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      The Hidden Menace of Arizona

      An NBC reporter came to my home Monday night asking my opinion on the Arizona shootings crisis. Actually he wanted my response to conservative commentator Larry Elder who was blaming people on the Left, including myself, for the tragedy. Rush Limbaugh has added his considered view that the assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, has the full-support of the Democratic Party in his legal defense.
      How unfortunate it is that right-wing media pundits are on the same page in deflecting all blame from themselves or their icons like Sarah Palin.
      Meanwhile, the mainstream media tends to emphasize the theme that the shooter is a profoundly-disturbed individual with no connections to the Far Right. This perspective leads to an emphasis on proposed remedies such as toning down political speech and securing the Congress until gun control and better mental health services can kick in.
      The most sophisticated conservative argument is by David Brooks in the New York Times. He blames the early commentary for literally suppressing evidence of mental illness in a rush to blame the Tea Party and Palin, and says, “there is no evidence that Loughner was part of these movements or a consumer of their literature.”
      I believe these conservative commentators protest too much, as if they are carrying out a crisis management exercise before business-as-usual returns.
      An embarrassing problem with the right-wing argument is that it’s not progressives or Sixties radicals who started blaming them. It’s Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself. It is her father. And it’s Sheriff Clarence Dupnick who is suddenly under attack from the right for criticizing those who make their living from fomenting bigotry and hatred.
      Surely the campaign by Giffords’ Tea Party opponent, Jesse Kelly, intensified a climate of demonizing that can result a homicidal outcome. Kelly’s leaflets invited residents to get “on target” to remove Giffords by attending a fund-raiser where they would shoot a fully-automatic M-16. Kelly, a 29-year old ex-Marine, called for ten thousand American troops on the Mexican border of Gifford’s district, in “an active enforcement mode.”
      Kelly was named by as the “most terrifying candidate” of the 2010 congressional elections. The Anti-Defamation League denounced his support from Americans for Legal Immigration [ALIPAC], a group that was criticized by Sen. John McCain’s office as “white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and anti-semites.” [The Hill, campaign blog, Oct. 26, 2010]
      So the right-wing promoted a climate which by any rational measure could lead to a killing. But how does any of this relate to the shooter?
      There is preliminary evidence that Jared Lee Loughner took seriously the doctrines of far-right groups who espouse justifiable homicide. His posted rantings are far from the “gibberish” some want us to believe. Consider this: while the Republican Party was insisting that the U.S. Constitution be read on the House floor, by Rep. Giffords among others, Loughner’s writings revealed what many on the far-right believe about that document:
      “The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United State’s of America’s constitution. You don’t have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all the treasonous laws. You’re literate, listener?”
      And: “The property owners and government officials are no longer in ownership of their land and laws from a revolution. Thus, the revolutionary’s from the revolution are in control of the land and laws…
      And: “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver.”
      The mention of literacy relates to Loughran’s written belief that the residents of Rep. Giffords’ congressional district are “illiterates.” By this he means they are unaware that the federal government is illegitimate, and is implementing “mind control” and “brainwashing” through the public schools.
      The investigation ahead should reveal that this is exactly the thinking in networks across the far right which overlap with the Tea Party. It is the stance of the “Sovereign Citizen” movement, which claims that the national government wrongly federalized the idea of citizenship with the Fourteenth Amendment. The ongoing Sovereign Citizen crusade rejects taxes, car registrations, traffic tickets and the like as illegitimate. And they are deadly serious.

      In 1992, one in Michigan repudiated the government’s jurisdiction over him in the matter of fishing licenses. He was Terry Nichols, the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which took 168 lives. The sovereign citizens continue to proliferate. On May 20 last year, a Sovereign Citizen leader, Jerry Kane, who gave seminars across the country, shot and killed two police officers in Arkansas who pulled he and his son, Joseph, over in a drug interdiction exercise. Shortly after, Kane and his son were killed in a second shootout with law enforcement officers.

      Much the same analysis was contained in a 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security, by the way. And no surprise, it created an uproar of opposition from the same Republicans who now control the House of Representatives.

      The investigation of how these networks wormed their way into Jared Lee Loughner’s mind – by Internet, individual advice, or attendance at meetings – should be the key focus in the weeks ahead. No one should be permitted to use mental illness or blame-the-Sixties explanations to divert attention from a hidden menace that threatens the democratic process.

