Our latest tragic shooting: who’s to blame?
Another church shooting, this time in Knoxville. By now you’ve probably read the accounts and know that the shooter, Jim Adkisson, was motivated by, among other things, an apparent hatred of “liberals.”
Before diving too much deeper, there are a couple things we can probably safely say about Adkisson. First, these weren’t the actions of a rational man. Rational people don’t wade into crowds of people attempting to kill as many as possible.
So whatever else may have been at play, and no doubt the causes were many and complex, let’s be clear that we’re dealing with a disturbed individual.
Second, Adkisson probably wasn’t a terribly smart man. Or, at the least, he wasn’t a thoughtful one. For instance:
- he was upset that he couldn’t find a job;
- he felt this was due in part to his age;
- his food stamps had recently been cut;
A thoughtful man might have had a hard time looking at the economy of the past few years and concluding that “liberals” were responsible for shrinking job opportunities. A thoughtful man would have realized that “liberal” policies on age discrimination would generally weigh in his favor. And a man capable of mustering up one stray coherent thought in a month would certainly notice that food stamps are a “liberal” program – so being upset at them being cut would seem at least a little hypocritical.
There’s a lot we don’t yet know about Adkisson, and a lot we may never know. We don’t know, for instance, where he got his information about the world, its politics and its economics. (Although, based on what we do know, we might hazard a guess or two.) We don’t know if he listened to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage or Laura Ingraham or if he watched Bill O’Reilly. We don’t know if his views on personal and family issues were shaped by harpies like Laura Schlesinger. We don’t know how often the politicians he was aware of said things that a twisted mind might interpret as “libruls are of the devil.” Or, for that matter, how often those politicians said those things in more or less those exact words.
We don’t even know, when push comes to shove, if Adkisson could have articulated the meaning of the word “liberal.” I’m guessing not, honestly, because my experience of people whose hate is framed by labels is that their hatred is driven by knee-buckling ignorance, not knowledge.
There are things we do know, though. We know that we live in a society where people have been encouraged, at every turn, to define those they don’t understand with prefabricated labels like “liberal.” They’ve been encouraged to believe that these others are bad humans who are responsible for everything wrong in the world, even when the alleged responsibility isn’t even barely plausible. They’ve been taught that complex problems result from simple causes and that the solutions are simpler yet.
The always-insightful Sara Robinson has this to say:
After 25 years of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric about liberal hunting licenses and scaring us out of our treason and keeping a few of us alive as museum exhibits, it’s natural that some of us would jump to the thought that maybe, at long last, somebody finally decided to grab a shotgun and go bag himself some libruls — and decided (not unreasonably) that down at the local UU church, they’d be as thick on the ground as quail on one of Dick Cheney’s private hunting trips.
It would be simplistic and wrong-headed of me to blame a particular person or institution for Adkisson’s actions. I don’t know what Rush had to say last week – although I’m sure it was hateful and stupid – but Rush didn’t load up the shotgun and pull the trigger.
However, Rush is one of the people who has helped poison the waters in the sea that is American culture. FOX “News” and its hatefuck parade of gleefully toxic talking heads have dumped billions of gallons of rhetorical bile into the streams feeding the ocean of public opinion. Karl Rove has taught a new generation of bright-eyed Typhoid Marys to bathe in the waters that the rest of us drink.
Jim Adkisson was an unbalanced man, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before he snapped. But two questions to ponder: first, who created the conditions that hastened the snap? And second, when the train jumped the tracks, who created the bogeyman that the diseased brain latched onto as the cause of all the pain?
I can’t tell you who to point to specifically if you need to blame somebody. But I can tell you that yesterday’s tragedy at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church occurred in a context, a known and knowable context. His reasons strike us as familiar because they are. Every day for the past 30 years we’ve heard words like these – on talk radio, on right-wing propaganda outlets like FOX, on blogs aimed at dividing and conquering we the people, from the mouths of sub-human politicians who’ll do anything to assure their spot at the trough. And eventually, from the mouths of ordinary citizens who have been systematically denied the kinds of educational programs necessary to inoculate them against these obscenities, which to the genuinely critical mind are so transparent as to be invisible.
I can tell you that while there’s no way to point at one person, it’s easy to point at those who worked together to poison the well from which Jim Adkisson drank. Limbaugh. Rove. Savage. Schlesinger. Murdoch. Helms. Falwell. Robertson. Dobson. O’Reilly. Phelps. Matalin. Ingraham. Coulter. Hannity. Beck. Bush. The list goes on for quite awhile, but these are some of the bigger names.
There’s also ample blame for the dolts in charge at CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, USA Today, and hundreds of local papers and stations around the country, because you ignorantly parroted their lies in the name of “balance.”
Adkisson is on you. All of you. And while yesterday might prove, mercifully, to be the last event of its kind that we ever see, only a moron would bet on it.
UPDATE: In other places around the ‘sphere I’m hearing this caution: we have to be careful – we can’t try and link the shooter with the right-wing hate machine until we know that he was listening to them. As I think I indicate above, it’s not about showing direct cause, it’s about describing the context. I’m a culturalist, and we’re not afraid of a little complexity.
However, if that approach fails to satisfy some simplistic need for “proof,” then check this:
Inside the house, officers found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.
Gee. I’m stunned.