righteous and pious religiosity. It is a philosophy of ignorance, and the road to Nazism.

  108. Martha

    Now Palin is saying that those were not cross hairs, she says they were surveyor marks even though she earlier referred to them as bulls eyes.

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/01/09/palin-panics

    Palin is a pathological liar.

  109. Presley Cannady (#96): Wow. Simply, wow. You have grossly and completely misunderstood everything I have said and then gone and written something that is the antithesis of everything I meant in this post. It’s almost a textbook example of exactly the type of thinking and writing I am fighting against.

    And as for jasonb (85), you missed the mark even more, if possible, as others have pointed out. Did you read a single word of what I wrote before you left that comment?

    And largo (99): You are mistaken: this is neither an astronomy blog nor a skeptical blog. It’s my blog, and I write about what I want. Read my FAQ about this. Why have you never complained about off-topic posts featuring cartoons of Doctor Who? Could it possibly be only because you don’t agree with my politics?

  110. Ron1

    @97 mike johnson

    Mike, nuance is everything.

    Yes Keith is sarcastic. Yes Alan compared Republicans to the Taliban – but that is not violent! Saying someone should be killed or beaten is violent and is a major step up from loud rhetoric, plain and simple.

    It’s easy to look at issues from a a partisan perspective. It’s much harder to step back and look at someone’s rhetoric, straight from the source, and then compare it with others. When you do, and when you compare the power and position of the speakers, you’ll see that the leaders (political and media) of one side are far more violent with their rhetoric.

    False equivalency is a big problem in today’s media, so big that most people are unable, or unwilling, to see it.

    Cheers

  111. mike johnson

    Dr Phil,

    I think my biggest gripe is the implications of the initial post. Your not saying that the Tea Party or the Conservative movement is behind this…BUT…here are some examples of why they might be….BUT I’m not saying they are…I’m just saying. It’s kind of like the Anti Vacine people and global warming deniers. Not saying vaccinces are behind autism…but people who have autism got vaccines…but that’s not the cause…but I’m just saying…

    It’s drawing a conclussion based on a thesis without research or imperical evidence to further an agenda…and standing behind “I’m just saying” and implying a feeling.

    Lots of good debate though. Some heated…some mean spirited, but mostly good honest discussion. Kudos ;)

    I think that if you would have posted withiout mentioning “probable” causes (because we don’t know yet).

  112. Kyle

    Flashback to the Oklahoma City bombing. In the immediate aftermath everyone said it was Middle Eastern terrorist. How quickly we forget.

  113. TheBlackCat

    @ Largo: I am still waiting for anyone to tell me over what period of time Phil [i]didn’t[/i] deal with politics. Some of the earliest posts on this blog are about politics. There may even be slightly [i]more[/i] astronomy posts now than at the beginning. So I still don’t get when these good old days when Phil didn’t deal with politics actually were, since I’ve been following Phil since the blog started and I don’t remember any such time.

  114. TheBlackCat

    @ mike johnson: I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to point out that violent rhetoric might lead to violence.

  115. DK

    I don’t think it really matters where the killer himself is on the political spectrum (which in my opinion is not a straight line but a circle – extremists on any side are just extremists with different flags). The final responsibility is with him who pulled the trigger.

    But I surprised myself by agreeing with what that sherriff said. You have a very toxic atmosphere in the US at the time, and that is fueled by calls for violence which are coming overwhelmingly from the right. People like Palin et al are not directly responsible for the shooting. But they are very much responsible for creating the atmosphere that makes lunatics of any flavor come out of the woodworks thinking they’re just accomplishing what everybody wants.

    Phil, I see your point about speculation not being worthwhile, however nobody is seriously blaming tea partyers directly for the shooting. But I don’t think they should get to shout “reload!” and put crosshairs on people and then still get to say “oh but we didn’t want this!”

  116. TheBlackCat

    I am still waiting for an answer to my question from post 37. Can anyone confirm that ultra-right-wing groups were supporting the shooting, or is this just more spin?

  117. Levi in NY
  118. Rob

    Target stores incite violence and must be stopped! Just look at their name and logo!
    This blog too! look at the icon it is clearly a bullseye!

    Thanks for being a voice of reason!

  119. mike johnson

    Good post Ron1,but wouldn’t you say that beating Hillary Clinton (literally) is violent (words of Mr Olbermann) or comparing your opponents to terrorist or the taliban (and I know both sides have used those words) in a way violent? Terrorist are out to kill us all, so we have to kill and defeat them is the implication (more rhetoric).
    I agree that we need to step back and look at both sides, and I appreciate your views and hope that we can all open our eyes, take off our blinders and see that this problem is not just right or left, tea party or progressive…but both.
    Cheers back at ya :)

  120. Laogai

    103.

    “While you quoted me, You’re missing the point of my comment – how, in any way, does Phil’s post come anywhere near to being ‘violent rhetoric’?”

    It doesn’t. It’s all the comments coming after. In commenting on a non-political tragedy where expressions of sympathy and peace-making would be more appropriate, one person’s comment starts off: “Sarah Palin belongs to a church that advocates using infiltration, subversion and violence to overthrow the secular culture and impose a theocratic dictatorship in America. Her husband is a traitor who …” and so on. I don’t want to pick on that one person, because all the rest of the anti-Palin, anti-TP comments here are just a more circumlocutory version of the same thing. You’re trying to connect your political enemies to a murderer. You’re trying to do it when no such connection exists. You can’t imagine how bad that looks to outsiders.

    Rhetoric doesn’t have to be explicitly violent to increase the polarisation and anger people feel. The us-and-them dichotomy is always close to the heart of conflict.

    Phil’s comment was mainly about not jumping to such conclusions, and while he did bring the Palin-rhetoric-is-bad thing up, he no doubt feels he has to say it to avoid the charge of defending Palin. He’s not defending her and he’s not attacking her. It has nothing to do with her. I’m not talking about Phil’s post, I’m talking about all the people who totally ignored the point his post was making.

  121. Adrian Lopez

    @Phil Plait,

    When I saw people on Twitter blame the current political climate for the shooting, my thoughts were along the same line as yours. I wondered if perhaps the shooter had made some kind of statement that established beyond any doubt a link between the utterings of conservative politicians and the shooting, but I couldn’t find such a statement. There are hints that politics may perhaps have influenced his actions, but there’s no concrete link at all. It’s no better than people blaming video games for violent acts committed by children.

    Conservative politicians say lots of things I find utterly contemptible, but to seize upon a tragedy as a way to criticize those statements strikes me as rather opportunistic. It’s possible to criticize conservative politics without inventing causal relationships, and do so all the better if and when a genuine causal link can be established between their policies and harmful outcomes.

  122. mike johnson

    Black cat, I agree. Violent rhetoric can lead to violence…That is why I said that both sides need to ratchet the rhetoric down…but to say that this is because of the tea party/right wing right now is premature. The authorities are still collecting information and building a case. But to imply that ANY group is behind it is wrong.

  123. Childermass

    I am really skeptical of the notion that that graphic with a bull’s eye contributed whatsoever. The phrase that a one political group targets office holders it does not like is simply standard English. Pretty damn close to everyone used such phrases. No sane person would interpret the graphic to mean that that the office holders should be targeted with a gun.

    Insanely violent people with access to automatic weapons are going to commit violence no matter what kind of graphics are used.

    In any event a man who is a fan of Hitler, Marx, and Rand is clearly someone who speaks for pretty much nobody and is clearly deranged.

  124. Cerridwen Johnson

    I want to say thank you. I live in Tucson. I was helping a friend move when I got a frantic phone call from my mother. See, I am a supporter of Rep Giffords and have gone to her “Congress on your Corner” events in the past. I would have gone to this one too if I hadn’t made a promise to be manual labor. Shortly after that one, I got another frantic phone call. A friend was calling from New Jersey where he was on buisness. His twin brother had been planning to go to this event, and no one could get a hold of him. So, all of us who are moving are on twitter and NPR and other news outlets franticly trying to figure out what is going on. While two of us are franticaly making phone calls to everyone we know looking for our friend (he had gotten called into work and hadn’t told anyone, not thinking it was a big deal. He called as soon as he heard). While we are in shock, and trying to find out what is going on, and who was hurt/killed, we saw on twitter and other sites “it’s their fault!” Constantly pointing fingers. Except you. Thank you for your calm head. Here is how it was in Tucson: we heard Judge Roll was killed, and most people I talked to thought he was the target, NOT Rep Giffords. That didn’t change until the Marshalls said he hadn’t planned on being there. Then, when his YouTube and Facebook pages were found, we thought “this is a very disturbed kid. This makes no sense”. His address is within walking distance of the event, so we figured that he wanted a body count. With his talking about “grammar” and “currency”, most of us figure that if this hadn’t been going on so close to his home, he would have gone to a school or a bank or something for his body count. He is an angry, disturbed kid who wanted to hurt people. This was convinent. And while we are mourning our friends and family, hearing people place blame other than at the feet of the shooter, it hurts. And it hurts because Judge Roll and Rep Giffords would not have wanted that. They would have been the first to call for calm, and to wait for evidence before jumping to conclusions. You were speaking with their spirit yesterday. Unfortunetly, the only one who was.

  125. TheBlackCat

    @ mike johnson: you were saying that Phil was indirectly accusing Palin of instigating this. That is not what he was saying.

  126. Hello Mr. Plait and good morning from Honolulu. How can anyone’s words be responsible for someone’s actions? I do recognize the attempt at neutrality. If u perpetuate or postulate the possibility that the words or actions Sarah Louise Palin’s “or others” minimally influenced the previous days atrocities’, U Sir by your own accord would then be responsible for any negative or violent action perpetrated towards Sarah Palin.

  127. TheBlackCat

    I am really skeptical of the notion that that graphic with a bull’s eye contributed whatsoever. The phrase that a one political group targets office holders it does not like is simply standard English.

    No, putting cross-hairs on those you don’t like is not “standard English” in this country, and if it ever becomes so I will be out of here so fast it will make your head spin. I do not want to live in a country where that sort of thing is considered acceptable, not to mention “standard”. I would be scared to death for me life.

  128. Ron1

    @121. mike johnson

    Mike. Off topic, but, I want to use a smiley face icon too – how do you do it?

  129. Joel

    Doesn’t this whole incident highlight well the irrationality of man? Stereotypes and false assumptions are being thrown about everywhere by the Left and entire groups of people (Tea Partiers) are being scapegoated for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.

    People today ask how someone like Hitler could have come to power. Surely the German people weren’t bad. Well, as this recent shooting in Arizona points out, man is irrational. Even smart people are prone to foolish politics and scapegoating.

    If ever there was an argument for the Rule of Law to curtail the dangers of pure democracy, this is it. The founders were indeed wise.

  130. TheBlackCat

    @ Ron1: It happens automatically when you type it out. That is, remove the space in the middle and you get:
    : ) -> :)
    ; ) -> ;)
    : ( -> :(
    8 ) -> 8)

  131. Alexrkr7

    Phil, I’m starting to think people aren’t as literate as we like to assume. Great post, well reasoned.

  132. mike johnson

    @ BlackCat, that’s not what I am saying. I don’t know what Dr Phil is thinking or his feelings. I just think that it was inappropriate to imply this by mentioning it several times while backing away from the statement. Please see post 114 so I don’t bore everyone by repeating. I really don’t think Dr Phil was accusing anybody, and geniunely wants to let the investigation run it’s course. We all have our theories and feelings on why this happened. I think he feels like we all do…too much violent rehetoric…from both sides

  133. mary

    I think you are being naive if you think there is not a connection between Giffords recent win against a Tea Party member and this violence. It is not to blame the Tea Party for the actual act, but the rhetoric can feed people who are already prone to anti-social behavior. The timing of the shooting suggests that the rhetoric of the recent election could have fueled the shooter in some way.
    In my opinion,though, the biggest danger is the Tea Party philosophy. It will lead us to a society of violence. Guns for everyone and no social safety net equals more violence. I don’t think that is speculation given the examples we have around the world of governments who don’t provide safety nets and have no gun control.

  134. Tail

    Phil (87) writes, “that’s a very misleading way of phrasing your question. I’m not diagnosing him, I’m making a common sense conclusion. If you saw the alleged shooter’s YouTube videos, you can safely say the evidence points to him being apparently mentally ill. Note the phrasing there.”

    Common sense, as you have written repeatedly and correctly, is a very bad measure of reality.

    If I write, “what evidence we do have indicates Phil apparently has left-leaning political views and seems to blame conservatives,” does that contribute to toning down the rhetoric (which I heartily endorse) and reduce the misinterpretation of what you wrote?

    All I’m trying to suggest is that even when we attempt to be careful not to confuse opinion and fact it’s very easy to provide kindling for a blaze.

    Would you like to see this blog post used in court as evidence that “just common sense” shows the shooter was insane? What about your readers that have already cataloged your reference to Palin and others as contributors, even if that’s not what you meant? You could say they’re

    Yes, you have the right to say it, but you too are responsible for the consequences.

    All that said, if we do tone down the rhetoric, will that reduce the widespread anger? Is anyone trying to identify the source of it? It’s not just politics or immigration or population growth or religion or anti-vaxers or . . . . What is it?

  135. Ron1

    @132. Joel Says: … (Tea Partiers) are being scapegoated for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.

    Joel, while there is no evidence that they (Tea Partiers) had anything to do with the attack, there is also no evidence that they did not. :)

  136. Stereotypes and false assumptions are being thrown about everywhere by the Left and entire groups of people (Tea Partiers) are being scapegoated for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.
    ———-
    And so the spin begins. Watch how the talking heads will gear up tomorrow. It won’t be with a call for reason and civility (because that’s not what puts $ in Beck or Hannity’s pockets), it will be a “Look at how those liberals were so quick to point the finger!” And the ship will just keep on sailing in the same direction it’s been going. It’s worth too much money to these talking heads to a) call for reason or b) actually be reasonable.

    Look, if you spend your summer saying things like “If ballots don’t work, bullets will” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJP9xB5Eoa0 …and using this kind of rhetoric, and someone winds up getting shot- you deserve to have egg on your face. It’s pretty clear that no one is accusing Palin, the Tea Party, or anyone else of direct responsibility for this- however this IS what “second amendment solutions” look like. When you go around saying, “Bad Thing X is going to happen to Person X”, and that comes to pass, it should be a splash of cold water on anyone who would use that kind of language unless this is the world they want to live in. Where “if ballots don’t work” (i.e., if my candidate doesn’t get elected because more of my fellow citizens disagree with me than agree with me), then “bullets will” (it’s okay to shoot them).

  137. Sir Craig

    What I got out of Phil’s posting is what I believe he meant for us all to get: We need to stop pointing fingers at people or groups in an attempt to find scapegoats and allow the authorities to continue their investigations into the whys and wherefores of this tragic event. In the meantime we would do ourselves more good to instead reflect on what has happened to political discourse in this country, and more importantly what it is doing to our cultural atmosphere. We need to see that many of us have allowed ourselves to become so polarized by events and have been goaded to do so on all ends of the spectrum by those who would profit from such animosity.

    Sadly, it is more than evident there are a few commenters here who not only fail to grasp that simple observation but are themselves seeking to carry on with business as usual, by attacking Phil for his statement and bringing in irrelevant and nonsensical observations about the shooter. These commenters are the cause for some of my unease for our future, but they are few and irrelevant. The majority of commenters here continue to give me hope. So to Presley Cannady and jasonB, give it a rest and go play somewhere else. Please.

  138. noen

    Why is Charles Manson in jail for murder? He never killed anyone, he never had anything to do with the murder of Sharon Tate. All he did is say, with words, to the people around him that such people needed to be eliminated. Squeaky Fromme and the rest just thought they were doing Manson’s bidding but he never explicitly ordered them to kill anyone. So why is he in jail for murder?

    After all it’s free speech isn’t it? I call what Sarah Palin and the other hate mongers of the right are doing is they are making the Charlie Manson defense.

    Jared Loughner belonged to the antisemitic, anti-immigrant hate group called “The American Renaissance”. It is likely that he was mentally ill but it is also likely that he was used by that organization. They most likely manipulated him, they lit the fuse and pointed him in the direction of Gabrielle Giffords. That is also how it’s done in the middle east. Islamic extremists recruit gullible believers and feed them a bunch of propaganda, give them a nice vest and then point them towards their target.

    Welcome to the American Southwest, the Beirut of America where the local religious fanatics are fighting a decadent secular foreign enemy.

  139. Joel

    Ron1, as much evidence as i have that any OTHER broad group is not responsible. He’s a flag burning atheist who may have linked anti Israel videos on his myspace, better start labeling him a lefty, right? (/sarcasm)

    “And so the spin begins.” <– indeed. Why not wait a week before you start pointing ANY blame to ANY broad group of people. So far this guy "appears" to be a loner lunatic (that could change obviously, we must wait and see). And we have the guy alive, which seems advantageous in determining motive.

    Let's wait more than a day before reflexively assigning political motive. Is Jodi Foster responsible for Ronald Reagan's shooting? Or was it a crazy person? There are a number of rants on forums (unconfirmed as the shooter, but with a similar username and of similar writing style) calling the shuttle program and the mars rovers hoxes and ranting against Nasa. The victim is married to an astronaut. Sounds like a stretch? IT IS! But no less plausible than any of this other speculative political rhetoric. Wait a few days and then begin finger pointing if you wish.

    ps- neon- nice try attempting to bring religious implications into this. Right now the (limited) evidence suggests a distaste for religion. Only time will clarify.

  140. Ron1

    @149, noen

    … there it is.

  141. Buzz Parsec

    Steven Colyer @57: I agree with most of what you have to say, except one point. Obama is not and extremist by any definition. He is a slightly right of center democrat. The political rhetoric in this country has been so distorted by right wing propaganda (and money) that moderates are dismissed as extremists.

    For example, Obama’s health care program is basically that originally proposed by Richard Nixon. Tradeable carbon credits (cap and trade) were originally a Republican idea.

    To all the people saying “a pox on both your houses”, that implies that both sides are comparably guilty of using violent rhetoric. That is blatantly untrue.

  142. Tom Rhoads

    This was extremely well written Phil. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about such a publicly tragic incident.

  143. JohnW

    @104 Ron1 – I submitted a link-rich list of examples, I believe it is in comment moderation.

