Sunday, January 09, 2011

Politically-Motivated Assassination in Arizona

It is dangerous to have rhetoric of talking about "taking out" political opponents and having political campaign rallies in which people shoot guns at targets (I find it difficult to believe reports that Gabrielle Giffords' opponent in the 2010 mid-terms actually had supporters shoot at photos of Gabrielle in a campaign rally—that must surely be an exaggeration). The hateful partisan rhetoric, using violent imagery, is most dangerous because in a nation with over 200 million adults, some fraction are unbalanced, and suffer from disorganized thinking, delusions, and perhaps hallucinations, and some fraction of these persons are highly suggestible, and some fraction of those highly suggestible persons with psychotic disorders will pay attention to the hateful rhetoric with violent imagery, and take it seriously and literally.

There is also a danger that persons who are cunning and calculating and not suffering from a diagnosable mental illness will be pulled into conspiracies to assassinate or act violently against our democratic system and political figures with whom they disagree, but it always seems to me that poisonous rhetoric is most likely to poison persons who minds are weak and vulnerable, as Jared Lee Loughner's mind clearly was. Some terrorists, whether claiming Islamic or Christian religious identity or no religious identity, have had loose connections to reality in their minds (think of Michael Enright and Zacharias Moussawi).

Judge Roll, who was assassinated, had been threatened, and local Arizona rhetoric against him was very heated. This was partly because he had presided over a court case in which undocumented immigrants were suing an Arizona rancher. It seems possible that someone older (and less mentally disorganized) person helped Jared Loughner get to the rally.

This reminds me of the reaction to Timothy McVeigh's terrorism, where people talked about how bad the anti-government rhetoric had become, and suggested it be toned down. Really, we ought to instill in Americans a sense of disgust with rhetoric that crosses a certain line, so that hate-mongering demagogues wouldn't be so popular. The quality of public debate and rhetoric ought to be a subject for consideration in middle school and high school, and perhaps even elementary school.

Christina Taylor Green, 9-years-old, wanted to go to college and learn how to help people. Maybe she would have been a social worker, a nurse, or a lawyer. She was recently elected to her student council, and this interest in leadership and being an elected representative might have inspired her to go see her congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Christina was evidently born on September 11, 2001. Her uncle, Greg Segalini described her as, "real special and real sweet."

Another person killed in the assassination was Gabe Zimmerman, a social worker with an MSW, who worked as Gabrielle's community outreach worker. I will certainly mention him and describe his life and work to my future classes of students in social welfare policy or community organizing. "He had a heart for people" said Doug Hart.

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