Very few Americans are fans of both The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kamp, as the Tucson killer, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, apparently was. Fewer still post on the Internet fears about “brain washing,” “mind control,” and “conscience dreaming”; have a long record of public disruption and aberrant behavior; were expelled from community college; or were summarily rejected for military service.
No matter. Almost immediately following Loughner’s cowardly murdering of six and wounding of 14 including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, pundits and some public figures rushed to locate his rampage, together with his paranoid rantings about government control, within the larger landscape of right-wing politics — especially the rhetoric of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
Apparently, we are supposed to believe that Loughner’s unhinged rants about the “government” indict those who express reasonable reservations about the size of government as veritable accessories to mass murder. The three worst offenders were Paul Daly of the New York Daily News
, who claimed just that in an essay with the raging headline “The blood of Congresswoman Giffords was on Sarah Palin’s hands”; the ubiquitous Paul Krugman, who connected Loughner to the supposedly Republican-created “climate of hate”; and Andrew Sullivan, who thought he saw yet another avenue through which to further his own blind antipathy toward Sarah Palin and “the Palin forces.” In their warped syllogism, the Tea Party unquestionably creates hatred; a congresswomen was shot out of hatred; ergo, the Tea Party and/or the Republican party all but pulled the trigger.
That the 22-year-old shooter more likely fit the profile of an unhinged killer like Ted Kaczynski or John Hinckley did not seem to register. In the wake of the Kennedy assassination, commentators pontificated about a right-wing “climate of hate” in Dallas, Texas, that supposedly explained why a crazed avowed Communist — pro-Soviet, Castroite 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald — shot President Kennedy. Suddenly, this week, we are back in a 1963 mood of blaming politics for deranged shootings.
In the times of national uncertainty and fear that immediately follow hideous mass shootings, this cheap habit of channeling insanity into politics always surfaces but never convinces — as we learned from the deplorable tactic of blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on conservative talk radio. There is usually no clear-cut evidence that a shooter’s ideology has trumped his own imbalances; and we are never quite sure what outside stimulus is the deciding factor that pushes the unhinged over the edge from sounding like a nut on MySpace or YouTube into pulling the trigger.
Loughner was no John Wilkes Booth or James Earl Ray, whose bouts of insanity and past troubles seemed overshadowed by a virulent hatred of the men they shot, which in turn was driven largely by racism or sectarian hatred. But even in such seemingly clear-cut examples of political assassination as Booth’s small cabal, we do not quite see a Day of the Jackal–like cold professionalism, funded by nefarious and well-organized political organizations. Plenty of southerners wanted Lincoln dead by spring 1864; scores of racists shared the sentiments of Ray toward Martin Luther King. But while both killers carefully planned their shootings, it is far harder to uncover elaborate conspiracies that used Booth and Ray as mere triggermen than to discover that both were troubled, sick, and often violent characters whose demonic furies turned their own political extremism into carefully calculated murders.
Further, there is no evidence that political killers share a common ideology. For every apparently right-wing Timothy McVeigh there is a left-wing Ted Kaczynski; both exhibited a sort of mental derangement in their braggadocio about extreme politics. The Sixties culture of drugs, permissiveness, national liberation, radical politics, and environmentalism no more made the Palestinian extremist Sirhan Sihran assassinate Bobby Kennedy, or Charles Manson follower Squeaky Fromme try to kill President Ford, or pop socialist and cult preacher the Rev. Jim Jones order the execution of Rep. Leo Ryan, or Arthur Bremmer shoot the “segregationist dinosaur” George Wallace, than right-wing politics drove on the equally deranged Jared Lee Loughner.