  144. Radwaste

    Gee, Phil, I hope you have this big an audience for autism, astronomy or space program posts.

    So far, what I’ve seen confirms what I first posted. And, sadly, so many people think their guy is the educated saint and the other guy is the ignorant sinner without much of anything to back them up.

    Why are people so likely NOT to be skeptical when they engage in politics?

    Hope to see you at DragonCon this year.

  145. Mike

    You’ve summed up my feelings on this. Well said, Phil.

  146. Chip

    Phil. Thanks for one of the best commentaries I’ve seen to date. A Superb piece of writing!

    I live right down the street from this ghastly act of stupidity. The sirens, watching the Medivac helicopters, ambulances and media doing there jobs and shaking my head
    in total disbelief. Again, absolutely meaningless violence. By someone who again, NEEDED help with mental health issues. A lot of lives changed forever. The loss of the 9 year old young lady, who was tragically born on Sept. 11, 2001 was heart wrenching here in Tucson!

    I really hope that this OPENS someones eyes to what this country, my country, our country has come too. AND I hope we change direction, quickly!

    The Safeway store and all the other stores down on the corner are closed today, Sunday. Bullet holes, blood stains and all the debris from the fantastic response by our great first responders and the investigators still doing there discovery work….what a sight.

    What a shame.

    Thanks, Phil

    Chip

  147. NAW

    *Slip on my ring of flame resistance*

    Well, I am glad to see some people want to wait to hear what they learn from the shooter before they decide what is going on. I don’t really know the true number though, I really have not read any of the crazed posting above.

    Just calm down people, we will learn what caused this soon.

  148. ND

    JohnW,

    The Tea Party has attracted some extreme people into their midst. Palin and others are courting this group, at the same time they’re use euphemisms such as “crosshairs”. Was Obama courting extremists groups with members voicing “2nd amendment remedies?”, when he used the knives and guns euphemism? It’s not just the words, it’s political context which makes the language of Palin, Beck and others send alarm bells. Angle’s words are more explicit. From what I’ve read, her talk of remedies was immediate followed by mentioning Reid.

    To those who are saying wait before blaming anyone, of course. But the level of dangerous rhetoric has been a concern for a while now and this is as good a time as any to discuss it, regardless of what motivated the shooter. The sooner the better.

  149. Allyson Beatrice

    I agree, Phil. I’m neither an apologist or naive. I can have two thoughts at the same time: that violent rhetoric is reprehensible, and that it may or may not have had anything to do with this. Until we have more data, speculation isn’t productive.

    This is more complex than soundbites can sum up, as most things tend to be. Anyone rushing to score a point for a “side” is kind of a dick.

    According to the available data that has come in so far, the best I can do is say this isn’t going to be attributable to any one catalyst, but several that came together to form this tragedy.

    My kneejerk reaction was to be furious at the violent rhetoric that caused this. But when I gave myself a few minutes to think it through, I realized that I don’t actually know what caused this. And kneejerk reactions are fine and human, but taking a minute to calm down and try to think things through rationally makes for better humans.

    Knowing that it was a complex series of events that lead to this means that it’s going to be harder to sort through the signal-to-noise of the talking heads and angry internet commenter crowd.

    Your post is all signal, and wise. Thanks.

  150. Astrofiend

    Obviously this kid was very disturbed. It is doubtful that he was directly motivated by a major political party or speech, given his online rants. Having said that, what the hell do you expect to happen when half the citizens of a country are gun-toting Clint Eastwood wannabes and the population has been whipped into an ultra-intolerant, hyper-partisan, hyper-patriotic frenzy by the media and each other?

    Expect a lot more of this unless you can find a modicum of respect for your fellow man and their opinion.

  151. Ron1

    @150. ND … Good comment.

    While flipping through the US television media today I noticed that the discussion has already begun. Unfortunately, most tv hosts are making the argument that the statements of Democrats are as bad as those of Republican and/or Tea Party supporters and that everyone must tone down their rhetoric. The level of hate and/or violent speech is, of course, not equivalent between groups.

    This of course is missing the point that calling someone a name, while bad, is not the same as saying people should arm themselves and go out and give that ‘someone’ a lickin’.

    Anyone who says that Progressive rhetoric is as violent as that of Conservatives should take time to compare and contrast the two. They might also want to take a look into the meaning of wrong, that some ideas or statements are more wrong than others.

    This bring to mind an essay written by Isaac Asimov entitled “The Relativity of Wrong.” in which Asimov states, ” The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.” He then goes on to explain why.

    That many people are unaware of the ‘Relativity of Wrong’ is clear from the submitted comments on Phil’s blog as well as those made by media personalities and politicians.

    A copy can be found at the following link.

    http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

  152. ad

    ND, nutcases don’t hear the fine nuances of politcal context. Both sides have used reprehensible rhetoric that would not be tolerated in other democracies.

  153. Thanks for this article, Phil, as this is exactly what I was trying to explain to a friend of mine earlier today (and I was already starting to feel somewhat alone…)

  154. Daffy

    The point for me is not whether Palin is responsible for this. The point for me is how most major news outlets are portraying her as the victim (or at least A victim). Seriously, can you imagine how everyone would have reacted if Obama—or, worse, Clinton–had published something like the “crosshairs” graphics Palin did? They’d have been crucified. But for Palin, excuses are made.

    Things will get better when people hold their own party’s reps to the same standard they hold the opposing side’s people, not before. Why would they?

  155. Preston

    @Astrofiend:

    “Having said that, what the hell do you expect to happen when half the citizens of a country are gun-toting Clint Eastwood wannabes and the population has been whipped into an ultra-intolerant, hyper-partisan, hyper-patriotic frenzy by the media and each other?”

    The guy was insane. It had nothing to do with the political climate.

  156. Steve Metzler

    Grizzly (#32):

    Very well said, and ’nuff said.

  157. Dick Herbst

    Thank you, Phil. Well said.

  158. megan

    I’m at a loss for the people trying to make this kid JUST a looney. Him reading the Communist Manefesto is like how I as a leftist read Wall Strret books to understand their thinking from my point of view. His classmates and from vids online have him clearly in the camp of rightwingnuts like Palin, Beck etc. He called a fellow female student relating her depression from an abortion, a killer terrorist. He promoted and called for the gold standard, need for armed revolt. Only the left fringe, NOT in media or control of Democratic messages spout similar crap. This stuff is being promulgated and promoted by the majority and leaders of the Republicans, run by neo/extreme conservatives. All points trying to poo-poo it are deceptive and lying. The actions by leftwing and/progressive crazies is aLWAYS clearly denounced and connected rhetoric squelched and demeaned by mainstream left/Democrats. Nothing of the sort is done by the right for their camp of crazies. It is given the wink and nod, Palin style. You betcha. Good cop, bad cop public waterboarding denialism.

  159. Lila

    The media being what it is, Palin is being associated with it regardless of whether or not her rhetoric had anything to do with this tragedy.

    Ironically, this could put Fox News in the position of having to tell people to be reasonable. Which may open a worm hole in the Universe. ..But you’d have to ask BA about how those cosmological mechanics work.

  160. megan

    True, LILA, let the topic play out in other forums. Come here for Astronomy posts.

  161. Utakata

    @ #58 I wrote inpart:

    “…in the meantime, I am still waiting to hear about the second suspect. Once apprehended, he will be the most likely telling evidence on what the motivation was behind shooter’s intentions. And if the shooter was given “a little push”…using The Joker’s phrase from Batman, The Dark Knight.”

    I now make a partial retraction to that, since the second suspect has now been cleared. Apparently he was just the cab driver who the shooter bilked on his fair when he unwittingly dropped off the assailent close to his target. It was not a Tea Party type exploiting somone who was about to go postal, and dropping him off where he would be most effective. So I have to scrap that idea altogether.

    A partial retraction, as I still stand on my suspicions that Teabagging rhetoric and vitrol did likely play a roll that least set in the gunman’s mind “It’s okay to do this,” and “You’ll be a hero.” Though my suspicions are not evidence and are not always right as proven above. But my gut feeling still remains there was something rotten in the state of Denmark about all of this. We shall see….

  162. Daffy

    Lila, thanks for making my point.

  163. BargeArse

    Irrespective of whether Palin is associated with this or not, I wonder if Americans realise how much the Tea Party damages their image overseas? Clearly she has used deliberately inflammatory language and symbolism, and the chickens have sadly now come home to roost.

  164. Wil

    From “Violence and Politics Merge” in today’s Politico.com:

    “One veteran Democratic operative, who blames overheated rhetoric for the shooting, said President Barack Obama should carefully but forcefully do what President Clinton did. “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”

    So, while some people merely assume that rhetoric from some on the Right nudged the gunman over the edge, other folks are specifically planning to promote that cynical, destructive lie.

    Great, just great – that’s what we all need.

  165. fdhbstephanie

    I do want to look at this critically and keep a level head but then I go back to the 2008 presidential campaign. Palin held several rallies in my state and I have a good friend (a die-hard Republican) who went to one and she came back upset and shaken. It ended up changing her vote for the presidency. What changed her? There were many cries in the audience to “kill the n-word!” during this rally. My friend was certain that Palin heard these calls but Palin just laughed, never calling the racists on their language. Like some TV and radio pundits, Palin’s rhetoric (don’t even get me started on their logic!) is questionable; unfortunately, this uncritically thinking group seem to have become not only the spokesmodels for but also magnets drawing in others to accept (and practice?) all that is unsavory and abhorrent within the political system. This is what frightens me about some in this group: they don’t care about you and me. If we aren’t like them, we are the enemy – it’s like they think they already have lost everything, so what else is there to lose? And, for some, it may only be a matter of how many they can take with them.

    Hope this is somewhat coherent – the whole situation is disturbing and upsetting…

  166. tesstricks

    @Wil: I wouldn’t expect anything else, frankly. Demonizing the other side is simply the easiest way to win elections.

  167. Mr. Plait did u also block those that made similar comments. I did not mean to offend. Please reinstate.

  168. Dustin

    Thanks, Mr. Plait. I confess, I have fallen victim to finger pointing; blaming certain politicians and pundits, not for the act itself, but for perpetrating a culture of violence. Thank you for reminding me that I might be wrong. Thank you for reminding me that I can’t let my gut instinct dictate my rhetoric and my very state of mind. If I’ve learned anything from being a skeptic, I’ve learned that my gut is not to be trusted. Obviously, I still have a lot of learning to do. I’ve let my gut get the better of me. Thank you for reminding me that I’m human too.

  169. Brian137

    Article about alleged gunman:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110110/ap_on_re_us/us_congresswoman_shot_gunman_11

    From the article – At an event roughly three years ago, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords took a question from Jared Loughner, the man accused of trying to assassinate her and killing six other people. According to two of his high school friends the question was essentially this: “What is government if words have no meaning?

    Loughner was angry about her response — she read the question and had nothing to say.

  170. Peter Eldergill

    @Tomuchfriction

    You said “How can anyone’s words be responsible for someone’s actions?”

    Really? For real? You don’t think words can incite someone to do your bidding?

    I just learned this by reading today (I’m ashamed to note) that Charles Manson didn’t actually kill anyone himself…

    You don’t think that words can be a deadly weapon?

    Hope I’m mis-reading your comment

    Pete

  171. Carlos

    Mr. Plait,

    Your post is perfectly clear, not open to any confusion. The outburst of irrational replies is an example of how it is easy to find dumb leftists as it is easy to find morons from the right. Too bad this means that about half the readers of this blog are incapable of rational thinking.

    There is no need to be a psychiatrist to make the observation that it is possible that the killer is schizophrenic. His irrational youtube ramblings about government-mind-control point to someone hearing voices.

    Lets assume that he was indeed hearing voices. Did he attributed these voices to the government because of Palin? There is no way to tell. I personally believe that he would have gone on a shooting rampage sooner or later, regardless of what nonsense political demagogues from any party spout.

    Carlos.

  172. Steve

    It appears the killer was obsessed with Rep. Giffords. While that is chilling and resulted in a lot of collateral damage, what I find even more frightening is the level of discourse, false information, scaremongering, and insults leveled at people not even remotely involved. You are all supposed to be intelligent yet you are all using this tragedy to further your political views. Hang your heads in shame.

  173. Utakata

    …that’s because we who are suspicious about what influenced the killer are actually running for office, Steve.

  174. @ Phil Plait – Nice clear post, and it’s a bit mystifying how so many comments seemed to miss the point. I almost got the impression that some right-wing site linked to this saying “liberal commie blames shooting on Sarah Palin,” and then a bunch of her followers rushed to comment on your post without having read it.

  175. @Phil: Haven’t misunderstood you at all. Nice to know you’re innovative enough to have a fall back position once you finally face the disappointing truth that Loughner is one of yours.

    When this country does get to the point where words are useless, you might want to take a minute to reflect on how the meddlesome condescension of folks like yourself contributed to rock bottom toxicity. You might also choose to reflect on how woefully unprepared your side will likely be when things finally do come to a head.

    But hey, at least we won’t have to worry about lone wolves with unfathomable motives by that point.

  176. Ron1

    @171 Presley Cannady Says … “You might also choose to reflect on how woefully unprepared your side will likely be when things finally do come to a a head.”

    Is that a threat? Not a smart thing to do in a public forum, you jerk!

  177. Brian137

    A lot of good comments and responses, many tendentious, but hey: we’re human. Feisty gene syndrome. What a tragedy, murder and mayhem to no purpose. Lives snuffed out – why? What, if anything, did I learn? Perhaps that life is precious. I knew that before, but now I know it now.

  178. This is a great example of the fundamentals of skepticism at work. It may very well be that Palin’s or the Teabaggers’ rhetoric contributed at least to this guy’s choice of target, although I think there’s reasonable evidence that he was either psychotic or schizophrenic. I’m not a psychologist, and even if I was, I wouldn’t diagnose based on internet conjecture at this point, but it definitely seems like he had at least some history of irrational behavior of some sort.

    However, I think that the reticles on the map and the “reload” rhetoric are metaphorical, and clearly so. To immediately leap to the conclusion that this rhetoric fueled this attack seems analogous to the idea that Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osborne actually caused teens to commit suicide in the 80s.

  179. idahogie

    Probably already been said …

    I think the absolute last thing we have to worry about now is the feelings of a bunch of teabaggers. We’ve warned them that that an extremist, highly racist anti-government group that uses violent rhetoric is a problem. We warned them before anything bad happened. Now we’re a couple dozen hate crimes in.

    When do we get to point out that violent rhetoric based on lies will motivate those fringe elements with unbalanced psyches? This event may not be directly motivated by right-wing hate. But that doesn’t change anything. It has to stop.

  180. Sman

    The Black Cat wrote:

    I am still waiting for an answer to my question from post 37. Can anyone confirm that ultra-right-wing groups were supporting the shooting, or is this just more spin?

    I appears to be spin. I checked several, and most of them are calling the shooter a radical leftist. They are also trying insinuate that a Kos blogger instigated the attack. Apparently, there was a post at Kos a few days ago from someone complaining about Giffords.

    Someone at Why We Protest had what appeared to be a screen grab from the Az Sec State that showed the shooters voter registration. If it is real(the screen grab), some one hacked the site to get it, so I won’t provide a link. ;)

  181. Hairy Buddah

    Phil – very disappointing, but not unexpected. As a scientist you are supposed to be dispassionate and review all of the data. But even as you were claiming not to point fingers, you only selected examples from the statements of your political opponents. As many have pointed out there have been at least as many violent acts and calls for violence on the left as on the right.

    As a scientist you should be more careful. Poor work.

    Hairy

  182. PaulK

    First, I don’t think anyone will ever prove a direct connection between the shooter and any specific person or group.

    That being said, I’d bet I could guess the political leanings of all the people who are expressing these common themes that I’ve seen here, and on lots of other sites I’ve visited: 1. He was just a crazed kid; you cannot lay any responsibility on the violent rhetoric, or even the specific statements, of those on the Right. 2. This rhetoric is coming equally from both sides (I’m biased, but that’s just ridiculous).

    This whole thing is terrible. I read today that the girl killed was born on 9/11/2001. What are her parents going through? What has happened to us.

    Politically, I’m far to the left of anyone in Congress that I could name. I’m a proud socialist in the modern European sense. But I am no threat to anyone. To say that those you oppose politically are ‘enemies’ is not sensible. Some of the talk is not even sane.

    I believe in what this country is supposed to stand for: acceptance of those who disagree with me; their right, even duty, to argue and vote; to run for office if they choose; and to work to make this a country that works for everyone in it. I could never support or defend anyone who used threats of violence, no matter how veiled. Why doesn’t everyone, but especially those on the Right, just admit that this kind of talk is just plain wrong, and stop supporting those who use it, instead of defending them, or falsely claiming that it’s coming equally from the Left? (The Right own the talk radio sphere, and the attempts at equating what some Democrats have said to what the Right have done is just lame.) Even if that were truly equal on both sides, so what?! The only arguments I can see against calling for a deliberate, stated denunciation of violent rhetoric are either denialism of reality, or an actual acceptance of violence as a means to power.

    Acceptance of violent speech does lead to violence. I cannot see any realistic argument against that, either, though the argument is being made.

  183. Monkey

    @Sir Craig (140)

    Wow, well said. If anything, at this point in time we should keep all our fingers in our pockets and avoid pointing. However, it may come out that there is nobody to point to. And perhaps this is a lesson we all need to take in – just because somebody does something, does not automatically mean that it is associated with a bigger plot/scheme/force/etc. IT doesnt mean it *doesn’t* but… . Just because I vote D or R (both of which I dont as a Canadian :) ) and I do something bad/good doesnt mean that I do it because of said politics. A teabagger he may be, but that might not be the reason for him doing what he did. A left-wing extremist he may be, but that might not be the reason he did what he did. Its tragic, nonetheless.

    @179 wha…..? Can you take that out of ramble-speak and say exactly what you mean? And explain exactly how Phil is pandering to your perspective of a ‘world to come’ scenario?

  184. ElwoodWV

    @175 Phil IS being dispassionate: “And I want to be clear: don’t confuse my not wanting to jump to conclusions with me saying Palin’s actions and statements don’t play into this at all. It’s entirely possible they do. It would be foolish to deny it. But without any evidence it’s equally as foolish to simply assume they do.”

