In the aftermath of the Tucson massacre, what does right-wing hate talk radio have to say for itself? Not much, if a casual scan of the AM dial on Monday was any example. I listened with a certain degree of incredulity as one right-wing host seemed to suggest that Barack Obama’s “combative” rhetoric was to blame, while another suggested that listeners of a mind to do so ought not jump to the conclusion that Obama and the Democrats were responsible for creating the climate of violence that led to the shooting. Outside of local conservative commentator John Carlson, there was no discussion about what role the over-heated pro-gun rhetoric had in the shooting, let alone the anti-government propaganda that targeted Democrats almost exclusively.
In the evening I heard right-wing academic John Lott arguing that the shooting would have been prevented if everyone in attendance was packing a gun; he was a guest on “Coast to Coast,” a radio program that gained notoriety when hosted by Art Bell, and now hosted by George Noory—who when not providing a criticism-free setting for conspiracy theories, paranormal, spirituality and UFOs, supplies a forum for often extreme-right ideology. Some of Lott’s arguments were quite bizarre and tainted with hypocrisy; many gun-rights advocates are paranoid, racist whites, but Lott tried to twist the issue away from right-wing extremism by claiming the people who most need had guns are inner city blacks who are often the victims of crime; I doubt that most people concerned with inner-city crime and violence believe that more guns are the answer. I’ve never owned a gun and don’t plan to; my own feeling is that guns cause more trouble than they prevent. The Tucson shooting could have been prevented not by a people who thought that a routine meet-and-greet was a get-together at the target range, but merely by the presence of a police officer.
Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, whose smirking mug shot reminds one of a shaven-haired Charles Manson, apparently had a fixation on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords since 2007, but one must remember that it wasn’t until almost four years later that he decided that the time was “appropriate” for taking her out—and two years of some of the most violence-suggestive and racially vitriolic rhetoric from the right heard in many decades, made more palpable by anger at the election of a black president in certain extreme quarters. Loughner’s simplistic political ideas (How is one supposed to supply a rational answer to an absurd query like “What is government if words have no meaning?”) and the typical anti-government fanatic’s fixation on Democrats is a “mental illness” that many people seem to suffer from; it must be pointed out again and again the need to recognize that there are “crazies” out there, and there must be some recognition from the right that their hate-inducing rhetoric does have consequences.
This message is not getting across, if Sarah Palin is any example. She claims it is “blood libel” to suggest that the “political climate” she helped foster had anything to do with the shooting; Palin’s ignorance is once more exposed by her use of the term “blood libel,” which refers to the ancient belief that Jews engaged in blood sacrifices of Christian children. Palin’s Facebook page carries a video attacking her critics, but she fails to express any personal responsibility or acknowledgement of the possibility that her violent rhetoric or use of gun target “metaphors” might be taken too seriously by some of her listeners. This is not an issue about whether one “agrees” with Palin on the “issues” or not; Palin’s grasp of the issues is only fit for people who view the world in paranoid clichés. This is about the use of rhetoric that heightens the atmosphere of hate and the “suggestion” that only people packing guns have the capability of setting the country “straight.”
Palin is hardly the only person who uses such subliminal messaging that can be easily “misunderstood” by the wrong people; but given the expected denials of responsibility, the question now is whether people like Palin, Michael (Weiner) Savage and Glenn Beck will conduct some self-examination and moderate their tongues, just as Art Bell decided to avoid inflammatory topics like gun rights following the Oklahoma City bombing, realizing that the wild anti-government conspiracy theories that he gave a forum for on "Coast to Coast" may have had a role in fostering an atmosphere of unwarranted fear and paranoia; of course, there are "alternative" sources for the paranoid mind in search of "proof," such as on Tea Party libertarian Jesse Ventura's TruTV show "Conspiracy Theory." The elites buying up the Great Lakes to control the nation's water supply, the CIA conducting experiments to turn citizens into assassins, internment camps for citizens deemed threats, biological weapons research that could poison the country's food supply--some people don't necessarily believe this is merely "entertainment."
Given the lack of coherent reasoning in their thought processes of the right, it seems unlikely that Bell's example will be followed. Even now, right-wing hate-monger Michelle Malkin is telling her readers not to be “cowed into silence” by the left, referring to the violent rhetoric of the right as merely “peaceful” and “vigorous," while Rush Limbaugh continues to implicate a "majority" of Americans as supporters of the kind of right-wing hate talk that created the atmosphere within which something like the Tucson massacre could occur. Republicans continue to insist on "business as usual" in the current tenor of their propaganda. In other words, nothing was learned.