      When I served in the California legislature over a decade ago, I once passed a resolution denouncing violence at abortion clinics, and specifically the targeting of doctors and staff for murder. There were virtually no Republican “aye” votes for the measure and, when I ask a Republican senate colleague the reason, he told me, “We can’t. These people are all over our districts.” A staunch promoter of the sovereign citizen movement was even in the Senate, railing against state and federal rule. That’s what this is about. In not being able to purge these networks from its base, the Republican Party has allowed the menace to grow.

      Related: please read Letters from Tucson.

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      Reader Comments (8)

      This is an excellent article, Tom, Just what the mainstream media is missing or ignoring.

      January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

      Peace and justice are worthy goals and the existence of "sovereign citizens movements" undermines the shared benefit of universal justice.

      In Ohio we've had similar instances where these folks have clashed with police agencies. I dare say the recent shooting of a female deputy in West Central Ohio might have been just such a case. He had a history and was earlier dismissed as mentally deranged. Less than a decade later he killed an officer.

      When will the "center right" politicians confront these violent extremists?

      January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurt Bateman

      You said it well, Tom. Another irony of the media hand-wringing over the mental illness issue and "what could have been done," is that all this new concern is in the context of years of slashing the budgets of mental health services. You can't have mandated reporting, mental inquests, or court orders which might register on gun checks if you don't have mental health professionals to start with and means of access to them.
      But the other larger point is that even if he is paranoid schizophrenic, they need perceived threats to hang on to, and he seems to have found plenty in conspiracy theories, principally from the Right. I did read a comment from one of his friends who remembered this guy's first anti-govt. rantings was when he believed the government pulled off the 9/11 attacks (which, unfortunately, has been an article of faith by some on both sides of the spectrum).
      So you put the murderous, assassination-encouraging rhetoric by Beck, Fox, Rush, etc. out there, along with the on-line crazies, serve it up to a paranoid schizophrenic who orients toward perceived political threats, and mix in a gun-saturated culture (90 guns for every 100 residents in the US), and this kind of attack seems inevitable.

      January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Gardner

      Thank you, Tom, for being the voice that most of us reasonale people want to be heard. Excellent points, well written and right on!

      January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR. Porto

      The right wing will do what they always do. LIE! The barrage of garbage spewed on radio and Murdoch's hate machine cannot help but be absorbed by those w/a tenuous grip on reality.
      The rotten media and the Corporatists running these fools will continue to create their sad creatures who pull the triggers for them. Sigh...................

      January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

      To Dwight Baker: I've been dealing with patriarchal insanity all my life. Respectfully, dude, get thee off the Viagra fantasy, find a good male therapist, (a male feminist, if there is such a thing) and quit looking for sugar tit. You ain't no orchid in the Arctic.

      Sorry, Tom, didn't mean to make you spew your coffee, hope it wasn't too hot.

      January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Reginelli

      Thanks for this great post Tom.

      Right-wing blogs are now trying to create a diversion by blaming the Arizona shootings on (of all things) small schools. It seems that during the Bush administration, Loughner's high school received a federal Smaller Learning Communities grant. Now the right is claiming that small schools are part of a left-wing terrorist, commie plot to brainwash their children and that Loughner's was trained in such a school.

      I know, it sounds laughable. But these posts are accompanied by warnings that the left is trying to "capture the minds of your children" along with the now infamous target symbol. Such are the times we live in.

      January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike Klonsky

      Great article Tom. Once again, the Right are surrounding their wagons protecting their own, while the Left has been made so afraid to question anything. Of course the shooter was deranged. But questions should be asked. Congresswoman Gifford, the victim and political target herself ironically and prophetically questioned the violent rhetoric coming from the right. Her office was vandalized shortly after the infamous Sarah Palin crosshairs on her districts map, as well as the heavy use of gun metaphors used by her political opponent Mr Kelly.

      I applaud the President for rising above the rhetoric and taking the high road, but I hope the left, both in politics and the media doesn't let up in seeking to expose the truth. To not be afraid to question. The Right doesn't speak for the American people as they so often like to espouse on Fox News. The so called mainstream media doesn't have to constantly defer to the script of the right! Doing so just legitimizes the Rights narrative in the publics perception, and makes questioning from the right seem wrong. Or in the case of the lies told by the right to go to war in Iraq...unpatriotic!

      The left has got to stop being afraid. They have got to continue to ask questions and to create their own narrative, not just follow or react to the rights storyline. They must not be afraid to speak or seek the truth.

      They say the truth will set you free....well first you have to free the truth.

      January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRegan

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