Crazy people doing crazy things
A lot of conspiracy theorists are considered right-wing because they have a deep mistrust of the government. But I think that conservative or limited government beliefs in most conspiracy theorists or lone-gunmen nuts is totally divorced from conservative political philosophy. Jared Loughner appears to be someone who wanted to sew chaos and mayhem – not an ideologically driven revolutionary.
But these types of unbalanced, violent loners who spout conspiracy theories and sometimes resort to violence are lumped in with the right because of their anti-government streak. This is a mistake. Loughner was devoted to distancing himself from reality. He wanted to create his own reality, and anything that represented authority – whether concrete or abstract – and that threatened his dreams became suspect. Thus language, religion, government, currency – all the building blocks of society and of reality as most of us accept it – became things that Loughner wanted to destroy, remake, control. You cannot shoot currency or grammar, but you can shoot a representative of the government.
Loughner was neither left or right-wing. The Discovery Channel hostage taker, James J. Lee (there is that name, Lee, again…!) was more identifiably ‘left-wing’, but he was so fringe it’s impossible to accurately lump him in with the American left. He didn’t want humans to exist at all, his belief in protecting the environment from the ‘parasitic’ human race was so strong. This is hardly a hallmark of the left, though ardent environmentalists often espouse very watered down versions of our more parasitic nature (humans raping the earth for its resources, etc.) much as right-wingers of a certain stripe dislike fiat currency and call for a return to the gold standard.
The Knoxville Unitarian church shooter, David Adkisson, can certainly be defined as a right-winger. And his violence could be more believably ascribed to a set of noxious, hateful beliefs taken to the most fearful conclusion. Adkisson told investigators he carried out his attack because he believed all liberals should be killed for destroying America. He was deeply homophobic and racist and, finding himself unemployed and increasingly angry, eventually turned to violence. When we warn of right-wing talk radio and a ‘climate of hate’ influencing people, it’s people like Adkisson that we worry about, not people like Loughner whose deep end appears almost wholly self-made. Adkisson’s breakdown, however, was obviously influenced by right-wing opinion makers. In his home police found:
- Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage
- Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism by talk show host Sean Hannity
- The O’Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly
I think it’s unfortunate so many people on the left turned so quickly to blaming the political environment for the Tucson shooting, but I don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to question the proper norms of discourse in this country. And if conservatives can’t do any better than the vitriol of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, then American conservatism is going to implode.
While I would never advocate censorship, I think it is very appropriate to expect our political and cultural leaders to denounce the sort of rhetoric that leads people like Adkisson to enter a church and begin firing a shotgun indiscriminately during a children’s play because he has been led to believe that liberals are destroying America. He may be crazy, but that’s exactly the point. Crazy people will take seemingly innocuous language and ideas and twist them in ways that were never intended. Best to avoid this in the first place, especially in a world of semi-automatic weapons. I realize there is no way to guard entirely against this sort of thing, but we could start by not portraying our political opponents as enemies who must be destroyed at all costs in order to save America.