    He is saying it is unwise to jump to conclusions. Something that seems to be lost on many of the commentators here, who have done just that–ascribing motives, beliefs and content that his simply not in his post. There seems to be a distinct lack of reading comprehension when it comes to all things political these days. Many are accusing him of the exact opposite of what he said.

  185. ElwoodWV

    Should be @185. Sorry.

  186. Paul in Sweden

    Here is a posting that I read at about the same time as I read Phil’s here at BA.

    “Toning Down The Rhetoric” Means Obeying Big Government
    “Despite the fact that Jared Lee Loughner was a psychotic loner with “left-wing” beliefs according to those who knew him, the establishment has hastily exploited yesterday’s tragic shooting in Tucson to demonize conservatives, libertarians and gun owners while ordering Americans to “tone down the rhetoric,” which is nothing more than a euphemism for stifling dissent and coercing people to roll over on Obamacare, bailouts and whatever big government is preparing to unleash next.

    “The nation’s caustic political climate has become a suspect of sorts in the rampage that left six dead and a lawmaker critically injured in Arizona. Already, appeals are being heard to tone down the rhetoric,” reports the Associated Press, in doing so framing the debate and profiting from the actions of a deranged lunatic to launch a fresh assault on freedom of speech.

    Make no bones about it – “tone down the rhetoric” means stifling dissent, it can have no other possible meaning. Because a lunatic decided to kill others in a bid to give his worthless life some meaning, Americans are being ordered to shut their mouths about Obamacare, endless bailouts, and the fact that their political representatives in Washington (with some notable exceptions) have ceased to represent their interests.

    Arizona Sheriff Dupnik wasted no time in blaming the deaths on conservative talk radio and television presenters, despite the fact that Loughner was a “left-winger” who listed amongst his favorite books The Communist Manifesto.

    “The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business … This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in, he said.”

    Dupnik then took a swipe at people opposing the growth of big government, wasting no time in blaming them for the tragedy.

    “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

    Even before the identity of the gunman was known, the Associated Press was busy tying the massacre to Sarah Palin and second amendment organizations. We’re no fans of Palin, but the fact that the AP cited one of her campaign images that centered around targeting certain states as political battlegrounds to imply that Palin was partly responsible for the carnage, while ignoring almost identical “crosshair” images against Giffords put out by liberal groups, underscores how eager the establishment was to seize upon the tragedy for crass political points scoring.

    While blaming tea partiers and conservatives without a shred of connecting evidence, the likes of Associated Press, the Washington Post, and a slew of statist Obama worshipping liberal websites, conveniently failed to mention a savage hit piece against Giffords that had appeared just days before on the Daily Kos website (since pulled) which bizarrely invoked the word “dead” several times.

    Indeed, as statists rushed to finger tea partiers as being responsible, they conveniently ignored the fact that Giffords was a pro-border control, pro-second amendment blue dog Democrat. In addition, the federal judge that was killed, John Roll, was a strong opponent of the Brady gun control bill. Giffords and Roll would make strange targets for anti-government extremists, since both of them have voting records that put them in alliance with most conservatives.

    Despite this, the AP tried to use the shooting to attack second amendment rights by alluding to Giffords’ Republican challenger Jesse Kelly last year inviting supporters to join him at a pro-gun event.

    “I don’t see the connection,” between the fundraisers featuring weapons and Saturday’s shooting, said John Ellinwood, Kelly’s spokesman. “I don’t know this person, we cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don’t see the connection.

    “Arizona is a state where people are firearms owners — this was just a deranged individual.”

    In addition, there was little mention of the fact that it was a responsible firearm owner who used his second amendment rights to help stop the carnage. It was reported that one member of the crowd interrupted Loughner’s rampage by shooting at him with his own concealed carry gun.

    While the establishment continues to characterize the gunman as an anti-government extremist in a transparent ploy to chill dissent against big government, Loughner’s favorite You Tube video was a clip of someone burning an American flag. Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I don’t recall seeing too many tea partiers burning American flags at political rallies.

    When it turned out that Discovery Channel building gunman James Jay Lee was a statist zealot and a global warming alarmist, there was little call for anyone to “tone down rhetoric” about doomsday climate change scenarios. Isn’t it interesting that the establishment only demands we “tone down the rhetoric” when that rhetoric manifests itself as criticism of the state?

    “Toning down the rhetoric,” or becoming afraid to speak out against the government, will do nothing whatsoever to stop mentally ill people with no political affiliations committing crimes.”
    […]
    -http://tinyurl.com/24eel26

    Not for nothing but because this tragedy did not involve spray painting a dirty word or symbol on a wall in the middle of the night and was a bloody as it was I just assumed(correctly) it was the work of some left-wing nut job. As this tragedy involved loss of life and not simply the torching of SUV car lots, the destruction of science research labs or the vandalism of coal power plants the likes of NASA GISS Chief James Hansen will not be called upon to testify in court to justify the senseless violence.

    As always in these cases, people with mental problems take the opportunity to call out for the further restriction of constitutional rights(the idea that free speech, the right to assemble or the right to own and carry firearms could be taken away from Americans burns me up.). This tragedy could have been a whole lot worse.Thank goodness there were citizens at the event who selflessly put themselves in harms way to subdue the nutcase.

  187. The interesting question is whether she will still oppose gun control when she comes out of the coma.

  188. Chris

    “A lot of people were convinced Palin (and the others mentioned above) were setting up an atmosphere where violence was inevitable. That may be true, but we don’t know what led up to this specific event. ”

    Using this logic, we’ll be debating more and more frequent hurricanes by saying for each one “we don’t know if global warming is responsible for this *specific* hurricane…” And each one will be denied.

    Just as global warming is likely to lead to more hurricanes, gun-metaphor infused political rhetoric is likely to lead to more shootings.

  189. Gun control is not the issue. The issue is how can a paranoid schizophrenic like Loughner have functioned in our society when his aberrant behavior threw up so many flags of a disturbed individual that nothing was done to correct him until this tragedy played out? Was he on medication? Coming off it? Big Pharma has much to answer for. They provide wonderful cures, but their Marketing strategies are beneath contempt. The schools don’t help, they encourage us to “feel sorry” for these disturbed individuals, and yes, disturbed people are very much attracted to hate-mongering.

    Lefties promote caution and a “wait and see” approach. Righties love this. Righties, especially Rupert Murdoch of News Corp./FOX, are like pit bulls, vicious and unrelenting. Limbaugh and Hannity go on air today; I’m sure they will spin this into being Obama’s fault. Hatred knows no limits.

  190. “Gun control is not the issue. The issue is how can a paranoid schizophrenic like Loughner have functioned in our society when his aberrant behavior threw up so many flags of a disturbed individual that nothing was done to correct him until this tragedy played out?”

    Of course gun control is the issue. Any society which allows, as you say, paranoid schizophrenics access to firearms gets what it deserves. Sadly (as is often the case), innocent people also die. As to how he could have functioned in society, consider that W. was president. Which is more absurd? Of course, any sort of “correction” before he actually committed a crime would be opposed by the Teabaggers and neoliberals as big government being too nosy.

  191. @Ron1: No more so than a playoffs prediction.

  192. Christian Treczoks

    For me, as a non-American, the most amazing fact here is that a person that is known to be mentally ill can legally buy a gun in the US.
    Well that and the use of non-metric units…

  193. JohnW

    @151 ND – Utter hogwash. You are living in a glass house and throwing handfuls of rocks, my friend.

    Obama not only talks about knives and guns, he talks about brawling – and Ken Gladney gets beaten up by SEIU union thugs at a protest. Palin is hung in effigy at rallies. Peace protesters hold huge signs saying, “We support our troops when they shoot their officers.” (I tried providing links to all these and others in a previous post, but it got eaten. You can easily verify all these things on Google.)

    I mean, Palin putting a campaign map with targets on it is a dog whistle call to violence, but Obama talking about bringing a gun to a knife fight isn’t? Really? Wackos are in tune to these nuances? They must be smarter than I am, because I don’t think there’s a bit of difference. It is ridiculous to pretend one side does this and the other does not. In fact, it speaks of a rather disturbing political mindset.

    It is also completely ridiculous to think any of this rhetoric – from either side – influences a wacko with voices in his head to shoot people, whether it’s Loughner, Dr Amy Bishop, or that guy who flew an airplane into that IRS building. They were going to snap anyway.

  194. Guy Fawkes

    I think that it is prejudice of you to assume that the majority of tea-party members are racist. This is the first time visiting your website and I can already see your bias after reading one post. While I am not a tea-party member I am a fiscal conservative and support many of their ideas about getting this country financially back on track. There has been so much frivolous spending by the Obama administration but it has lacked in the one place that i find to be the most important, space and science.

  195. Somite

    Please. Is that the best you can do regarding examples of “left violence”? Compare your examples, in both number and quality to these:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2011/1/9/934563/-Guns,-God-and-Incitement

    Note that these are high ranking officials making these statements. Not regular individuals.

    I think PZ Myers is the adult in the room once more:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/dont_politicize_this_tragedy.php

  196. JD

    John W,

    Maybe I’m being lazy, but instead of using Google to verify your claims, why don’t you provide your own sources?

    Saying that they ‘got eaten’ sounds like a cop out so that you can make wild accusations without backing them up. I don’t even know what ‘got eaten’ is supposed to mean. Is that like when the dog eats your homework?

    So I challenge you to post links to nonpartisan sources for those statements. If your claims can’t stand up to a little scrutiny, then maybe you should reconsider their validity.

  197. JMW

    Two things:

    1) My first reaction on hearing about the reaction from politicians. The politicians were all saying things like, “See how we should be moderate in our rhetoric? We should tone it down.” My first reaction to this was basically, “You bunch of self-centred idiots. Not everything is about you.”

    2) Not directly related to the despicable shooting in Arizone, but here goes anyway…political rhetoric will NOT moderate, will NOT become less inflammatory. Why? Because no one has everything to gain and nothing to lose by being inflammatory.

    Consider. The US is a two-party system. That means that in order to win an election, each side must build themselves up, and tear the other down. Voters have only two options (there’s a third – don’t vote or protest vote, but too many people won’t do that). And so politics becomes like the proverbial bucket of crabs.

    In my humble opinion, the only way you would get rid of inflammatory rhetoric, stupid filibusters, and legislative grid lock is if there was an alternative. And here I don’t mean a viable third party (trust me, we’ve had that – almost – for decades in Canada, and we’re starting down the same road you guys are).

    No, the alternative is a completely different political system.

    Let there be two systems – two sets of parties. A person can be a party member or candidate only in one set. In each set, there is a winner and a loser for each electoral district. But the set that gets the most popular votes sends their representatives, senators and President to Washington, and all the people from the other set GO HOME. Even if they actually won the election in their set of parties, they GO HOME, because their set of parties lost, and so now they’re out of a job.

    In democracy, the idea of losing an election is supposed to be a threat to keep the elected honest. But we’re seeing now that all it does, over time, is encourage over-the-top-behaviour in a crazed effort to win the election. Because win or lose, some of “our” guys go to Washington, and well, there’s always next election. But if ALL of our guys fail to get to Washington because we’ve demonstrated we can’t get government to function reasonably, than there is evolutionary pressure on the parties to actually work together to get something done.

    Call it institutionalizing, without violence, a revolution. I doubt it would function worse than what either Canada or the US have now.

  198. QuietDesperation

    For me, as a non-American, the most amazing fact here is that a person that is known to be mentally ill can legally buy a gun in the US.

    Well, he didn’t have “nutcase” stamped on his driver’s license. Some people at his college thought he was weird. Other than that… I guess we could give all gun sellers the CIA mind scanners so they can determine the customer’s mental state.

    Well that and the use of non-metric units…

    WTF? That’s an odd one from way down the list. When you mindlessly America-bash you’re supposed to go with something like how we’re all fat and lazy and illiterate before going for the higher fruit. You go over there in the corner and preatice and try again later.

  199. QuietDesperation

    But pls folks, stop with the whole “he was mentally ill” angle.

    Why? It’s relevant information. Why do you want to suppress relevant information?

    Sure he was, but ask yourself, of the two extremes, which attracts more nutcases than the other?

    So what you are saying is that you fully and wholeheartedly support the complete politicizing of this tragedy.

    This whole thread is sickening. “It’s all Palin’s fault.” “Barry Obama is worse.” You people call yourself skeptics? Feh. A pox on the lot of you.

  200. Very well written and thought out blog!

    What many people fail to realize is that when you engage in discussions that blame a political party or political rhetoric for these types of events, you are actually engaging in vitriol in that very moment. And I absolutely agree – in the immediate aftermath, that was a time to fact find and mourn, not to begin blaming the political climate, no matter how counterproductive the rhetoric has been.

    It was also funny reading your blog because I wrote a blog with a very similar beginning, but then took it in a different direction based on my working knowledge with individuals who suffer from schizophrenia (here’s a link if you’re interested: http://mattycru.blogspot.com/2011/01/speak-when-you-are-angry-and-you-make.html). While I would never claim that having a mental illness is the “end” of a trial, those who want to marginalize these types of disorders because they are too angry and want justice (aka vengence) don’t help our society move forward, but instead move our society back to the middle ages.

    Again, really well written blog!

  201. Cheyenne

    @205 Quiet Desperation – Well said. Best post of the thread.

  202. gss_000

    More than just weird: they thought he was dangerous.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10shooter.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&hp

    I’ve read a lot of articles over the course of the day, and I think a little bit of a background check would have revealed this guy should not have gotten a gun. I think while we’re not going to find a direct cause, this guy was primed to go off in a very heated environment. Was the political rhetoric the main cause? Probably not. Is there some responsibility? Yes. This isn’t isolated. Gifford’s office, as well as other Dems’, was attacked previously when the health care bill was passed. I actually do think it is a mistake to take a “wait and see” attitude here as it ignores the year+ charged atmosphere that has been part of the American landscape since Obama was elected. While not laying blame, I can still critique.

    As I said earlier, people can say what you want, but when leaders sit back at watch it happen, if not encourage violent speech and action, then we should say something to end it.

  203. QuietDesperation

    @205 Quiet Desperation – Well said. Best post of the thread.

    Which one? There snarky one or the disgusted one? From my POV *you* were post 205. :-)

  204. Cheyenne

    @QD – Well, all your posts are pretty good. But I was commenting on the last one. People that are politicizing this really irk me.

  205. QuietDesperation

    It’s only going to get worse.

  206. Blake

    @ 200 Somite –

    “I think PZ Myers is the adult in the room once more”

    PZ Myers. Really. The one who is now using his crazyman caricature to tar decent, levelheaded people like Phil for pointing out that standing back to wait for actual evidence to be presented in this horrific case before jumping to conclusions based on conjecture is “cowardly”, and who says (and I quote verbatim) “now is the time to politicize the hell out of this situation”. The one who posted his endorsement of a cartoon that jokes in a repugnantly callous way about the ostensibly debatable justifiability of a similar crime being done to Palin. That’s your choice for the one who is being the “adult in the room”. Wow. Mind-bending.

    I tend to disagree with Phil and agree with PZ on the “don’t be a dick” and accomodationist vs vociferous atheist arguments; but I have had strong suspicions about whether Mr. Myers was able to keep his questionable political dogmatism in check for quite some time, and the latest statements from him sadly confirm all of my worst guesses.

    PZ Myers is not at all a good skeptic. He has shown that he is entirely willing to throw the virtues of reasoned, rational skepticism completely out the window the instant they begin to conflict with his desire to foment heated, intensely ideological political rhetoric. These are not the actions of an “adult in the room”, they’re the actions of a fanatic toddler; and I think the days of my occasionally visiting his blog are now permanently over.

    I cannot endorse the views of 204 – QuietDesperation strongly enough. This awful tragedy has been compounded by a cynical rush to politicize the senseless crimes of a deranged paranoid schizophrenic, and the skeptic community has shown, sadly, that it is in no way immune to such cheap, tawdry partisan maneuvering. What a disgusting, depressing calamity in every regard.

  207. Tom K.

    The first thing that came to my mind was the movie “The Fisher King” 1991. It is almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion about politics. You are immediately labeled and shut off. Have you ever heard, “I see your point” , from one of the screamer radio talk show hosts? You are a traitor, unAmerican, not a patriot if you disagree. Greed and ratings based on hate. No time to read or investigate the truth of what people say. If you do show them they don’t believe it anyway.

  208. TheBlackCat

    @ Blake: Lots of ad-hominems, but I notice you never actually bother to address PZ’s point.

    One big issue in this country, in my opinion, is that liberals have allowed conservatives to control the debate. Liberals refuse to take a stand and say “this is where we draw the line, we won’t compromise on these points”. They refuse to have a message. They refuse to call conservatives out on their hypocritical tactics.

    Where were all the conservatives complaining about politicization with Palin’s gun sights poster? Where well all the conservatives complaining about politicization of Fort Hood? Where were leading liberals complaining about politicization of such events? These complaints only appear when conservatives are being attacked. Leading liberals just roll over and take it.

    We have Republicans talking so highly about amending the senate rules when they are in power, and then suddenly it is anti-american for the Democrats to discuss the same thing. The filibuster is anti-American when the Democrats use it, but a-okay for Republicans. “Czars” are terrible when Democratic presidents have them, but you don’t hear a peep about them when we have a Republican president.

    Do I wish we lived in a country where neither side pulled politics into such events? Of course. But we don’t live in such a country. And we never will as long as one side is allowed to get away with anything they want, and the other side refuses to call them out for it. The reason we have this sort of rhetoric from the Republicans is because they are allowed to get away with it. It inflames their supporters, but their opponents refuse to make a big deal out of it. If they were actually called out on such behavior, if their hypocrisy and the risks associated with their behavior was well-publicized, I think there would be a lot less incentive for them to engage in this sort of behavior to begin with, so we would see a lot less of it.

    The root of the problem isn’t people being too political, the root of the problem is people refusing to criticize others for being too political. As long as it is okay to be political, as long as criticizing others for being political is seen as a bad thing, then the situation is never going to improve. It is like we are in some weird twilight zone where being political is seen as normal, while criticizing people for being political is criticized as being too political, yet criticizing people for criticizing people for being political is fine again.

