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Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and Death of Others: Violence Has No Place in a Democracy

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Palin's "hit list" which was circulated in 2010 "targeted" congress people like Giffords. by Alyce Santoro

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday. While meeting with constituents, an assailant, who has now been identified as Jared Lee Loughner, fired shots killing six people and wounding 13 others. One killed was a 9-year-old child.

With the presence of the Internet and the existence of Twitter and Facebook, it did not take long for many Americans to suggest certain rhetoric and symbolism used by figures like Sarah Palin and Giffords' former Republican opponent Jesse Kelly could be connected to the violence. Palin had circulated a "hit list" of political targets, which included Giffords. A map had been circulated and, where the congresswomen to be "targeted" were located, targeting crosshairs were placed. And, Kelly in June 2010 had organized an event where supporters could shoot assault rifles with Kelly. A promotional advertisement for the event said, "Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."

In March 2010, Giffords shared her belief that Palin's rhetoric could have "consequences." The list she appeared on and Palin's use of "reload" and "take aim" led her to say, "The thing is, the way that she has it depicted -- the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district -- when people do that, they've got to realize that there's consequences for that action."

Lest one think that liberals and avid watchers of MSNBC are the only ones suggesting Palin and others might have played a role in creating a climate that could produce violence in Arizona, Sheriff Dupnik during a press conference said without hesitation, "But, again when you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that come out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, I think Arizona has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

"There's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And, I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," added Sheriff Dupnik.

There are questions to be addressed and raised, many which Keith Olbermann in his "Special Comment" on the shootings on Saturday at least partially illuminated. Olbermann declared, "We need to put the guns down. Just as importantly, we need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently." He suggested that "left, right, middle -" politicians and citizens -" sane and insane" must end their acceptance of "'targeting' of political opponents and putting bullseyes over their faces" and end "the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows." And, in conclusion, he clearly stated, "Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans."

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Olbermann took responsibility for saying something that could have led to violence in the same way that Palin's rhetoric could have played a role in escalating the climate of violence in Arizona. He apologized to Hillary Clinton for uttering such a remark. And, he urged other talk radio personalities and pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck to take this opportunity to apologize for possibly feeding into a climate where someone might find it permissible to act out violently.

There is clear indication that the "far-right" in this country, or whatever you want to call them, have escalated their rhetoric to the point where individuals are feeling like there is nothing else they can do but arm themselves and defend their country from people who might "forsake" this country's traditions, this country's so-called history of freedom and liberty. Individuals have been taking drastic violent action against abortion doctors like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. They have been acting out violently against Muslims, whom they believe to hate America for its freedom. And, they have joined outfits like the Minutemen on the Mexican border to help border patrol and shoot down "illegals," who they see crossing the border.

The GOP has consciously been using hate speech to win votes and move citizens to act in a manner that can serve their interests. They are experts at waging a culture war and unfortunately the Democrats are expert at laying low and letting the GOP and talk radio pundits say whatever they please as if it might have no impact, as if Americans could not possibly take what is being said seriously.

As indicated in this situation, as indicated with Dr. Tiller's assassination, as indicated in instances of violence against Muslims after 9/11, or as demonstrated by the Oklahoma City bombing, all it takes is a few unstable or completely rational people and violence can take place. The violence does not take place in a vacuum. People do not just commit violence to commit violence (usually). They commit violence out of desperation, they commit violence out of fear, they commit violence in defense of beliefs, and they commit violence because they feel threatened and think it is time to act in order to save their selves or in some cases the country they love dearly.

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Olbermann is righteous when he says, "violence has no place" in a democracy. But, of course, that presumes America is a functioning democracy. For people in this country, primarily, democracy works for moneyed interests, for the top 1%, for those who enjoy concentrated wealth that has been redistributed to the top from the bottom over the past decades. It works for those who are able to influence power and make decisions and launch wars, which many poor people go off to fight thinking what they are doing is practical and the only way to have a future in America. It works for people who are not struggling to make ends meets. It works for people who aren't suffering from mental issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. But, rarely do Americans admit that government is less responsive to lower classes and minorities and more responsive to corporations and the rich.

It is easy to say that violence should be condemned. But, there must be some level of empathy for the fact that there are policies in this country pushing Americans to the brink. That is what Ted Rall, who recently wrote The Anti-American Manifesto, sought to communicate. And, while I do not believe he should have appeared on television and Dylan Ratigan should not have advocated for violence, the objective situation in America that Rall and Ratigan laid out in a segment that aired in 2010 makes it hard to ignore the fact that the failure of politics, the rigged nature of the system, is producing unstable American people who take violent action because they believe they have no choice.

It is easy to characterize Loughner as unstable and irrational. It is less easy to entirely dismiss Joseph Stack, who flew an airplane into an IRS building in Texas in 2010.

Appearing on Democracy Now! in May of 2010, MIT professor Noam Chomsky explained:

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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