Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot and critically injured by 22-year old Jason Lee Loughner on the morning of Saturday, January 8. This attack is not the first of its kind but it addresses many political and social issues.
The attack brought to light an image displayed on Sarah Palin’s website showing 20 white gun crosshairs over districts with Democratic representatives in traditionally conservative areas who had voted for the health care bill. Three of the crosshairs had been colored red to evoke the idea that the representatives had been “taken care of,” according to Palin, because they were retiring at the end of their terms. Representative Giffords’ district is one of three in Arizona toting a white crosshair.
After seeing this image, it is plausible to consider – Did Tea Party rhetoric, supported by politicians and radio hosts, have something to do with this attack? Or could this be an example of correlation without causation?
You cannot say this [image] caused this,” said UCSB Sociology Professor Victor Rios.
Rios warns against connecting Loughner to this rhetoric, although he believes there are correlations. Rios points to political culture being based on fear as a factor in the attack.
“What he [Loughner] is saying does sound like he’s making sense of the world through a lens, a cultural lens, where he’s been influenced by the larger cultural wars-by extreme left and rights- [and] bringing the worst of two worlds together,” he said. “No matter what side you come from, you can be dangerous. Extremes on either left or right are, in the end, extremes. You can’t say the right-wingers caused it, but we do live in a culture where we base our politics on fear. ”
Ryan Hirschler, a 4th year Military Science and Environmental Studies major and President of Campus Democrats, also said the shooting was not directly fueled by Palin.
“ [Loughner] was a disturbed person”, he said.
Hirschler also pointed out that if Loughner didn’t like Democrats, he would have probably chosen someone more liberal to attack.
“She’s only a moderate Democrat,” he said.
Hirschler also noted that Loughner’s Myspace page listed him as liking books from Mein Kampf to The Communist Manifesto, indicating rather blatantly just how apolitical Loughner seems to be.
Mark Juergensmeyer, Director of the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies and Professor of Global & International Studies, took a slightly more incriminating viewpoint on the situation. Juergensmeyer pointed out that the books may have just been listed to impress people, and that having them there doesn’t indicate if Loughner understood them or even read them.
“He seemed to want to impress people with how intelligent he was. But he clearly had an anti-government streak, which could have been fueled by the Tea Party kind of rhetoric,” he said.
“I think there is no question that the level of strident political rhetoric has the ability to push somewhat unbalanced people over the edge to violence and that the talk show opponents have to take some of the responsibility for the heated political climate.”