    As one of the quotes said, if what people like Palin said was so benign, why are they so busy trying to erase all the evidence? They aren’t apologizing for their comments, they aren’t saying “we weren’t responsible for this but maybe using such violent rhetoric wasn’t such a good idea.” They are trying to pretend they never said it in the first place. We can’t let them do that. They have to be taken to task

    It is the same thing with debating pseudoscience. If all anyone hears is the pseudoscience side, they will assume that is the only side that exists.

    This is no different than what the homeopaths did after skeptics went after them. They didn’t apologize, they didn’t say they made a mistake by putting unproven treatments on their websites. Instead, they just erased all the evidence hoping it would all blow over, and then they would go back to doing the same thing again. But skeptics didn’t let them, they called them out for this sort of dishonest tactics, they made backups, they spread the original content far and wide.

    No one complained about politicizing anything, no one complained about taking advantage of an investigation to put pressure on homeopaths for other issues, no one complained that we should let the investigation happen and not draw our own conclusions, no one complained that many of those who were pulling stuff down weren’t directly involved in the investigation. It was a-okay to take advantage of the situation to score points against the homeopaths, because we don’t like them. But heaven forbid anyone use something like this to point out the hypocrisy and dishonesty of leading conservatives.

    No one has any problems with blaming vaccine/autism people for the deaths of children even though they didn’t directly kill anyone, and even though in most cases we can’t prove the deaths were even related to what they said. No one has any problem saying “the message of the vaccine/autism crowd has contributed to the general atmosphere where vaccines are less valued” and use that as grounds for blaming them. I have seen such comments dozens, if not hundreds, of times here and no one has had any complaints whatsoever about it. Yet heaven forbid someone says “violent rhetoric by conservatives has contributed to the atmosphere where violence against political leaders is more acceptable”, and suddenly everyone is all up in arms about how rude and unfounded it is.

    I would say PZ is the one being a real skeptic here. He is only applying the same tactics we use against pseudoscience ever day.

  209. QuietDesperation

    The first thing that came to my mind was the movie “The Fisher King” 1991.

    Love that film, although Bridges played more of a Howard Stern style shock jock than anything political. I’m also reminded of “Talk Radio”, the only Oliver Stone film I liked.

    the skeptic community has shown, sadly, that it is in no way immune to such cheap, tawdry partisan maneuvering.

    Ideology dissolves skepticism on contact. As far as I have ever seen, political fanaticism of various magnitudes is the norm amongst skeptics, not the exception. They go after the low hanging fruit of UFOs and astrology and religious extremism, but are blind to the same principles of critical thinking applied to more complicated topics like political and economic beliefs.

    And to be blunt, too many “skeptics” I meet these days are just people who get off on picking on religious people. I call them neo-skeptics. ;-)

  210. Trogdor

    @BlackCat

    Liberals refuse to take a stand and say “this is where we draw the line, we won’t compromise on these points”.

    So you pick a horrible tragedy to make your precious little political stand? Really?

    Go read some of the comments over there at PZ site. One guy wants the Justice Department to prepare charges against Sarah Palin. Please explain to me how that is sane.

  211. shunt1

    PHIL:

    You have crossed a line with this posting and I am rather sad that you lower yourself to this level. At one time, I honored and respected you as an Astronomer, but you have now lost that respect.

    When you linked the Tea Party and Sarah Palin with these tragic deaths, you also forgot about the Republic judge who was executed at the same time. Linking your personal political feelings as a personal attack against those who disagree with you, is absolutely disgusting.

    By attacking and linking people such as myself as being responsible for these deaths will be considered as a personal attack against myself.

    I do consider what you posted as Hate Speech!

    Personally, I require an apology from YOU and expect it to be delivered to my private email in the next few days.

    You have gone too far SIR!

  212. Quiet Lubos Motl Desperation writes:
    So what you are saying is that you fully and wholeheartedly support the complete politicizing of this tragedy. [emphasis mine]

    Not at all, Lubos. What I’m saying is let’s get to the root of the problem, which is WHY these nutcases are attracted to the far right’s pattern of hate ever since Bill O’Reilly and his clones circa 1992, and what to do about it. I brought up the Big Pharma angle. Care to add to that or keep spewing hate as you quote out of context and mis-interpret, presenting opinion as fact, hm? How much is ExxonMobil/Murdoch/Bush paying you, anyway?

    “Politicizing” is a far right and especially a Rush and Sean Hannity buzzword. Trust me, NObody “politicizes” like the far right. It’s Karl Rove-ian, for those of you who have not watched “Bush’s Brain” or studied that enemy of open mindedness and fair objective discussion : “To get your guy elected and defeat the other side, deflect any criticism of him by shining a light on your opponent’s flaws.” It’s called negative campaigning. Rove didn’t invent it, he just took it into the stratosphere. And it works, unfortunately.

    I am tired of this discussion. Feel free to “politicize” endlessly if you wish. For me, it’s mathematical physics and astronomy from here on out, including but not limited to as to why the few galaxies that exist in the voids between galactic filaments and walls like the Sloan are spirals rather than ellipticals. A neat puzzle.

    One final note: In the world’s 3rd largest country with almost a third of a billion people, the fact that these shootings happens surprises me less than more of them don’t occur. The 19 remaining on PalinPAC’s “crosshairs” hitlist would be well advised to get more protection, and I bet they do. Too bad Giffords had to get shot and a 9-yr old girl had to die to make that happen. Some democracy, huh? Reason over emotion, each and every time, which I believe was Phil Plait’s point.

  213. Charlie

    Phil, this is basically like saying that while it is true that climate change will cause more and bigger storms, and that while we are in fact seeing more and bigger storms, we can’t blame this one storm on global climate change. Which, I guess that’s true…

    … but it completely misses the point. You can’t draw a line connecting AGW and a particular storm, but AGW is certainly contributing to the problem. And yes, you can’t draw a line between a particular incident of violence (at least, not this one) and the Tea Party movement, but they are certainly contributing to a the national climate. The rhetoric affects everyone.

    It is entirely appropriate to be calling for calmer rhetoric after this.

  214. Terry

    Actually it’s more like saying “this blizzard isn’t connected to AGW”. Loughner has apparently been fixated on Giffords since at least August of 2007: one complete year before Palin even entered the national stage (she was named Running Mate for McCain in August 2008). He had called Giffords fake many times before and since then. Since the accusation is that guy was inspired by the violent rhetoric of Palin specifically, that is bull. This guy was a crazy who acted on his crazy.

    We certainly need to have more grown up conversations and I get pissed about the lack of moderate rhetoric in politics, but THIS GUY can’t be blamed simply on that phenomenon.

  215. BLA

    I am a Republican, born and raised Texan and I’ve been saying for at least a year now that the political rhetoric is getting out of control. Maybe it’s my location here in TX, but have to admit I hear more hate coming from the right.

    This incident may be bringing rhetoric into focus, but it seems obvious to me that this individual had serious mental issues. If we were in a different political environment I can’t help but think he would have found somewhere else to direct his anger.

    Did the violent rhetoric fuel this mentall disturbed person into the action he took – we don’t know. But I know that six people, including a 9 yr old little girl were killed. If toning down the hate and anger has even the smallest chance of preventing something similar from happening then how can we not?

  216. shunt1

    (THIS SHOULD BE DELETED)

    Good thing that I am not posting what I would LIKE to say…

    Did anyone listen to the person who actually subdued the shooter? As an Army Colonel, he acted by simple instinct and did what was required.

    Those who are now trying to link this with “gun control,” are rather amusing to watch. For someone with 20 years with the Army, a gun would be my very last weapon of choice, simply because it would make too much noise.

    Do you remember how to pith a frog?

    To pith a frog, we are going to turn the frog and make it face backwards against us. Starting from the head, guide your fingers and move vertically down until you feel a soft spot approximately just at the end of the frog’s skull. This is the part where we pith the frog by inserting a needle into it. Gruesome though necessary, move the needle quickly side to side until you feel that you have disrupted the spinal cord. Without the spinal cord, any sensory functions of the frog are also disabled.

  217. Quiet Desperation writes:
    So what you are saying is that you fully and wholeheartedly support the complete politicizing of this tragedy. [emphasis mine]

    Not at all. What I’m saying is let’s get to the root of the problem, which is WHY these nutcases are attracted to the far right’s pattern of hate ever since Bill O’Reilly and his clones circa 1992, and what to do about it. I brought up the Big Pharma uber-Marketing angle. Care to add to that or keep spewing hate as you quote out of context and mis-interpret, presenting opinion as fact, hm? Are ExxonMobil/Murdoch/Bush paying you, because you’re basically making their point.

    “Politicizing” is a far right and especially a Rush and Sean Hannity buzzword. Trust me, NObody “politicizes” like the far right. It’s Karl Rove-ian, for those of you who have not watched “Bush’s Brain” or studied that enemy of open mindedness and fair objective discussion : “To get your guy elected and defeat the other side, deflect any criticism of him by shining a light on your opponent’s flaws.” It’s called negative campaigning. Rove didn’t invent it, he just took it into the stratosphere. And it works, unfortunately.

    I am tired of this discussion. Feel free to “politicize” endlessly if you wish. For me, it’s mathematical physics and astronomy from here on out, including but not limited to as to why the few galaxies that exist in the voids between galactic filaments and walls like the Sloan are spirals rather than ellipticals. A neat puzzle.

    One final note: In the world’s 3rd largest country with almost a third of a billion people, the fact that these shootings happens surprises me less than more of them don’t occur. The 19 remaining on PalinPAC’s “crosshairs” hitlist would be well advised to get more protection, and I bet they do. Too bad Giffords had to get shot and a 9-yr old girl had to die to make that happen. Some democracy, huh? Reason over emotion, each and every time, which I believe was Phil Plait’s point.

  218. Mike Burkhart

    One thing I hate is the fact that everyone is looking for a scapegoat. I think this guy is suffering mentaly and needed to be in a hospital now as a person who suffers form deperation I know not all mentaly ill people are violent , but this guy clearly was . And blameing it on those whos plotical idelogy you disagree with is not helping any, we need to take a hard look at our mental health system and need to reform it. off topic In a previous comment I call Texas plotics “stupid” if any one for Texas was offended I’m sorry , its just that as a Catholic I do not share the fundamentlist interpation of the Bible, if thats how they interpet the Bible it ok with me but I feel they should be tolerent to other interpations and points of view , they don’t have to agree ,and they should not force there interpation on everone.

  219. Austin24

    Finally, a sane article complete with (mostly) sane reader comments. I think this is the only thing I’ve read on the net in the past 2 days that wasn’t trying to push a political agenda with this tragedy. Thanks everybody.

  220. Blake

    @BlackCat – The main thrust of your arguments being casuistic and ill reasoned (in addition to being occasionally impenetrably written), I find them undeserving of my time for a response. Additionally, it is advisable that you consult a dictionary for a reminder on the definition of the term ad-hominem, as none of my previous comments contain that particular logical fallacy.

  221. shunt1 (216): With so many people talking such nonsense and making such gross misinterpretations of this event and what’s in my post, Poe’s Law is in full force. So: are you serious? If you are, then try reading what I actually wrote, saying we cannot tie the rhetoric spewed by Palin et al. to this shooting. I also noted it was the media claiming the Tea Partiers are whackos; I have only mentioned them a handful of times here and it’s in relation to antiscience.

    So if you’re serious, then you’re so wrong we lack a word for it. And if you’re Poeing here, then well-done.

  222. QuietDesperation

    Can we maybe stop comparing a human being’s psychological state and whatever stressors set him off to weather phenomena?

    Clouds don’t have free will.

    Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to type. ;-)

    we need to take a hard look at our mental health system and need to reform it

    Probably, but was this guy ever in the system? Information is still sparse. To be honest, I’m amazed there isn’t a wikipedia page up for him yet.

    Intertoobs, I am disappoint.

    Found this, though. Interesting.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/just-listen/201101/the-arizona-shooter-the-inside-out

    I would say PZ is the one being a real skeptic here.

    How is jumping to a conclusion without information being skeptical? Seriously. Please explain that.

    He is only applying the same tactics we use against pseudoscience ever day.

    And that’s “skepticism” to you, is it? Huh.

    I took a peek at the comments over there, saw a guy demanding that the Obama Administration file charges against Sarah Palin, and realized there was nothing of value. Apparently you need to register to post there these days so it’s pretty much just an ideological echo chamber.

  223. QuietDesperation

    Additionally, it is advisable that you consult a dictionary for a reminder on the definition of the term ad-hominem, as none of my previous comments contain that particular logical fallacy.

    Not to take sides, but it’s actually a common fallacy that ad hominem (or “argumentum ad hominem” to the terminally pedantic) attacks are always fallacious. It’s a meta-fallacy, if you will. :-) Character and past conduct, and the motivations such things might illuminate, can be relevant to the issue at hand.

  224. QuietDesperation

    One thing I hate is the fact that everyone is looking for a scapegoat.

    Blame is a human need, part of looking for meaning in things. Even natural disasters lead to finger pointing over the response or preparedness or whatever. Sometimes it’s fair (Sorry, Bush, but Brownie was *not* doing a “heck of a job”), sometimes you prepare for a 9.0 quake based on sound and reasonable expectations and then the 9.8 hits.

  225. shunt1

    Phil:

    I know that you were very diplomatic with your posting, but you chose to link the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. If they were not linked in your mind, then why did you even mention them?

    Those people had no business being linked with these deaths and you know it!

    You do have a history of attacks against the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, even if you did try to explain your reasons.

    I do appreciate what you just wrote above and how you are now covering yourself by blaming it upon the media.

    PHIL, I first learned about this tragic event from THIS BLOG and had no idea who Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was. What got my attention was your “back handed” linkage to people who have different political beliefs from yours.

    You and I have shared views, but we express them in different ways.

    When you linked Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, I had to wait a couple of days before I could reply without insulting you. You have no concept of how angry people like me are feeling this week.

    Send me a private email and we will shake hands as friends once again.

  226. Somite

    Any scientific and truth-minded individual should criticize the tea party and Sara Palin for their consistent anti-scientific position. This criticism is entirely expected in a science and skeptical blog.

  227. shunt1

    Somite:

    Please do not even start!

    Question: Did you realize that Sarah Palin’s father is a retired science teacher? That girl grew up learning about science and respecting it.

    I am not attacking Phil in any way and I hope you understand that.

    I was only challenging his wisdom of linking people like myself, who are not responsible for this tragic death.

  228. Question: Did you realize that Sarah Palin’s father is a retired science teacher?

    So did she learn science from him, or was she taking lessons as to how to take 2nd place in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant from her Mom?

    Makeup is important! It’s all how you present yourself, right? And in this, Sarah is a champion, none can deny it.

  229. Wil

    If the gunman were to honestly tell his interrogator that he knows nothing what-so-ever about Sarah Palin or the Tea Party, and that he has never even heard of them, it seems that many of the commentors here would claim that that is proof that Palin and/or the Tea Party are to blame for his attack.

    I find this kind of dishonest and hate-driven irrationality very depressing. It is not worth discussing anything with bloggers like that. What would be the point?

  230. Coda

    @Shunt1 (#230)

    Now that you’ve had a few days to “cool off,” please reread Phil’s original post. He did not link either Sarah Palin nor the Tea Party to this tragedy. He was, in fact, speaking out against people prematurely linking entities like Sarah Palin or the Tea Party without any credible evidence. If you found yourself insulted by that, it seems to me that you were either misreading or misinterpereting what was written.

  231. Joel

    235- Will, i agree. Its baffling. I find it disturbing how many “skeptics” are tying such an event to specific politicians, radio hosts, and broad groups of people based on the limited date. In fact, the limited data so far suggests no ties whatsoever. It suggests in fact the shooter had a history of unstable behavior and threats that (may have) been ignored by the local police department.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/01/09/132780313/sheriff-accused-shooter-unhinged-made-threats.

  232. Chris Winter

    Shunt1:

    What does pithing a frog have to do with this discussion? Are you suggesting in #221 that the shooter should have been killed on the spot?

    I beg to differ, for both moral and practical reasons.

  233. Chris Winter

    PaulK (#186) Very well said. I’ll add that equating calls to “tone down the rhetoric” with attempts to censor dissenting views is pure nonsense. (Paul in Sweden quoted such a comment here, but I’ve seen similar on various right-wing sites.)

    You wonder what the parents of Christina Taylor-Green are going through. They’re going through hell. To see the life of a daughter with such promise snuffed out so senselessly… Yet their public comments are among the most temperate I’ve heard: they urge everyone not to politicize the situation. It makes sense; as parents who could raise such a daughter, they understand better than most what the stakes are. I’m reminded of the parents of Amy Biehl, who was killed just as senselessly in South Africa years ago.

  234. Ron1

    @235 Wil … The only dishonest and hate-drive irrationality in these comments is being presented by yourself and others that think like you – you’re doing nothing but projecting your own feeling on others.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what any progressive says or does – you’ll simply continue to hate and demonize them anyway!

  235. John F

    “Those people had no business being linked with these deaths and you know it!”

    Well Palin’s site (or her PAc’s site) did “target” Giffords (in cross hairs)- and told her fans to “reload”- and Gifford’s tea- party “endorsed” candidate used similar rhetoric…

    Other than that? From what I’ve heard the shooter was seriously disturbed and obsessed with Giffords for years- so the killing was quite likely apolitical

    but anyway, much of Palin’s and the tea party’s rhetoric is disturbing- much in the same way that I find many rap lyrics disturbing to tell the truth- dumping on then for THIS particular tragedy may be unfair, but Palin and the tea Party movement both nevertheless deserve to be dumped upon (or dumped in the trashbin) and no one owes them or you any apologies

  236. Chris Winter

    Stephen Colyer wrote (#193): “Gun control is not the issue.”

    I disagree. If gun control were properly organized, Jared Lee Loughner would not have been able to buy that Glock 19 last November. He had already had five or more run-ins with the police for classroom and library disruption at the community college he attended, and had been expelled from the college. Also, the Army refused to take him, AIUI, because of his mental condition.

    Another thing: if the ban on assault weapons had still been in effect, he wouldn’t have obtained the long clips he used to extend his rampage.

  237. Joel

    Dump on Palin and the Tea Party and rabid anti bush hate groups and rap music and violent video games, movies, and TV shows and all other first amendment speech if you wish, but do not try to pass it off as linked to this shooting until enough information becomes available.

