The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the Reality of “Weimar” America

The Assailant: Jared Lee Loughner from his My Space Page

I think that the United States of America has become Weimar Germany before my eyes. We have a very divided and polarized electorate which in each of the last several years bouncing the majority party in Congress out almost every two years. Both major parties have proclaimed their opponents dead and claimed that they had a long term lock on congress only to see that disappear in the next election cycle. Presidents go from massive approval ratings to massive disapproval ratings almost overnight and the constant cry seems to be “throw the bums out.” While this is going on both major parties have cultivated a poisonous political culture which has resulted in the furthest extremes controlling each party while claiming to represent the mainstream. Radio and television commentators, pundits and talk show hosts play to the extremist mentality castigating anyone that deviates from their ideological norm and calling for radical if not violent action to achieve those ends.  Sarah Palin used gun sight crosshairs to “target” Congressmen who voted for Health Care Reform for defeat on her PAC website and others have used the language of violent revolution and bloodshed to further inflame already disgruntled and angry electorate.   During the recent election campaign thugs from both sides used violence and intimidation against their opponent’s rallies and campaign headquarters.

The Target: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Monday

Over the past year I have been writing about the poisonous political environment in the United States and the threat to liberty that it poses. I have specifically written about those that threaten violence and use violent imagery to convey their ideology or political goals.  Today we have seen were such talk leads. We still know little about the assassin Jared Lee Loughner a 22 year old loner with some rather odd beliefs. However from what we have seen on his You Tube and My Space pages it is clear that he was certainly troubled. We don’t know enough yet to do more than speculate about what he actually believes and what led him to shoot Congresswoman Giffords, kill 6 others including Federal Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers and a 9 year old girl and would 11 others.

Assassinated while stopping to say hello after Mass: Judge John Roll

We also now are learning that there is a second suspect who is a according to the Pima County Sherriff a white man in his 50s who allegedly accompanied Loughner to the grocery store where he launched his attack. Reports this evening indicate that Loughner is not talking so there will certainly be more to this story.  It will be interesting and enlightening and potentially frightening to see where the trail leads and what influenced Loughner to attempt to kill Congresswoman Giffords and kill or wound so many more.

Some are already speculating about Loughner’s motivation s and political leanings.  Far right columnists are already trying with very little evidence that Loughner is a left wing extremist.  Aaron Klein of World Net Daily asserts this in a claim based solely on the recollections of a high school classmate who has not seen him for years. Many in the media and on the left posit that he is  a right wing extremist based on his postings about the distrust of the current government, vague references to the Constitution and his support for returning to the Gold Standard.  It is also possible that he is simply a violent man influenced by a wide variety of sources and passions. The fact that he lists Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto as two of his favorite books give the latter some credence as well.

However I would garner from the limited amount of information that Loughner is very unstable.  Like many such people it is entirely plausible that he has swung from one pendulum of radicalism to another. While he may have leaned left in High School it is also very possible that he lurched to the right, influenced by the vitriol of some on the far political right based on the subjects mentioned on his You Tube and My Space pages as I have already noted. I think that may well be what happened. Of course I could be very wrong about this and if so I will own it, but if we look at history there are many cases of mentally unstable people that shift from one extreme to another in relatively short periods of time who turn to violence.  If we add to the picture the fact that after Giffords voted for the Health Care Bill her office was vandalized and was the frequent location of loud and angry protests by members of Arizona’s Tea Party and that at one rally a gun was dropped by an anti-Giffords protestor.

I really think that with things as they are with the violent rhetoric and extreme vitriol that have become a part of everyday political discourse with politicians such as Michelle Bachmann saying things like “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous….having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.” Representative Steve King ranted “Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down.” Talk show hosts have often made even more extreme statements and while these may energize ratings as well as further whip the angry base to come out to rallies and vote.  Some on the left have engaged in similar talk.  Admittedly even the most passionate and angry members of the extreme right or left are not violent people by nature. However there are people, usually on the fringe of such groups that are emotionally unstable and prone to violence that will interpret such language in very literal ways.

