Monday, January 10, 2011

Jared Lee Loughner...

... was an unusual man with unusual political beliefs that could be called right-wing (his interest in a currency backed by gold and on the unconstitutionality of community colleges) but very different from most right-wing political beliefs. There are two general ways that politics may have played a role in his attempt to kill Gabrielle Giffords and his murders of the other people at her meeting. One is that in his mind, his very unusual political beliefs went along with other motivations to lead him to try to kill his local Democratic member of Congress. This does not seem unlikely Ross Douthat writes: Violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that’s far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue — a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast. Douthat is downplaying the role of politics, but he is acknowledging its possibility.

The other way that politics may have played a role is that he was inspired by the militant language and imagery of less unusual right-wing politics. Clearly, it is neither the conscious object nor a known practically certain result of less unusual right-wing politics to shoot members of Congress in the head, so there is no intent to create a danger for polticians in this way. But could there still be a strong influence from rhetoric to act? It seems possible, but it must be remembered that troubled people (whether or not they are insane) can interpret statements in ways that cannot be predicted by the people who make the statements, often with tragic results that it may not be fair to blame on the people who make the statements.

A person may want to be against the extreme right because of the tendency of people with unusual versions of right-wing political beliefs, like Loughner, or James Von Brunn the Holocaust Museum shooter, or the suicide bomber of the IRS office in Texas, along with less obviously political examples of violence that a person may decide to go against the right-wing to make these people feel worse about themselves. That being said, it would be unfair to ignore other poltically motivated violence. the violence of Islamic extremists is more severe and more common, even in America recently with the attempted explosion at Times Square, the shooting at the army base in Texas, and the shooting at a military recruiting center in Arkansas (along with the sting operations by the FBI catching MUslims trying to blow up a Christmas tree in Oregon and a military recruiting center in Maryland). James Lee took hostages at the Discovery Channel because he was against about population growth, making him like an environmentalist terrorist. The quasi-political violence of Omar Thornton, the African-American who murdered his ex-co-workers and complained about their racism after getting fired for stealing from his job, was treated by the media with something that was almost like sympathy as his claims of racism were then investigated by the media.

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