    This guy doesn’t seem like he was a right-wing fanatic. Or a left-wing fanatic. He was just a nutcase with a history of red flags that everyone ignored, parents included.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110110/ap_on_re_us/us_congresswoman_shot_gunman_11

  238. Chris Winter

    Just FYI, since I didn’t see it posted in the thread up to now: The “person of interest” who the police were looking for in connection with Loughner turns out to be the cab driver who drove him to the meeting. He has been cleared.

    The most complete coverage of Loughner’s background I’ve seen is (surprisingly) here:

    http://hotair.com/archives/2011/01/08/breaking-congresswoman-five-others-shot-in-tucson-az/

  239. Chris Winter

    Presley Cannady wrote (#96): “The only reason “we’re” not jumping to conclusions about the shooter is because it was pretty evident early on that the guy was closer to your constituency than mine. We’re admonished not to jump to conclusions about Fort Hood, but we’re asked to condemn ourselves for Byron Williams. Now, we’re asked not to apologize for Jared Loughner, but to accept responsibility for Giffords attack regardless.”

    That makes it sound like you do condemn yourself. I mean, you seem to be equating yourself with Glenn Beck, and it was his broadcasts that convinced Byron Williams to go after the Tides Foundation.

    “Here’s an idea. The next time you go trolling for “empathy” from your opponents, maybe you shouldn’t spit in their faces first. We can spit back, you know.”

    Is Dr. Plait your opponent? Since he is in favor of learning and sharing the straight truth, I guess that makes you… How shall I put it without causing offense? I’ll refrain, but not because I hesitate to offend you; such restraint would avail me nothing. No, it’s because I don’t understand you well enough yet to label you.

  240. Chris Winter

    Presley Cannady wrote (#179): “When this country does get to the point where words are useless, you might want to take a minute to reflect on how the meddlesome condescension of folks like yourself contributed to rock bottom toxicity. You might also choose to reflect on how woefully unprepared your side will likely be when things finally do come to a head.”

    If things were to collapse that completely, I think you’d find that Phil and his colleagues are not so unprepared as you expect. Firearms will not always decide the issue, just as the point spread for a playoff match is sometimes way off the mark when compared to the final score.

  241. QuietDesperation

    The more that comes out about this guy the more he seems like some crazy cipher. His politics is all over the place. He was registered independent and didn’t vote last year. Nothing is correlating.

    Another thing being missed is that this was one guy out of 300 million+ people. If the level of political discourse (which I have criticized to great lengths myself) is toxic to the point of inciting violence, wouldn’t there be a lot more of these things happening?

  242. Ron1

    @221. shunt1 Says:

    “Did anyone listen to the person who actually subdued the shooter? As an Army Colonel, he acted by simple instinct and did what was required.”

    In fact, yes I did. On CNN today he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and he asked for and received the opportunity to make a statement in which he said that something is very wrong in (the US) where someone (like the shooter) can be rejected by the US military and then go out and buy a Glock 9mm pistol and a (police force) magazine … that something has to change.

    So before you go pontificating about what others might think, perhaps you should check your facts.

  243. Ron1

    @244 QuietDesperation

    That’s because all the facts are not known. Be patient, remove yourself from the spin and wait for facts to be revealed, which is pretty much what Phil said in his original post. :)

  244. QuietDesperation

    It may very well be that Palin’s or the Teabaggers’ rhetoric contributed at least to this guy’s choice of target, although I think there’s reasonable evidence that he was either psychotic or schizophrenic.

    The emerging story seems to support the latter. He was going to Giffords’ town halls since 2007, before Palin became a national figure. When he finally broke, Giffords could have just been the nearest target of opportunity.

    Who knows. His brain was squirming like a toad.

    Free cookie to whoever gets that reference.

    Be patient, remove yourself from the spin and wait for facts to be revealed

    Dude! That’s what I’ve been saying! Just commenting on the evolving story.

  245. RickK

    Late to the discussion, but Phil, there IS finger pointing to be done.

    Anyone who supports the sale and ownership of handguns in America has blood on their hands in this tragedy. We should be as violently against the manufacture and sale of handguns as we are against the manufacture and sale of land mines.

    Some Republican or Libertarian might say that “sick young men with guns committing mass murder is part of the price we pay for a free society.” But if handgun ownership is such a right, then why isn’t 50-caliber truck-mounted machine gun ownership a right? Why isn’t ownership of cluster munitions a right? Why can’t I plant land mines around my property? The Constitution talks about right to form a militia and bear “arms”, it doesn’t say “right to bear easily-concealed weapons and distribute those weapons to mentally deranged young men for use in political protest.”

    Anyone who thinks Palin and the Republicans and the NRA and the other gun-loving wackaloons in this country don’t share blame in this tragedy is lying or delusional.

  246. werdna

    Why does this site have a gunsight-bullseye-target as its favicon? Surely that must count as incitement? /sarc

  247. Chris Winter

    “Free cookie to whoever gets that reference.”

    “Jinetes sobre la Tormenta”

    Translation: I get it; let someone else get the cookie.

  248. Joel

    He is a registered independent (since 2006) who didn’t vote in the 2010 election, has had confirmed contact/interest in the congresswoman since 2007. He’s had a confirmed history of classroom disruptions and has been reported to the police at least a number of times. His friends and youtube channel and myspace comments seem to indicate he was a loner and one time drug user with a number of incoherent political beliefs not easily traced to any one major party. He is reportedly not religious in any sense and expressed annoyance at being asked to register a believe system when attempting to enlist.

    He’s allegedly posted on the website “abovetopsecret” several times under the username Ared3. The media seems to believe this to be him and you can directly tie several comments there to his youtube channel. He posts several times on how Nasa’s space shuttle program is fake and the mars rovers are fake.

    He posted depressing suicide comments on my space the past months, and one comment about wanting to kill a police officer.

    But please, lets keep ignoring the facts and mounting evidence and keep spinning to make him out to be a left or right wing radical.

  249. Somite

    It is not about the individual, it’s about the environment. You will never be able to rule out that he was susceptible to existing and documented right wing hate mongering.

    And who is historically most opposed to gun control?

  250. TomK

    Anyone who supports the sale and ownership of handguns in America has blood on their hands in this tragedy.

    I was waiting for someone to invoke the “blood on the hands” image as a substitute for rational thought. Now go change your underwear and come back when you are ready to discuss things in a rational manner.

  251. QuietDesperation

    It is not about the individual, it’s about the environment.

    Ah, the nurture versus nature argument. And where did you get your medical or psychological degree, kind sir?

    You will never be able to rule out that he was susceptible to existing and documented right wing hate mongering.

    I can never *fully* rule out that there is some overriding intelligence behind the universe that some people would consider to be God, either, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to believe in it. Seriously, you are in same argumentative territory as the all the woo believers now.

    Hey, they may still find he built a shrine to Sarah Palin in a storage unit or abandoned building somewhere, and he sacrificed puppies to an effigy of her, but, you know, I needs me some evidence.

    If any CSI writers read this, you can totally use that idea. :-)

    For better or worse, the shooter is still alive in this case, so eventually he can simply be asked. I expect to be disappointed in the response.

    And who is historically most opposed to gun control?

    That would be the Non Sequitur Party. :-D

  252. shunt1

    RickK:

    Please grow up and learn a little history…

    Can you please explain to us how private American citizens were legally allowed to purchase and operate war ships?

    The U.S. Constitution provides, Article I, Sec. 8 cl. 11:

    The Congress shall have Power … To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

    ——————————————————————————–

    “A letter of marque is a formal document which issued by a government to a citizen to allow him or her to seize goods or citizens of other nations. Letters of marque have historically been used as political tools, both to allow people to deal with private disputes and to engage with another nation without openly declaring war. Some countries still allow letters of marque to be issued, although most do not use the privilege; in other nations, letters of marque are no longer legal. The United States is one nation in which letters of marque are permitted, under the terms of the Constitution.

    Essentially, a letter of marque creates a legal pirate. A citizen with a letter of marque was historically allowed to outfit a ship for the purpose of piracy, taking that ship beyond national waters and attacking enemy shipping. Attacks on a nation’s merchant marine can be very powerful politically, and the holder of the letter of marque can sell any goods confiscated, while captured citizens could be used as sources of information or bargaining chips. One famous holder of a letter of marque was Sir Francis Drake, a British Vice Admiral who attacked Spanish shipping.

    A ship outfitted under a letter of marque was sometimes known as a private man-o-war, in a reference to the fact that it was used to supplement a national navy. Such ships were also known slangily as privateers, as were their captains and crews. In France, where letters of marque were also known as lettres de course, these ships were called corsairs. Most nations discerned between privateers and pirates; as privateers operated with the legal blessings of their government.

    Initially, letters of marque were designed to allow people to redress personal wrongs. Marque in Old French meant “seizure” or “reprisal.” For example, the property of a French merchant might be stolen in Italy, and the merchant would apply for a letter of marque which would allow him or her to intercept an Italian merchant’s goods to make up for the loss. Many governments respected letters of marque because they wanted to be able to use them as tools themselves.

    Over time, politicians began to realize the potential of a government warrant which would allow someone to confiscate goods from citizens of another nation. A ship using a letter of marque would be expected to outfit itself, and as a gesture of appreciation for the letter of marque, it would surrender some of the confiscated goods to the government. Governments could therefore ensure that foreign shipping would be interrupted without having to bear the financial burden, and they would often come out ahead.”

  253. WilliamMerck

    Anyone who supports the sale and ownership of handguns in America has blood on their hands in this tragedy.

    I call Poe!

    Some Republican or Libertarian might say that “sick young men with guns committing mass murder is part of the price we pay for a free society.”

    Show me one.

  254. Paul in Sweden

    111. Phil Plait Says:
    January 9th, 2011 at 12:48 pm
    …this is neither an astronomy blog nor a skeptical blog. It’s my blog, and I write about what I want.

    Phil, this is your blog, and the diverse topics, cool images(some regular posters that I may not agree with frequently but think are pretty cool…) and heads ups of events keep me coming back day after day. :)

  255. ggremlin

    Thank you for arguing against the storm.

    There will always be people, unbalanced or not, that want to be noticed, remembered, talked about and they will do anything to get that. This is what happened here.

  256. Anthony

    Phil,
    Interesting comments.
    I am in Sydney but my understanding is that the Tea Party is not a political party. In other words, there is no formal structure or policy making.There is no science policy.
    My understanding is that the Tea Party is grassroots and their overwhelming concern is the size of government and the ever increasing level of U.S debt, which is unsustainable.
    I would be interested in learning how they would have a “science policy” and how you have come to that conclusion.
    My thoughts are with the victims families and it would be tragic if some try cheap political shots at this sad time.
    Anthony

  257. @Phil:

    “…this is neither an astronomy blog nor a skeptical blog. It’s my blog, and I write about what I want.”

    Outstanding. Now that you’ve tasted the satisfaction of owning something, how about keeping your hands off other people’s property? Or at the very least, do try to learn how to say “please” and “thank you.” After all, the taxpayer was generous enough to the foot the bill–no strings attached–for a good portion of your career.

  258. No. 3702

    Stop being so butthurt, Cannady.

  259. Messier Tidy Upper

    @133. TheBlackCat Says:

    @ (#131) Ron1: It happens automatically when you type it out. That is, remove the space in the middle and you get:
    : ) -> :-)
    ; ) -> ;-)
    : ( -> :-(
    8 ) -> 8)

    A couple more I can add for that list there (same procedure as TheBlackCat used) :

    : – P = :-P

    &

    : roll : = :roll:

    & also note that the earlier emoticons (“smileys”) also work using the version with the hyphen / minus sign / line thingy as the “nose”, eg. : – ).

    < 3 does NOT, alas, create a heart one though. There might be others as well but those are the one's I know – & have sometimes been accused of over-using.

    (I love my emoticons I do & I don't do things by halves! ;-)

    ***

    PS. It would be nice if something like this was posted somewhere here too for newbies and those who may have forgotten – perhaps a quick what you can do here & how' guide or linked page somewhere on here could be arranged for folks? Also info. on what is & isn't allowed (no more than 3 or 4 links max? The "No swearing here rule (with list of banned obscenities? ;-) ), how ppl can do those embedded images / youtube clips (which ican never remember how to do) et cetera.

    Just a quick thought / request idea please BA & /or Hive Overmind.

  260. Messier Tidy Upper

    It now seems to me – from what I read in the media, blogs and various other sites – very clear that this horrible murder was the work of a lone whackjob nutcase creep with NO connection to the Tea Party or Sarah Palin whatsoever. He wasn’t a Tea party member, he wasn’t a fan or supporter of Palin’s, he wasn’t inspired to committ his crime by anything she said.

    The shooter it seems had no coherent political views at all and was apparently an atheist motivated by some crazy notion of the government using grammar as brain-washing who had a grudge because he was unhappy with Congresswoman Giffords response to a bizarre and nonsensical question he asked her at an earlier forum.

    Blaming this on Palin or the Tea party or indeed anyone except the murdering pyscho who pulled the trigger is thus totally wrong – factually, and ethically.

    Playing politics & trying toscore political points off this tragic event is really pretty despicable.

    I am NO fan of Palin’s or the Tea Party – not at all – but I do think Sarah Palin might be owed an apology by some of the extremists on the other side who too-quickly jumped to unjustified conclusions and unfairly placed blame where it does NOT actually belong. :-(

    However, there is * also* clearly far too much hateful rhetoric an over-heated hyper-partisan US political environment – although the latter is NOT responsible for this event, it is both distasteful and creates a dangerous and nasty cultural and political environment.

    I think all sides should calm down and start listening to each other rather than shouting at the opposite side.

  261. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. Credit & more power to Phil Plait here for being so calm, rational and NOT jumping to conclusions despite the immediate misfiring rhetoric from his political “team” too.

    If only more people showed the same caution and willingness to wait until they actually knew what the facts were before venting rage.

  262. mike johnson

    Dr Phil,
    I stepped away from the blog for a few days, and have re-read the entire content again with fresh “non-partisan” eyes…and I owe you an apology. Reading it again, I see that you weren’t blaming the tea party, and asking others not to as well…let the investigation play out…so believe it or not…you and I were on the same page. So I am sorry for reading into what you wrote. I, however, would not have brought in the Tea Party and Right wing while making the argument for moderation…but now I see why you did.
    For all you “adults” out there using terms like “Tea-baggers”…please grow up. I am sick of that juvenile term. You may think its “witty” and get’s under the skin of Tea Partiers, but it is offensive. I know they have used it themselves at times, but when you are using it, it is in a derogatory way. Please, for the sake of civility and to be taken seriously…STOP! I have heard it for the last 2 years on TV and radio by. I don’t need to hear it here.

  263. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ mike johnson : Agreed. Political name-calling &/or name-mangling is rude, unfunny & unhelpful. Nobody should do that.

    @202. JMW :

    And so politics becomes like the proverbial bucket of crabs.

    Eh? Er ..what? Haven’t heard that one.

    @220. BLA Says:

    Did the violent rhetoric fuel this mentally disturbed person into the action he took – we don’t know. But I know that six people, including a 9 yr old little girl were killed. If toning down the hate and anger has even the smallest chance of preventing something similar from happening then how can we not?

    ^ This! Seconded by me.

    The shooting here & the violent atmosphere of current US political rhetoric are separate issues.

    But that’s NOT to say *both* don’t need to be addressed.

    The Arizona shootings~wise, lets give this scumbag as fair trial and a fair execution. Let’s remember the victims, hope Giffords makes a full recovery and do what we can to help those who’ve suffered because this lunatic went on a killing spree. Let’s make sure no mentally ill disturbed and disturbing individual who shows similar signs as this p.o.s. did ever gets a gun in his hands and all creeps who show similar signs are treated and watched and NOT allowed to cause harm to any others.

    Political rhetoric~wise – let’s all stop the hate. Stop thedemionisationof the otherside and remeber as the sign at the rallyfor sanity (&/or Fear) said :

    “I may disgaree with your opinions but I’m pretty sure you’re NOT Hitler.”

    Time for a pause and a breath and a calmer, more reasonable approach from *everybody*.

    The Republicans are not bad people.

    The Democrats are not bad people.

    The Libertarians are not bad people.

    The Greens / Nader-voters / Trump-voters /Perot-voters are not bad people.

    They’re all just people, like you, like me who may or may not agree with more or less of the politicial ideas you & I do.

    Heck, even mentally ill people are still people – and the vast majority those who are mentally ill would *never* committ atrocities like the Arizona murderer did. How do I know? Apart from anything else, I’m technically in that category myself.

    Sheesh. :roll:

    Is it really so hard to agree to disagree on some political issues but still get along and still accept that all sides are well meaning and want their land to do well?

    Well, I guess *your* side of politics probably isn’t but still .. ;-)

    (& yes that last line was a joke jsyt incase there was any doubt.)

  264. Messier Tidy Upper

    @115. Kyle :

    Flashback to the Oklahoma City bombing. In the immediate aftermath everyone said it was Middle Eastern terrorist. How quickly we forget.

    You do know there’s a *reason* for that assumption, right? :roll:

    There are, in fact, lots of reasons why the default assumption is always going to be that any terrorist act is carried out by Islamic extremists – let me refresh your obviously poor memory & name a few such reasons for you :

    Al Quaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, Jemaah Islamiyya, Islamic Jihad, The Muslim Brotherhood, Lashkar-e-Toiba, The PLO, The Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Leadership Committee (“He’s over there! SPLITTER!” ;-) ), The Chechen Muslim terrorists, the Algerian Muslim terrorists, the Kashmiri Muslim terrorists, the Pakistani Secret Service, the Iranian dictatorship, the Syrian dictatorship, etc ..

    Most terrorists – & this is true whether folks like it or not – are Muslims.

    Probably about 90% – if anything maybe more – of terrorists are Muslims and inspired by a Jihadist Islamist cult that worships homicide-suicide bombers who murder innocent people sitting at cafes or on buses or waiting in line at airports or wheelchair bound Jewish passengers on hijacked cruise liners like Leon Klinghoffer or journalist like Daniel Pearl or Olympic athletes like the 1972 Israeli Olympic team or workers in skyscrapers that had hijacked aircraft deliberately flown into them, etc ..