Unfortunately we do not yet know what went on in the mind of Jared Loughner’s mind before he went on his killing spee, but I fear that it will not be the last political violence that we see in the coming days and years.  With both sides so invested in demonizing the other it will be hard for them to back down. Rhetoric will certainly remain inflamed as will the passions of the electorate in the new electoral season with the approaching 2012 Presidential Campaign on the horizon.  I fully expect things to get worse and for more people to be killed or injured by violent acts of extremists because rational debate is a thing of the past in our country. We are not far from political groups forming their own armed “security” details for “protection” of their party’s elected officials or candidates, much like those of the Nazis and Communists in Weimar Germany.  We have already seen some of this in the past couple of years but the worst is yet to come. There will be no backing down by either side though for a moment or two in the wake of this attack some cooler heads will prevail until in the coming weeks the ideologues raise the heated rhetoric to new heights.

The sad thing is that Congresswoman Giffords was a moderate and as I have said before moderates are an endangered species. I have been threatened with physical harm by some extremists who have left comments on this website and I have no political power. I found a lot of common ground with Congresswoman Giffords and had I lived in her district I certainly would have voted for her. She was a strong supporter of the military and our military families, she was for immigration reform and married to a Naval Officer serving as an Astronaut, but to the hard core right she was a traitor because she voted for the Health Care bill.  That is why Sarah Palin’s PAC had a gun sight crosshair with her name on it.  I’m sure they did not actually mean for someone to shoot her or any of the other 19 targets congressmen and women but their words and symbols has meaning and some will take such gestures seriously. Congresswoman Giffords said during the recent election campaign: “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.” Unfortunately Gabrielle Giffords was right about that.

I pray like so many others that she Congresswoman Giffords will live and that somehow despite the grievous nature of her wound that she will recover.  If she dies, as Judge Roll already has her death will be mourned by many of her colleagues, constituents and Americans who believe that political extremism has gone too far. However, you can mark my words that there will be some in the coming weeks who will seek to discredit her or Judge Roll and justify what was done to them regardless of Loughner’s motivation or connections be they from the right or left and some from the right are already doing this on posts to various news site articles. We have reached the abyss and I pray that we don’t throw ourselves into it. God help us all.

Padre Steve+

 

5 Comments

Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

5 responses to “The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the Reality of “Weimar” America

  1. Temet Nosce

    The Weimar comparison is looking more apt by the day. And with our exponentially increasing debt and completely bonkers financial policies, the kind of hyperinflation Germany experienced during that era becomes a real possibility (though not a certainty by any means).

    I truly believe things are more fragile socially, politically, and economically in the United States than most people are willing to acknowledge. If there were a large, disruptive event (or series of small to medium sized events), then the stage would be very well set for a charismatic leader to seize power.

    Not to sound pessimistic, but I would not be surprised if this is where the country winds up in a decade or two.

  2. John Erickson

    A large part of what happened is due to “sound bytes”, as I discussed a while ago somewhere. (Maybe on a different thread here – memory fails me.) As modern life fragments people’s attention, more effort is required to pull that attention in a certain direction. Movies have quickly grown hideously bloody. Pundits no longer chat or debate; they yell and scream. You can’t just post a measured, reasoned argument against someone’s beliefs, you have to demonise them and act as if they were out to kill you, literally. Crosshairs, hitlists, even the phrase “targeted opposition” are all shock-jock style phrases. The biggest player in this whole mess is the media. If we censor people talking about “eliminating” the opposition, if we turn off those on the TV yelling loudest, if we just PAY ATTENTION to the news, rather than “scanning” it, then we stand a chance. There will always be lunatics out there shooting at people – Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield were murdered before Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman’s grandfathers were born. But we the public, with out Blackberry-driven, “Chat Roulette” lifestyle, must take some blame as well. Sound bytes aren’t news; pundits have become “entertainment”; real news is getting harder to find. But it’s there, in old-timey newspapers, on TV from the American networks or the BBC or German Deutsche Welle TV, and all over the Internet. Politics is a contact sport – the public MUST get off the sidelines and get into the mix by getting informed. Otherwise, pull out those torches and get your jackboots polished – we may end up remembering the 80th anniversary of the Nuremburg rallies with the Newark or Norfolk rally.

    • padresteve

      John
      It is sad to see the level that our political discourse has sunk to over the past 20 years. I think that people like Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy would spin in their graves if they knew the level to which we have sunk.
      Peace
      Steve+

  3. John Erickson

    Oh rats! That’s supposed to be “OUR Blackberry-driven etc.”, not “OUT Blackberry-driven etc.”. Sorry, Padre – I need a new keyboard!

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