Jared Loughner

Americans reading the news last week may have been surprised to learn that Anders Behring Breivik—the man who has admitted to killing 76 people in twin attacks in Norway on July 22—currently faces a maximum initial sentence of just 21 years in prison. Timothy McVeigh, in contrast, was found guilty on eleven counts for killing 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and he was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

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-- Jon Cohn once again explains how health care repeal would cost money. -- Meet Reince Priebus. -- The Onion: pundits prove surprisingly adept at analyzing Jared Loughner.

The President’s speech last night was beautiful but ultimately, a magnificent punt. It was brave for Obama to crisply dismiss the idea that partisan rhetoric is what drove Jared Loughner to kill, given how much currency that idea now has among the bien-pensant kinds of people who elected him.

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[Guest post by James Downie:] Like Jon, I have a hard time connecting right-wing rhetoric to the shooting in Tucson. Yes, the half-term governor of Alaska and Murdoch’s propaganda machine have contributed more than the left to a “climate of hate.” But to tie that climate to Loughner, one has to resort to assumptions, without a direct connection, which have allowed conservatives room to claim innocence.

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Closing the Gap

When Jared Loughner walked into the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, Arizona, to purchase a Glock 19 on November 30, 2010, he had every right to walk out the legal owner of the semi-automatic handgun. In hindsight, after he used that weapon to kill six innocent people and wound more than a dozen during an attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it is easy to question that sale. Given current U.S. gun laws, however, there was no reason to prohibit the transaction.

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Several friends have written in about my item arguing that Jared Loughner is not related to right-wing extremism. The objection, in a nutshell, is, don't you agree that right-wing rage is a serious problem? I think it is a serious problem. I also think, despite the attempts of numerous Republicans to draw equivalences, that it's a far more serious problem than anything that occurred under George W. Bush. critics have focused on violent language and birtherism on the right. But there's a deeper radicalism hiding in plain sight.

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Okay, it's a little over the top for Sarah Palin to accuse her critics of "blood libel." But she does have a basic point. She had nothing to do with Jared Loughner. He was not an extremist who embraced some radical version of her ideas. And her use of targets to identify districts Republicans were, um, targetting is not exceptional or prone to incite anybody. What's happening is that Palin has come to represent unhinged grassroots conservatism, and people in the media immediately (and incorrectly) associated Loughner with the far right.

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After Arizona

Nothing is harder to achieve in a time of turbulence than clarity. In an inflamed moment, there may be no greater public service than the drawing of a distinction. In 1953, for example, Sidney Hook published a book called Heresy, Yes—Conspiracy, No. His subject was the threat posed by communism, and his argument was that an open society needed to distinguish between heresy, which was to be celebrated, and conspiracy, which was to be condemned and fought. In the aftermath of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, we could use a similar distinction. The one we propose is: Incivility, yes.

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After the horrible tragedy in Tucson, many are rightly criticizing Sarah Palin’s use of crosshairs on a campaign map showing the districts represented by members of Congress she wanted to oust in 2010, including that of Gabrielle Giffords. It isn’t the only example of Palin’s penchant for inflammatory imagery or language.

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Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified. The mania of Giffords's would-be assassin may be slightly more right-wing than left-wing, but, on the whole, it is largely disconnected from even loosely organized extreme right-wing politics. The rhetorical attempts to connect Jared Loughner to mainstream politics take two forms, neither convincing. One is to condemn the use of combat metaphors in politics, such as Sarah Palin's web page superimposing gunsights upon Democratic districts targeted by the GOP.

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