    All these barbvaric acts of Jihadist murder and terrorism committed because the Muslim loons think Allah will reward them with unending orgies in Paradise for committing mass murder in Mohammad’s name.

    How quickly we forget? Where were you on the Ninth of September 2001? How many Jihadist atrocities do you remember? Are you aware that we’re still fighting a global war with the Muslim Jihadists – a war that they started because they want to take over the whole world and turn it into a Khaliphate where Sharia law and the Mullahs reign supreme and *all* other ways of life but theirs are wiped out?

    Its quite simple really :

    If Muslims don’t want to be immediate suspects number one whenever any terrorist stuff happens then they need to STOP COMMITTING BARBARIC TERRRORIST ATROCITIES!

    Period.

  265. gss_000

    @247. QuietDesperation

    These types of events are happening, you just might not be aware of it. See the attacks and rocks thrown through offices after the health care bill was passed. See the shooting of Dr. Tiller in his church because he performed abortions. See the increase in hate crimes and mosque burnings. Many of these just aren’t as public as this shooting.

  266. QuietDesperation

    These types of events are happening, you just might not be aware of it.

    I was referring to murders. Low level political violence has been going on for thousands of years.

  267. Ron1

    Messier Tidy Upper

    I absolutely love when emoticons are used because they clarify the emotional intent of a comment, something that is not always obvious in a text only medium. :)

    @268. mike johnson …
    Sorry, but the term Tea Bagger is now pretty much a part of the global english lexicon used to define someone as, shall we say, off the main sequence. I find the term is used by and understood by people around the world when they want to label someone who is behaving like a wingnut. Think of how you use the term liberal. :)

  268. Joseph Avatari

    The fact that it is easy to understand why so many people would jump to conclusions about Sarah Palin and the tea party says alot. It seemed like we were on the verge of political violence during the elections where open hostility seemed the norm during town hall debates. Now we have the right wing urging cool heads? Where were they then?

  269. TTT

    Even if Sarah Palin and the Tea Party didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen and are glad it did. THAT is the problem. This is the new normal in Palin’s America. It is their goal.

    If you put a gunsight target over your opponent’s name and say “don’t retreat, reload!”, and plan a fundraiser to “stop her” that involves shooting M16s, and call for “Second Amendment remedies” to electoral losses, and encourage people to bring guns to political rallies, and approve of “watering the tree of liberty with blood”….. you lose all benefit of the doubt when you claim to be sad after the person you’ve been targeting the whole time gets shot.

    If the Tea Party doesn’t like that, maybe they should quit it with their constant imagery and threats of gunplay and armed insurrection. It really isn’t worth it over a 3% raise in the highest marginal tax rate and closing the Medicare donut hole.

  270. RobertTeller

    Even if Sarah Palin and the Tea Party didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen and are glad it did. THAT is the problem. This is the new normal in Palin’s America. It is their goal.

    You sound about as rational as the guy who did the shooting. I think you need to go back on your meds and calm down.

  271. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 273. Ron1 : Re- emoticons. Thanks – me too. Exactly. :-)

    As for the “T-baggers” term issue – just because others use it does’nt stop it from being an insult and a case of name-calling. Let’s not resort to that okay? I believe in polite, civil discussion. If one side asks you politely NOT to call them something – then let’s just stop doing so. Because you and those on your political side would wish for the same treatment if the situation was reversed wouldn’t you? Let’s lower the tone and make an effort to be polite and fair even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. Please?

    If not for ethical reasons then for practicla ones : Game theorty suggests tit-for-tat with pauses and attempts at working out differences reasonably works best.

    @274. TTT :

    Even if Sarah Palin and the Tea Party didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen and are glad it did.

    Are they? Really? :roll:

    Your evidence for that rather offensive and outrageous assertion would be ..?

    THAT is the problem. This is the new normal in Palin’s America. It is their goal.

    Again, really? Evidence for that extraordinary claim please?

    Plus “normal?” We have one attempted political assassination by one crazy politically indefinable mentally ill creep – which has absolutely nothing, zip, zero, zilch, nada, nil, nix to do with Sarah Palin & the Tea party* – and you cliam that somehow political assinationis normal and that thenormalisationof political assassinations is now the new “norm” based on that? :roll:

    Come on. Get real. Don’t be silly. :-(

    —-

    * Was the killer a memre of the Tea party? No.

    Was the killer a supporter of the Tea party or in possession of Tea party material or known toattend teaparty rallie sand quote tea party slogans?

    No, no, no & no.

    Is there any clear sign of connection between this murderous lunatic & the Tea party at all?

    Not a trace. Not as far as I’ve yet heard.

    Conclusion : The Tea party & Sarah Palin had nothing to do with this. Full stop. End of debate. Arguably apologies required from those who initially accused the Tea party & Sarah Palin as somehow (& FSM only knows exactly how) of being to blame.

    Now I don’t agree with the Tea party policies.

    I don’t think Sarah Palin would win if she ran for US President & I think she’d be a disaster if she got the job. I hope theTea party socio-political phenomena soon fizzles out and fades into history – which, FWIW, I think will likely happen.

    But please, come on, we’re supposed to be rational people here guided by the actual evidence provided by the real world aren’t we? Right?

    So can the left-wing Liberals and Democrats please take their plitical blinkers off and look at this reasonably for just a second or two , mmm..kay?

  272. TTT

    @275: Giffords herself said there would be consequences to Palin’s gun-targeting of her by name. Why don’t you just go to her hospital bed and tell her you think she’s wrong?

    The evidence has been listed in this thread dozens of times: the Palin / TP constant invocation and normalization of threats of gun violence and murder in their political speech. Words mean things–in this case, they mean a clear desire, and the lack of credibility of denials of that desire. If you don’t think it is inherently freakish and dangerous, it says a lot about you from the get-go. “Blinkers”, indeed.

    Tell me: what is a “Second Amendment remedy” to losing an election, anyway?

  273. Messier Tidy Upper

    Gak typos – sorry. Too tired. Correction :

    If not for ethical reasons, then for practical ones : Game theory suggests the “tit-for-tat with pauses and attempts at working out differences reasonably” strategy works best for getting your side to win.

    &

    We have one attempted political assassination by one crazy politically indefinable mentally ill creep – which has absolutely nothing, zip, zero, zilch, nada, nil, nix to do with Sarah Palin & the Tea party* – and you claim that the practice of political assassinations is now the new “norm” based on that?

    was what was intended.

    @ 276. TTT : Ithink Giffords was right – about NASA and the Obama cancellation of Bush’es Return to Moon program. ;-)

    Let’s not forget that the Left and the pro-Obama camp hated Gifford too for opposing Obama in many areas.

    The BA wrote about this himself & attacked her here himself in what, as far as I know, was his last mention of Gabrielle Giffords prior to this tragedy :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/09/30/congress-passes-nasa-authorization-bill-but-id-rather-watch-sausages-being-made/

    Not everyone agreed. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) strongly opposed the bill, for example (interestingly, she’s Chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee and her husband and brother-in-law are astronauts). She apparently is one of the few people still holding onto the idea that we should continue to work on the Constellation rocket system which will be defunded with this bill. I disagree with her on that quite strongly (see below).

    She did make some good points, things I myself said in my earlier post. For example, the bill is too specific in what kind of rocket should succeed the Shuttle. That’s not for Congress to decide; they should make broader goals that align with what NASA wants to do, and then allow NASA engineers to make the system. Of course, there was consulting with NASA on the bill, but the bill itself shouldn’t go into details like that. Anyway, despite that, I strongly disagree with Rep. Giffords that this bill should have been voted down.

    Ironic really. :-(

    G. Giffords was, in my outsiders view one of – if not – *the* very best Congress folk. I was, personally, immensely shocked, despairing and saddened by her shooting. :-(

    But facts are facts and the fact is clear :

    HER ATTEMPTED ASSASSIN HAS NO LINK OR CONNECTION TO THE TEA PARTY OR SARAH PALIN. NONE.

    Her assassin was just a total nutcase.

    Therefore, you just cannot in any reasonble sense blame Palin.

    Blaming Palin for this is factually inaccurate.

    Blaiming Palin for this is unethical and will politically backfire on your side of politics.

    Blaming Palin for stuff she actually did, said and is guilty of is fine – blaming her for something she had no control over or say in and anything to do with is NOT.

    There’s plenty of the former available without needing to go over the top with needlessly resorting to the latter.

    The gunsights map was a terrible idea. Palin shouldn’t have done or tolerated it to be made and posted on her behalf. But this was NOT a causative factor inthe shooting -unless youcan provide evidence showing otherwsie.

  274. Ron1

    @276 TTT …

    You are absolutely correct that “Words mean things.” However, (disclosure notice – I am a proud Progressive) at this point in time there is absolutely no evidence that the shooter was motivated by Ms Palin or anybody else.

    Mother Jones has an article in which the author interviewed a current close friend of the shooter. This friend, while himself trying to understand the shooter’s motivation, is quoted as saying that the shooter was an anarchist who, to paraphase, was obsessed with media attention and simply wants to watch the world burn for the sake of watching the world burn.

    While people want to see the shooter as a simple nutcase, I somehow doubt that is what the evidence will show. I suspect that a complex brew of factors converged to cause this event.

  275. Messier Tidy Upper

    @276. TTT :

    Words mean things–in this case, they mean a clear desire, and the lack of credibility of denials of that desire. If you don’t think it is inherently freakish and dangerous, it says a lot about you from the get-go.

    Please try to read what I *actually* wrote & not what you *think* I wrote.

    Yes, the nasty rhetoric used by US politicans generally and the Tea Party and Palin in particular here has been disgracefully bad.

    Yes, some dreadful and potentially dangerous things were said and posted online. :-(

    This is NOT good, should NOT have been done and should NO longer be done.

    The hate-filled rhetoric and demonisation of the other team in the US political scene is awful and should cease immediately.

    BUT

    This. One. Particular. Example. Of. Political. Violence.

    Had. *NOTHING*. Whatsoever. To. Do. With. Palin. Or. The. Tea. Party.

    Read that slowly. Say it aloud. Think about it.

    Do you get it yet? Do you comprehend what I am actually saying here at all? Sheesh. :roll:

    Also :

    “Tell me: what is a “Second Amendment remedy” to losing an election, anyway?”

    Utter nonsense – and everyone, I think, knows that. Hopefully.

    The US is a democracy where elections are fought and won or lost and the winner then gets limited power within all the checks and balances that are established in your constitution.

    I’m an Aussie and, frankly, your particular system & model of democratic governance makes little sense to me but it seems to have worked very well for you for many centuries now & I don’t see it changing and your country collapsing into violent revolution anytime soon.

    The Tea party, I expect – and hope – will fizzle out & fade away sooner or later, preferably the former there.

  276. TTT

    I thought I had been clear enough, in my very first sentence:
    “Even if Palin et al didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen.”

    If that’s not clear enough, I’ll simplify:
    “Maybe Palin didn’t cause it–but she wanted it to happen.”

    Better?

    Quit dodging behind “Oh, there’s no CONNECTION to Palin!” I never claimed a connection. The shooter could be from Neptune for all I care. I’m saying THIS IS WHAT PALIN WAS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT.

    This is what sign after sign and speech after speech from the TP and its candidates actually looks like in practice.

    This is what it means to gun-target a politician by name.

    This is a Second Amendment remedy to losing an election.

    The people who said all those things are violent trash who ought to have been as thoroughly excommunicated from civilization as the Ku Klux Klan, but we’ve been told time and time again that we aren’t allowed to look down on them because they may even be more “real” Americans than we are.

    Now is the time–EXACTLY the time–to point out that what we are all seeing and feeling is what Palin and the TP have always said they wanted in American political outcomes.

  277. Joel

    Rhetoric = Action = Murder, therefore we must ban all vitriolic speech…By that logic we should have banned the civil right’s movement, women’s rights, anti war protests, etc… America was founded on citizens angery at the direction of their government. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government… Fortunately the founders gave us the first amendment so that we might institute change through words first.

    The Tea Party’s number one issue is out of control spending. You can argue the issue if you like (i’m happy to debate anyone who wishes to point out how our current level of spending is somehow sustainable and not approaching crisis levels), but anytime a group of citizens band together to make their voice heard we should be applauding this on some level. It’s what our founders encouraged.

  278. WilliamMerck

    @TTT

    If you really think Palin is sitting at home high fiving others over these murders, you need to sit down and seriously evaluate your life.

  279. QuietDesperation

    Rhetoric = Action = Murder, therefore we must ban all vitriolic speech…By that logic we should have banned the civil right’s movement, women’s rights, anti war protests, etc… America was founded on citizens angry at the direction of their government.

    A lot of the idiocy by the Blamers (Ha! I’ve coined a word to label them!) is a complete lack of understanding of mental illness. I’m no expert, but based on everything I have read mentally ill people are not empty vessels waiting to be filled up with propaganda and instructions.

    The few that have claimed to receive “orders” from the radio are hearing some sort of wacky coded messages into otherwise benign broadcasts or even in the commercials. That’s why they sometimes go after the on air personalities. There have been several cases like that in recent years here in So Cal.

    If anything these poor people are caught up in a feedback loop in their own heads. I’ll repost the link from above: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/just-listen/201101/the-arizona-shooter-the-inside-out

  280. Ron1

    @280. TTT Says:

    I thought I had been clear enough, in my very first sentence:
    “Even if Palin et al didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen.”

    ……………….

    Being clear does not make you right! Unless you’re a mind reader, your statement that Palin wanted it to happen is nothing more than supposition. You need proof to make a statement like that and not look stupid. As of yet, there is none. Take a valium and wait for the process to unfold.

  281. Yojimbo

    @280 TTT

    Though I think I know where you’re coming from, I sincerely doubt that Palin or any other political type really wanted something like this to happen – at least not those that thought it through. What I suspect they wanted was to gain political clout by pandering to people who are attracted to that type of rhetoric. I doubt that most people on the extreme right actually wanted blood – just the image of it. Just as most folks who like gore in their movies would be repulsed by it in reality. A smart politician knows that you can gain power by appealing to a vocal fringe, but you still have to hold enough of the center to keep the power.

    If you remember the ’60s and some of the extreme left wing rhetoric, when a few unhinged folks actually acted on it, the result was that the most vocal leaders either backed off the rhetoric or lost status. The same thing will probably happen now with the vocal right. No matter what spin is put on this particular event, I suspect that the overall rhetoric will cool among people like Palin, and those who keep it up will probably be marginalized.

    And, though this particular case was almost definitely not really about politics, the fact remains that the US has a long and strong tradition of political violence that we try to keep out of sight and not talk about, like weird Uncle Fred. Every once in a while he is going to get loose.

  282. Terry

    Let’s not forget, the name Tea Party itself is designed to call up angry and active rebellion from King George III. Military metaphor speaks strongly to that rhetoric. And like Joel says, without vitriolic speech, we have no progress.

    Heck, the reason the left wants to ban violent rhetoric now is because they have essentially won in this country and don’t want the other side to have a chance to reverse their gains. Even our supposedly Right-wing party is full of big spenders and military interventionists. It’s ridiculous how little difference there is. And here comes the Tea Party with a different message and both the left and the right have to move in to deal with them. The left does so by calling them radicals and wanting them shut up, the (nominal) right by trying to (and succeeding) in co-opting them and polluting their message.

  283. Ron1

    281. Joel Says:
    The Tea Party’s number one issue is out of control spending.

    ………………………….

    Joel, I that’s what many believe, but I suspect the truth is closer to destroying the presidency of Barrack Obama.

  284. QuietDesperation

    I’m amazed no one has blamed video games yet.

    Joel, I that’s what many believe, but I suspect the truth is closer to destroying the presidency of Barrack Obama.

    *shrug* I still see “Impeach Bush” stickers on cars. And round and round it goes, all sides seeing angels in their camp and demons in the others. Like I said above, a pox on both.

  285. TTT

    @281: The Founders also encouraged slavery. There’s a big bold line between respect and worship. Some of us today are better than some of them ever were.

    Fortunately the founders gave us the first amendment so that we might institute change through words first

    Don’t you mean “change through words, period”?

    Change through words “first” implies an accepted place for political violence. Which is what I have been saying all along.

  286. Terry

    For the Founding Fathers, there was an accepted place for political violence. It was called revolution, and they all voted for it. Unanimously because they wouldn’t take up the Declaration of Independence without it. The same was true for EVERY left-leaning movement in history, as long as you take left to mean wanting change and right as meaning wanting the status quo.

    They were liberals who believed that when a government has become too oppresive on the will of the people, it must be changed. If it can not be changed with peace (which they tried for three decades before 1775) it will be changed with war. They were not modern liberals who want government to be oppressive so that they can easily change society without having to do the hard part of actually changing society.

  287. Terry

    Also,

    The Founders also encouraged slavery. There’s a big bold line between respect and worship. Some of us today are better than some of them ever were.

    This statement completely misses the nuance of the founders. They did not universally accept slavery. In fact, they generally abhorred slavery. Thomas Jefferson often referred to acts of the British Parliament to be tantamount to the enslaving of the American people. Where the disconnect comes is in the bigotry that they DID have in believing the non-white races to be inferior.

    They didn’t universally like race-based slavery either, which is why they instituted a policy of free states and slave states to try to ween the country from an addiction to slavery. It was a progressive action that eventually led to our greatest (most terrible) war. The key point is that they wanted to change society, but they wanted to do it slowly in a way that ACTUALLY changed society, but it was too easy for people to procrastinate.

  288. Somite
  289. JohnW

    @201 JD – My comment was “eaten,” as in eaten by comment moderation. Hopefully this one will get through with only two links. But here you go:

    “Violent” rhetoric from Obama (I put violent in quotes because, as with Palin’s comments, construing any of this as calling for violence is idiotic.):
    http://www.therightperspective.org/2010/06/12/a-history-of-obamas-violent-rhetoric/

    And left wing hate/violence in general:
    http://michellemalkin.com/2011/01/10/the-progressive-climate-of-hate-an-illustrated-primer-2000-2010/

    To be clear: I’m not suggesting that Obama is inciting violence. I’m saying that the idea that Palin or the Tea Party are sending double-secret decoder messages while the left is all hunky dory and rational is demonstrably wrong.

  290. TTT

    @Terry:

    when a government has become too oppresive on the will of the people, it must be changed. If it can not be changed with peace it will be changed with war

    Are you talking about the Founders, or Al-Qaeda?

    There is no room in this country for talk of political violence. Period. Do not attempt to justify it to me again. I already knew I was right about the TP, you don’t have to keep reinforcing me.

  291. Ron1

    @295 JohnW

    John, don’t hurt yourself trying to find an objective source to support your position. Michelle Malkin is about as fair and balanced as a seesaw with only one kid, and therightperspective.org is no better. Your research could be likened to checking Pravda for a balanced persepective on the Soviet Union during the 1970’s.

    You might want to consider some international sources and particularly some progressive sources that complain about the behaviour of both sides, they do exist. Beware of false equivalency, however.

  292. JohnW

    @297 Ron1 – It really doesn’t matter that Malkin and therightperspective are unobjective. They are listing events and facts in these posts, with plenty of links for verification.

  293. Ron1

    @298 JohnW

    John, it does matter. A biased source is going to present the data in the most damaging (to opponents) context that they can. The fact that someone said something stupid means less if it was said in the heat of the moment with no intent for action in comparison to someone saying the same with intent. They are both wrong, but one is more wrong than the other.

  294. Terry

    I’m not a member of the Tea Party. I never have been and never will be. I am a student of history and international politics. I was simply trying to give perspective. Selectively editing my post to get rid of the fact that I was explaining the history of the United States, and not specifically the Tea Party, won’t make that history go away.

    As far as Al Qaeda, if you are talking about AQ as a movement, then the same does not apply because they have not yet tried to change the world with politics. All the way back with Sayyid Qutbi, the earliest thinker in the Islamic Fundamentalist revival, the call was for war and killing. They practiced ‘propaganda by deed’ a concept they borrowed from 19th century anarchists and socialists. The big break with AQ from the rest of the movement was on deciding to focus on the “far enemy” first rather than second. AQ, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and other like thinkers never once tried political change. The Muslim Brotherhood, focusing on the “near enemy” did try political change but was outlawed by their own government (at that time socialist) for doing so and has remained outlawed (now state capitalist) by the same government. Even so, they didn’t try democracy until terrorism had failed them, as it continues to do.

    It is a false dichotomy and a weak argument in the main to compare AQ to the founding fathers since they did their actions in complete reverse. The only place that they are totally the same is that both AQ and the founding fathers believed that they were fighting for justice, though the founding fathers believed justice was secondary to freedom and AQ believes that freedom is secondary to justice. I tend to side with the founders on that mark.

    If there is no room for talk of political violence then there is no room for talk of political change. I suggest you study the history of social advancement. You’ll find plenty of talk of political violence. The key here is whether peaceful change is attempted first, as the founders did, as the social progressives of the 1950s and 60s did, as the tea party is attempting (for better or worse, you take your pick).

    For every voice of moderation that is remembered, there will be a voice of violence spurring it on. For every Martin Luther King Jr., there is a Malcolm X. For every John Jay, there is a Samuel Adams.

  295. JohnW

    @299 Ron1 – Humor me. Read the post at the rightperspective, which quote actual words spoken by Obama, and tell me they are less “violence inducing” than anything Palin’s said.

    Of course, the correct answer is that neither politician has incited violence among his/her followers, and instead are simply engaging in age-old political rhetoric.

  296. TTT

    @Terry: The key here is whether peaceful change is attempted first, as the founders did, as the social progressives of the 1950s and 60s did, as the tea party is attempting

    Except that isn’t what they’re attempting at all. I keep asking in this thread and keep not getting answers. Maybe you can tell me:
    What is a “Second Amendment remedy” to losing an election? When a political party asks for that, what are they asking for?

    For every voice of moderation that is remembered, there will be a voice of violence spurring it on
    Not from within the civilized world. Those who justify terrorism will be counted with the terrorists.

    @JonW: When did Obama ever NAME a person and the act of violence that ought to be done to them–and then when was that act of violence done to that person? How many of the people on that “progressive culture of violence” list are actual leaders of the Democratic Party, and how many are anonymous bloggers or total nobodies? When was the last time a conservative, let alone a conservative political figure, was murdered by a liberal due to a political opinion?

    You’re trying really hard to find parity where there is none. People don’t go around terrorizing conservative events with guns. If you JUST count the anti-abortion shootings and bombings you wouldn’t reach parity for decades–and once you feel like you’re getting close, then you can add the death count from Oklahoma City and end the charade. Political murder in the United States has been the property of the right wing for at least 20 years. And back when the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weathermen were doing it for the Left back in the ’70s, they never had mainstream political and media figures appearing on the same stage as them.

  297. Terry

    TTT: First, realize that you are misquoting the original statement by Sharon Angle. Her statement was that “I hope we are not getting to Second Amendment Remedies…” Specifically she was saying that she DOESN’T want that sort of action in the context of saying that the inclusion of the Second Amendment was to prevent the government from effectively becoming a tyranny. This was completely accurate with regards to the writings of the time.

    Her problem was that she also said that she hopes the “vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems” which made it seem like losing the vote would be the spur to taking up violence, if you are a particularly simple listener to the quote (available in its entirety from various places on the web). Listening to the entirety of the clip without a selection bias against the ‘Tea Party’ (which is an amorphous group if I ever saw one) and you’ll see that she was simply countering the comment of the interviewer saying she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

    No political party asked for that here. Huffington Post (or possibly others, just the first mention of the phrase I could find) started a storm of outrage over the comment and used it to argue that ‘this kind of rhetoric must be STOPPED!’ which sounds awfully like today’s arguments. The only other mention of it was from 1790, suggesting thtat maybe Mrs. Angle was well read.

    Agreed that those who justify terrorism will be counted with the terrorists. Now… define terrorism for me. I’m not talking the old trope about one man’s terrorist and all, I mean just simply define it. Good luck.

  298. TTT

    “The use or threatened use of violence against non-combatants, to effect socio-political change through extortion under fear” has always worked for me.

  299. Terry

    “The use or threatened use of violence against non-combatants, to effect socio-political change through extortion under fear” has always worked for me.

    So… your definition would include the IRS and progressive politics.

    They, afterall use or threaten violence (arrest or seizure of assets) against non-combatants (citizens) to effect socio-political change (progressivism) through extortion under fear (taxation). Every student of terrorism knows that it is impossible to really define terrorism without a hundred caveats.

  300. JohnW

    @303 TTT – Obama never named a person or an act of violence that should be done to them. Neither did Sarah Palin or anyone else in the Tea Party.

    You are making the ludicrous argument that they *wink-wink, nudge-nudged* that someone ought to do violence based on an electoral map, and then in the same breath turn around and say that Obama talking about gun fights and brawls is perfectly innocent. You’re wrong. They’re both innocent.

    Just as ANSWER is innocent that Maj Nidal Hasan killed 13 people after they had a sign that said, “We support our troops when they shoot their officers” at a peace rally.

    Really, your ghoulish eagerness to use this tragedy to make political hay is repulsive.

  301. Ron1

    @301 JohnW

    John, I’ve done as you’ve asked and read the posts at therightperspective.com and my position does not change. I am familiar with almost all of the examples the President used and they are simply metaphors that opponents are interpreting, or are deliberately spinning as threats. In the end, context and intent are everything.

    Once again, I (sigh) think you have to think in terms of equivalence and degree of wrong. If you are not able to think in those terms, then, we should just agree to disagree.
    Cheers

  302. ND

    Anyone know where to find the Sharon Angle clip? Here’s just her quote, but it would be good to hear the conversation leading up to and following the quote:

    “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

    I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

    It would be good to hear the conversation where this quote is from.

  303. Terry

    I didn’t hear that quote. I heard this one:

    Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…

    Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now.

    Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.

    Your quote is apparently from another show, hosted by Lars Larson.

  304. TTT

    @JohnW: You make my point for me. Who is ANSWER? What power do they hold on the political left? What political candidates stand within their ranks? The answers, respectively, are nobody, nothing, and none. They are a fringie activist group with no institutional power whatsoever. They are definitely not a state governor, a senate candidate, or a primetime news commentator. You could find even more extreme and ridiculous leftist groups saying even more extreme and ridiculous things–why not the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement?–and they would continue to be people of no significance or power whatsoever. None of them would give a keynote speech at a national political convention, unlike Palin.

    @Terry: Another good definition of terrorism: someone committing, justifying, or approving of acts of violence who then goes on to say things like “hmmm, but what IS terrorism, we can never really define this can we?” No serious student of anything is so blase about extra-legal violence. If you really think the TP is worthy of such intellectual gymnastics, continue, but you can rest assured they would not agonize at such length the moment you first disagreed with them.

    Aren’t conservatives supposed to complain about liberals relying on moral relativism, and semantically un-defining the crimes they are accused of into nonexistence? This is the first blood drawn in a U.S. assassination attempt in 30 years. You’d think it would engender more serious reflection than pure denial and barrel-bottom false equivocations.

    The assassination of Rep. Giffords is exactly what the Tea Party and high-ranking conservative Republican political figures and thought-leaders have been openly advocating for years. When you wish for guns to solve your political problems, this is what it looks like. Defend them if you like, but don’t do it within line-of-sight, not if you intend to ever disagree with them about anything ever in any degree. Or you’ll learn the lesson David Horowitz learned, in a perfect mirror image (except that now Horowitz himself will say you deserved it).

  305. Jens

    America’s main problem with assaults is still the carry weapon philosophy.
    This philosophy is doomed but the ordinary American is not willing to see this.

    So for both protagonists (Giffords & Palin) of Dr. Plait’s blog there is Matthäus 26,52.

    For me (a German IT-security specialist, physicist and conchy) carrying weapons should be forbidden strictly.

    Why kill people if the “bad universe” is going to kill us anyway? Wasted time,.

  306. QuietDesperation

    There is no room in this country for talk of political violence. Period.

    Or else what?

    I’ll talk about whatever I please. Got that?

    Do not attempt to justify it to me again.

    You’re the last thing to which I’ll ever deign to justify myself.

  307. JohnW

    @308 Ron1 – Maybe you could tell me what Palin has said that are not simply metaphors that opponents are interpreting, or are deliberately spinning as threats?

    @311 TTT – True, none of them would be considered anything but a fringe element of the left. Which is why I was excluding them as a broad brush with which to paint progressives.

    Since neither Palin nor Obama has ever said anything inciting people to commit violence against Rep Giffords or anyone else, I really don’t see what point you’re trying to make.

  308. Terry

    @TTT:

    So, now you have to go ad hominem and simply call me a terrorist. Way to go. Nice way to prove that we need to ratchet down the rhetoric. I’m not justifying acts of terrorism, just explaining that your attempt to lump everyone who disagrees with you as terrorists is no less transparent than George W’s.

    I can’t care less about the Tea Party. They are not in any way worthy of mental gymnastics. I have disagreed with them from the moment that they started, so they would not have any need to try to defend ME. I am defending the First Amendment. I am also showing that your arguments about the founding fathers are unfounded. Basically, I’m showing that the one who is being extreme in rhetoric here is you, not anyone else, but I don’t need to do that anymore because you just proved it yourself. Thank you.

    The ATTEMPTED assassination of Rep. Giffords is a tragedy which is made only more tragic by the blatant attempts of some to turn it into a call to action to attack the fundamental freedoms of this country. No mental gymnastics necessary there. If it comes to defending the constitution, I will gladly take up arms to do so because I swore an oath that I would.

    I have fought terrorists knowing full well that what separated them from me was not just their tactics (terrorism) but their ideology (religious domination over others verses liberty and equality). Advocating violence is never what I would do, but I also would never advocate the taking away of the right to such speech.

    Oh… and I’m not a conservative. I’m a liberal.

  309. WilliamMerck

    Giffords is a tragedy which is made only more tragic by the blatant attempts of some to turn it into a call to action to attack the fundamental freedoms of this country.

    There’s already talk in Congress about passing some sort of speech restriction law. Every time they do that it’s full of vague language that can be interpreted different ways by different people.

    It’ll fail like all past attempts, but it’s still annoying and disturbing.

    You know what else is weird in all this? People who say “we may never know why…”

    Wait a minute. The guy is alive and in custody! We have a high probability of finding out *exactly* what he thought he was doing. It may make no sense to sane people, but we’ll get something.

    I think people have gotten used to these shooting ending with the shooter dead. This is a time I wish I worked in a news outfit. I’d do a quick street poll to see if a lot of people think that Loughner is dead.

  310. gss_000

    @290 QuietDesperation

    *shrug* I still see “Impeach Bush” stickers on cars. And round and round it goes, all sides seeing angels in their camp and demons in the others. Like I said above, a pox on both.

    *sigh* This is poor logic. It draws a moral equivalency between the right and the left because it uses the same words. Do you think its necessary every time there is a discussion about vaccines o evolution, there has to be someone with the opposing view otherwise it’s not balanced? That’s the same type of logic here.

    For instance, we impeach when an administration commits a crime. What crime has Obama done? I can’t think of any. What crime did the Bush administration do? Even if we forget the war, his administration (see Cheney interviews, Bush book) admitted to waterboarding people. Waterboarding = torture. We executed foreign soldiers who did it to our troops. We based on methods on what the Chinese did to American soldiers. The statements “impeach…” use he same words but have different meanings.

    This is the problem with what I see when the “wait and see” approach. It looks at strong positions and decides that any are invalid. Why can’t we say, “If the Brady Bill hadn’t lapsed in 2004, the shooter would not have had the clip he did for his Gloc?” Why can’t we criticize a political discourse, seen on both sides but primarily from the right, that implied violence and hate against opposing ideas, that maintains conspiracy theories against the government?

    I’m not going to blame Palin or anyone for telling this man to go and shoot everyone. But the environment did not help his condition, and that I’m willing to criticize and to want changed.

  311. Ron1

    @314 JohnW

    For crying out loud, John. At no point have I ever said she has said anything that is other than metaphor – I give her the benefit of the doubt. From the beginning I’ve argued that there is a general false equivalency applied to comments from the left and the right. So, if you’re going to argue with me, at least stay on topic.

    In the end, I think Sarah Palin is a charismatic religious wingnut who is catty and petty minded and is sorely lacking in real world knowledge. I think she is a Dominionist and an end timer who would be very dangerous to the world should she ever become President. But, I don’t think she had any role to play in the shootings, and I’ve never said otherwise.

  312. Joel

    281. Joel Says:
    The Tea Party’s number one issue is out of control spending.
    ………………………….
    289. Ron1 Says: Joel, I that’s what many believe, but I suspect the truth is closer to destroying the presidency of Barrack Obama.

    Ron1: Your suspicions are false in Iowa and western Illinois, and i’d suspect the rest of the country as well.

    I’ve been involved in the liberty movement here since 2007, before the tea party. And I’ve attended enough tax day rallies and other tea party events and engaged in friendly discussion with tea partiers enough to know the vast majority (everyone i’ve talked to, but i can hardly call that 100%, of course), are tied together by excessive spending. That’s their number 1 concern.

    Now, a good chunk of us are anti george bush/anti illegal wars, and that’s one of the other reasons we attended such events. And yes, the anti war message is rubbing off here (the left has dropped the ball on it for the most part, by the way), though admittedly iowa and illinious republicans are fairly moderate compared to many other places. Let’s hope it continues to spread. The last thing we need is a war with iran.

    And by the way, i will continue loudly protesting the wars, Guantanamo Bay, the patriot act, and all these other issues that liberals used to care about before Obama became president. Up to 1 million civilians have been killed and the casualties continue, and people talk about “toning down the retoric”. No, i’m sorry, you’re unpatriotic if you ARENT out there scolding our officials for contiuing to kill in our nae.

  313. Messier Tidy Upper

    There’s also an interesting – albeit exceedingly long now – discussion of the Arizona shootings here :

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2011/01/deadly-violence-in-arizona.html

    Via the Slacktivist blog. Now there’s a left-wing leaning one if ever there was one but its still pretty good.

  314. Messier Tidy Upper

    @282. TTT :

    I thought I had been clear enough, in my very first sentence:
    “Even if Palin et al didn’t cause this, they wanted it to happen.”
    If that’s not clear enough, I’ll simplify:
    “Maybe Palin didn’t cause it–but she wanted it to happen.”
    Better?

    No, that’s still equally bad and equally wrong. :-(

    As (#284.) WilliamMerck very correctly observed & very well put it:

    @TTT : If you really think Palin is sitting at home high fiving others over these murders, you need to sit down and seriously evaluate your life.

    Exactly. Also as (#286.) Ron1 noted :

    Being clear does not make you right! Unless you’re a mind reader, your statement that Palin wanted it to happen is nothing more than supposition. You need proof to make a statement like that and not look stupid. As of yet, there is none.

    Again, exactly & seconded by me.

    I dislike Sarah Palin, I think she’s a horrible and wilfully ignorant woman. (BTW. I can’t stand Obama either and I’m utterly sick & tired and cynical about *all* politicians – US and Aussie and global.)

    I find the over-heated, hyper-partisan agressive political rhetoric worrying and nasty and mean-spirited and even potentially dangerous. :-(

    But somehow (anyhow!!) blaming, linking or associating Palin for this awful shooting is nonsense. It is totally without logical basis and totally wrong.

    Plus from a practical point of view it makes you and your side of politics look ridiculously vindictive,and downright stupid for engaging in such crazy and unfounded and obviously, offensively, unfair rubbish. It could very well back-fire and result in creating *more* sympathy and support for Palin. Which you don’t want – do you? Do you? :roll:

    I never claimed a connection. The shooter could be from Neptune for all I care. I’m saying THIS IS WHAT PALIN WAS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT.

    Which is :

    a) Utterly false because it clearly was NOT what Palin had in mind or intended at all. Come on, don’t be silly.

    b) Making that connection or association between these two separate & unrelated issues – despite your previous denial of doing just that – without you any evidence for good reason to do so.

    c) Well, *I’d care* if the shooter was from Neptune – that would be perhaps the greatest & least likely discovery in all human history! An alien lifeform exists on Neptune!!! Wow! Plus these Neptunean lifeforms can escape their planets gravity well & interfere in Earthly politics! ;-)

    It would also potentially lead to massive changes in our technology and the first interplanetary war with Humanity involved. ;-)

    Actually the claim that the shooter is from Neptune is about as reasonable and logically well-founded as the claim that Palin is to blame for the lunatic actions of one whackjob – for reasons totally his own and unconnected to anything Palin said and did – went on a killing spree.

    Surely you can see the “Neptunian shooter” idea is a truly silly one without any supporting evidence whatsoever.

    Why then can you not equally understand that your “Somehow, *any* how blame Palin” claim (& that’s what it is) is equally ludicrous although more offensive and distasteful? :-(

    Gee, political ideology can make some people dumb. :roll:

  315. QuietDesperation

    *sigh* This is poor logic. It draws a moral equivalency between the right and the left because it uses the same words.

    Oh noes! Not the *sigh*!

    Uh, no, it was merely a quip about what people appear to want. Every Presidency has some group that wants to “destroy” it.

    Anything else is what *you* read into it.

    This is the problem with what I see when the “wait and see” approach.

    Yeah. The gods forbid we wait for actual facts and evidence before reaching a conclusion. Are you serious?

    It looks at strong positions and decides that any are invalid.

    No, it declares them as unproven if there is no supporting evidence. They become mere speculation which, in and of itself, is fine. This is the heart of skepticism. You can believe whatever you want with as little proof as you like, but don’t expect anyone else to buy into it. A lot of people were not speculating, however. They were flat out placing blame, and some to the point of accusing unrelated individuals of murder.

    Why can’t we criticize a political discourse, seen on both sides but primarily from the right, that implied violence and hate against opposing ideas, that maintains conspiracy theories against the government?

    Well, now you have changed the target. No one is saying you can’t criticize that. Have you noticed most people here criticizing the finger pointing expressly state they are not Palin fans and don’t like the Tea Party rhetoric?

  316. QuietDesperation

    Wow! Plus these Neptunean lifeforms can escape their planets gravity well & interfere in Earthly politics!

    Oh, geez, you just gave Richard Hoagland another year’s worth of content for his site. :-D

  317. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ QuietDesperation : D’oh! Sorry. Oh well, I’m sure Hoagland would’ve just have made up something as he always does anyhow. ;-)

    @282. TTT : Please stop blaming the Neptuneans for this shooting.

    They’ll see what you’ve accused them of, get them really angry & come down and invade Earth & it will all be entirely *your fault!*

    Sound ridiculous? Well, hey, that’s using exactly the same “argument” and dubious “logic” that you and the Blamer Left have been using against Palin here.

    Actually, technically, my argument above has much more of a direct connection between events than the Blamer one (thankyou #285 QuietDesperation) does.

  318. Joel

    QuietDesperation, thank you for your sanity.

    Here’s a video my cousin created on the event. I think its worth a look for anyone interested in a fairly common “internet generation” point of view.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLAESY4EDLs&feature=player_embedded#!

  319. JohnW

    @318 Ron1 – Let me quote you from comment 84:

    “Yes Progressives say things about Conservatives that are mean but they are usually true and they NEVER condone or push violent action against anyone, unlike many of their Conservative or Libertarian opponents, Sarah Palin included. To think, and then to publicly state otherwise shows a worldview that is removed from reality.”

    So if you have now backed off of that position, good for you.

  320. Ron1

    #325 JohnW

    Here’s a corrected version of my quote. It is what I should have said and you were right to correct me — “Yes Progressives say things about Conservatives that are mean but they are usually true and they rarely condone or push violent action against anyone, unlike many of their Conservative or Libertarian opponents. To think, and then to publicly state otherwise shows a worldview that is removed from reality.”

    This version is consistent with my primary argument that a false equivalency exists.

  321. mike johnson

    Hmmm… now that there is no link that the Tea Party or Sarah Palin are even remotely behind pushing this guy over the edge (he hated George Bush as much as anyone else), it looks like the debate will turn from limiting free speech to Gun Control. I predict that when that argument falls through, the next topic of debate will be heath care and why wasn’t this guy helped and identified. First will be “why did he have such a large magazine (I agree, why?), then how did he pass a background check (true, the sherifs’s department was called out on this guy several times…what happened), then it will spiral out of control. In a few days, that will peter out into mental health intervention and care.

    I am bringing this up because I would like to know one question…Why are we putting blame on all these factors when the bottom line is this…This guy has been planning for some time to try and assinate a member of congress. If he hadn’t had a gun “legally”, he would have gotten it illegally. He had several options out there to pursue help with his issues, but instead, he chose to smoke pot and go down his delusional rabbit hole.

    Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck all are big mouths who gets paid to “rally the base”. Ed Shultz and Keith Olberman are too. They (and all the talking heads out there) need to shut down the hateful words, and instead of using their words to incite negative emotion and feelings toward their opposition, they should engage in intellectual debate…like here.

    For the most part, I don’t agree with everything posted here, but I am being educated and I respect the positions and stands of others. Even Ron1 is learning…he has emoticon powers now ;)

  322. mike johnson

    Please excuse my spelling. I have a medical condition, and didn’t run it through spell check haha :)

  323. JohnW

    @328 rON1 – Okay, sorry I misunderstood you. It does look like your argument evolved over the last 250 (!) or so comments.

  324. QuietDesperation

    QuietDesperation, thank you for your sanity.

    Now there’s something I rarely hear. :-)

    My secret is I really don’t take any of this stuff seriously. And I’m a genius. And humble. And I’m self deprecating. And funny. :)

    Hmmm… now that there is no link that the Tea Party or Sarah Palin are even remotely behind pushing this guy over the edge

    It’s that rock and roll the kids listen to these days! It’s Old Scratch’s own demon music!

    http://dailycaller.com/2011/01/12/heavy-metal-band-responds-to-allegations-that-their-music-had-any-influence-on-az-shooter/

    No, wait, it’s video games! Too many ranked multiplayer matches of Halo: Reach!

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703667904576071191163461466.html?mod=rss_US_News

    Gotta dig down for the video game comment.

    Anyone for “too much sugar” or Happy Meals?

  325. mike johnson

    Quiet Desperation,

    LOL! Thanks for bringing the levity! You forgot all about Dancing and the “internets” (as my parents would call it) on your evils list.

  326. TTT

    Messier Tidy Upper:
    You can really stop pointing out you’re from Australia. It is obvious from your posts that you aren’t American and have no grasp of what it is really like to live here amidst the constant rhetoric of class warfare and incitement to violence coming from the teabaggers.

    For the Nth time, nobody is “blaming this on Palin.” For the Nth time, she didn’t cause it. For the N-plus-1th time, it isn’t clever or meaningful to say there’s no evidence she caused it. That completely misses every point. Please cease your glib animation-heavy repetitions of “she didn’t cause it” and really try–even if just as a thought exercise–to grasp how wrong it is to talk–even as a joke–about having your political opponents (specified by name) murdered.

    It was ALWAYS wrong, BEFORE Giffords was shot, and REGARDLESS of who shot her and why. Yet people like you treat it as a joke. Easy when you don’t actually know the people who have been targeted, easy when you live out of range. Roll your emoticon eyes at that if you must, but remember it the next time you hear an Australian accuse an American of being pompous and ignorant about affairs in other countries.

    When you gunsight target your opponent by name, this is what it actually means. When you urge your followers to actually commit acts of harassment and violence, this is what it actually looks like. It doesn’t matter who does it–this is what Palin and the teabaggers’ oft-stated wish as a matter of electoral outcomes actually looks like.

    People like me have been warning for months that the teabagger nonstop invocations of gunplay and murder was an inexcusable outrage, and we were told it was all 50/50 because some random anonymous nobody on some blog somewhere on the Left said dirty words too. THAT is why she is being attacked–it is the CONTINUATION of an older complaint, which her lazy enablers in the mass media didn’t take seriously the first time, and which you seem to be almost deliberately trying to wave away now.

    Just come out and tell me it’s okay to say people you don’t like should be shot. If Palin can’t be yelled at for that clear sentiment–especially not now, when someone actually shot one of the people she targeted–then it must never be bad for anyone to say it under any circumstances. It’s either wrong or it isn’t–and if it is wrong, then now is the perfect time to berate those who make their careers by it. As Christopher Hitchens said, if waterboarding isn’t torture then nothing is.

    To quote from George Packer in the New Yorker:
    Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

  327. Terry

    @ TTT:
    I don’t think anyone here is saying that Palin and her ilk are allowed to communicate direct threats. She has not done so, nor has anyone else senior within (edit to add) the tea party movement. What I am saying, as I can’t speak for anyone else, is that no one can act as the arbiters of what is considered violent speech and what is not. If such an arbiter existed, then the status quo would be protected and change would be harder to achieve. That works in favor of those in power (and I’m not talking about the short-term vagaries of political wins in the executive or the legislature, I’m talking about whose view is dominating the Overton Window at the moment).

    If you don’t want change, so be it. I’m sorry that you don’t, because I really don’t like the political situation in this country and don’t think we can find any common ground if you do. I would remind you, the Liberal movement was a revolutionary movement. At one time, several governments had a vested interest in preventing liberal rhetoric by some means or another. Like you quote, only one side has invoked the iconography of armed rebellion, so if you have a vested interest in shutting off debate without looking like you are illiberal, this is the way to do so.

  328. JohnW

    TTT – You really are off the deepend. Nobody joked about any of their political opponents getting murdered. Putting crosshairs on a map is not an incitement to murder – it’s targeting a congressional district. Just like when the Democrats did it:
    http://www.dlc.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=253055&kaid=127&subid=171

    I suppose those aren’t crosshairs, but targets, so that somehow makes one okay while the other is reprehensible.

    And your hypocrisy has been pointed out over and over – Brack Obama, the President of the Untied States and progressive leader of the Democratic Party – has used “violence tinged” rhetoric. Not some random lefty blogger that nobody has ever heard of. The freaking President.

    “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama told the audience. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

    “I know they [the special interests and lobbyists] are gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this: so am I.”

    “I don’t sit around talking to experts because this is a college seminar,” Obama continued. “We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

    “Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn’t buying that. My administration,” the president added [to bankers], “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

    By your standards, these are all irresponsible calls to violence (of course, your standards are silly – this is all just traditional political rhetoric, as was Palin’s and the Tea Party’s). Every single one of these quotes is “worse” than anything Palin or an Tea Partier ever said.

    Here’s something that’s not traditional rhetoric, from Rep Paul Kanjorski (D-PA): “That Scott down there that’s running for governor of Florida,” Mr. Kanjorski said. “Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him. He stole billions of dollars from the United States government and he’s running for governor of Florida. He’s a millionaire and a billionaire. He’s no hero. He’s a damn crook. It’s just we don’t prosecute big crooks.”

    I guess he’s just a nobody congressman.

    The Packer quote is pretty laughable. You guys must have slept through 2001-2008 when people on the left made ACTUAL MOVIES depicting the assassination of Bush. Approvingly.

    This tragedy had nothing to do with politics, and, again, your eagerness to use it to score political points is nothing short of ghoulish.

  329. Ron1

    331. JohnW Says: “@328 rON1 – Okay, sorry I misunderstood you. It does look like your argument evolved over the last 250 (!) or so comments.”

    John, I thought folk like you didn’t believe in evolution? :)

    ……………………………………………………………………………….

    @329. mike johnson … Beware, I’ve got my emoticon powers trained on this group and I’m trying really, really hard to channel the dark energy of the right to bend you all to my way. muwha ha ha! (hands rubbing together). :) :) :) :) :) hang on … let me adjust … something,

    There. Has TTT developed a sense of humour yet?

    Cheers

  330. TTT

    No one can act as the arbiters of what is considered violent speech and what is not

    Then no one can act as arbiter of anything.

    Certainly, you yourself cannot act as arbiter of anything you profess to care about, like “political conditions” and “change” and “liberty.” Anything you might ever want could just as easily be un-defined into solipsistic nothingness. If anything, THAT is the best protection for the status-quo: no means can ever cause change without the intellectual organization and contrast-based strategy that comes with making firm definitions.

    Most people have no problem condemning and disavowing political violence. It’s chilling to encounter someone who seems to view it as okay.

  331. Terry

    Then you would have been chilled to meet Thomas Jefferson and even more so the father of liberalism John Locke.

    Edit:
    Too clarify, I don’t think political violence is okay in any context except last resort, but it is acceptable as a last resort against tyranny. However, this was not a debate over political violence. This was a debate about violent speech. Keep it clear.

  332. TTT

    You’re no Thomas Jefferson.

    Congratulations on the Giffords shooting.

  333. Terry

    I am not a Thomas Jefferson. I only wish I could aspire to that level.

    You once again have to descend to personal attacks when it becomes obvious that you are wrong.

    I have never, in all my writings, suggested that violence should be carried out. Nor have I suggested that violent action is permissible accept against tyranny. I have merely, in all my writings, pointed out that you are without perspective and overly willing to control the morality of others. America is not a tyranny, it is a democracy. I love America completely. If you think you ‘win’ by laying the injury of a politician at the feet on an innocent, you are no better than any other propagandist out there.

    Welcome to Truth, TTT. A crazyman attacked her. He was not inspired by violent rhetoric. Palin was not happy with the result. And the only person responsible for her shooting and the death of 6 Americans was a crazy man.

    Others could have stopped it, sure, but only those that knew the man and could have done something. They will live with guilt forever, even though only he is responsible for his own actions.

    I wish you luck in your worldview. I hope that it can one day widen to see reality.

    (Edit: I realize on reflection this isn’t specifically ad hominem, but its close. Maybe a ‘poisoning the well’. In any case, the same concept applies).

  334. JohnW

    @ 337 Ron1 –

    “It does look like your argument evolved over the last 250 (!) or so comments” is just a theory. ;)

  335. TTT

    The Packer quote is pretty laughable. You guys must have slept through 2001-2008 when people on the left made ACTUAL MOVIES depicting the assassination of Bush. Approvingly.

    That was a BRITISH movie, made by a British crew and company and released to British audiences. So as the Brits say, “pull the other one.”

  336. Ron1

    @342 JohnW

    Dear God man. You’ll kill me. (the wink back at ya.)

    Cheers

  337. Joseph G

    @JohnW: I edited my post because I realized you touched on everything I did, and more :)

  338. Joseph G

    I think that much of this tempest in a teapot has to do with the same human tendencies that allow quack medicine to flourish; specifically, the desire to exert control over the random and the uncontrollable.
    For much the same reason that a person a with a terminal disease might gladly hand over their life savings to a charlatan with crystal wands and energy-infused water, I believe we look for someone to blame when the enormity of a crime seems too great to be something as mundane and inexplicable as the act of a disturbed lunatic. That’s the price we pay for living in an open society – occasionally, nutjobs will slip through the cracks, and the only way to absolutely guarantee our safety is to consent to universal 24 hour surveillance.

  339. Joseph G

    @343 TTT: That was a BRITISH movie, made by a British crew and company and released to British audiences.
    Which was quite popular over here as well among certain segments of the population.
    Anyway, and your point is…? Are you saying that Americans should be held to a higher standard than anyone else? The English-speaking world shares a common culture; we should all be concerned about precedents set elsewhere if they might affect us at some point.

  340. Joseph G

    Serious question: Does hanging or burning a political official in effigy count as unacceptably violent speech?
    And if so, did you happen to go to any political rallies between about 2002 and 2007 or so? :)

  341. QuietDesperation

    Then no one can act as arbiter of anything.

    And wisdom is achieved. :-)

    You are correct. No one can define what is “proper” speech or thought or opinion. That way lies dragons and peril. If I say “I wish Senator Gasbag would vanish off the Earth” is that a threat, or really just wishing he’d get into a scandal and have to resign?

    All you can do is define where one person’s rights end and where the next person’s rights begin. It’s complex, and generally needs to be handled on a case by case basis, hence the court system.

  342. shunt1

    (PERSONAL MESSAGE TO PHIL)

    You and I live in two very different worlds, so trying to communicate with each other can become rather challenging. As I have always said, as an Astronomer, you have my absolute respect.

    I started out as an Astronomer, but learned how to apply my knowledge of multi-spectral image analysis for military purposes. Consider this as “applied astronomy” in an effort to save lives when possible.

    Two of my friends were held hostage in Colombia by the FARC for five years, so this is very personal to me. They were flying the camera system that I developed, and trained them on, when they crash landed in the jungle.

    Thankfully, after five years, they were rescued and have written a book (Out of Captivity – Surviving the Colombian Jungle) about it:

    http://www.amazon.com/Out-Captivity-Surviving-Colombian-Jungle/dp/B002QGSWBA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294973650&sr=8-1

    The goal in a military operation is to neutralize the enemy and save lives if possible. This Christmas “stunt” from Colombia got me laughing so hard tonight, because this is a perfect example.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjs8_a2ECIo&feature=player_embedded

    The Colombian special forces setup Christmas trees in the jungle along paths that the FARC are known to use. With flairs and motion sensors, when a FARC team got close the the Christmas tree, it would light and display an important message:

    “Demobilize on Christmas and All IS POSSIBLE.”

    It sounds like many people listened to the message and are no longer in danger.

    This is what I do for a living, and when lives are saved, I am proud of what I have contributed.

    Phil, I am sorry if you felt insulted when I got upset about the linkage between the Arizona murders with the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. By now, you should fully understand why these people should not had been connected with those murders, and why people like me were rather upset.

    You and I do live in very different worlds…

    However, stunts like the Christmas trees in Colombia, do remind me that we are all trying to achieve the same thing.

    Thanks;

    ……………….

    About two hundred men of the Rapid Deployment Force, Fudra, infiltrated the jungles of the Sierra de La Macarena, with the aim of locating in the middle of the night and the jungle, a tree over 25 meters high and decorate it with Christmas lights.

    With the so-called “Operation Christmas” developed into one of the major corridors providing the FARC, the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Colombia, the Christmas took to the jungle, with the purpose of inviting the rebels to demobilize and recover their freedom.

    The operation planned and executed from the Military Fort of La Macarena, lasted for 4 days and required the use of two Black Hawk helicopters and 2,000 special Christmas lights that are activated by a special mechanism that detects the movement of people.

    With the success of the operation, the General Command of the Armed Forces ordered multiply this initiative Program of Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized called “Demobilize in CHRISTMAS ALL IS POSSIBLE, with nine other Christmas trees that were selected in different regions of the country.

    So far this year, 2,411 members of illegal armed groups have benefited from the Program of Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized, of which 126 belong to the FARC and the ELN 14, have done this holiday season.

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