American Culture

Our latest tragic shooting: who's to blame?

Another church shooting, this time in Knoxville. By now you’ve probably read the accounts and know that the shooter, Jim Adkisson, was motivated by, among other things, an apparent hatred of “liberals.”

Before diving too much deeper, there are a couple things we can probably safely say about Adkisson. First, these weren’t the actions of a rational man. Rational people don’t wade into crowds of people attempting to kill as many as possible.

So whatever else may have been at play, and no doubt the causes were many and complex, let’s be clear that we’re dealing with a disturbed individual.

Second, Adkisson probably wasn’t a terribly smart man. Or, at the least, he wasn’t a thoughtful one. For instance:

  • he was upset that he couldn’t find a job;
  • he felt this was due in part to his age;
  • his food stamps had recently been cut;

A thoughtful man might have had a hard time looking at the economy of the past few years and concluding that “liberals” were responsible for shrinking job opportunities. A thoughtful man would have realized that “liberal” policies on age discrimination would generally weigh in his favor. And a man capable of mustering up one stray coherent thought in a month would certainly notice that food stamps are a “liberal” program – so being upset at them being cut would seem at least a little hypocritical.

There’s a lot we don’t yet know about Adkisson, and a lot we may never know. We don’t know, for instance, where he got his information about the world, its politics and its economics. (Although, based on what we do know, we might hazard a guess or two.) We don’t know if he listened to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage or Laura Ingraham or if he watched Bill O’Reilly. We don’t know if his views on personal and family issues were shaped by harpies like Laura Schlesinger. We don’t know how often the politicians he was aware of said things that a twisted mind might interpret as “libruls are of the devil.” Or, for that matter, how often those politicians said those things in more or less those exact words.

We don’t even know, when push comes to shove, if Adkisson could have articulated the meaning of the word “liberal.” I’m guessing not, honestly, because my experience of people whose hate is framed by labels is that their hatred is driven by knee-buckling ignorance, not knowledge.

There are things we do know, though. We know that we live in a society where people have been encouraged, at every turn, to define those they don’t understand with prefabricated labels like “liberal.” They’ve been encouraged to believe that these others are bad humans who are responsible for everything wrong in the world, even when the alleged responsibility isn’t even barely plausible. They’ve been taught that complex problems result from simple causes and that the solutions are simpler yet.

The always-insightful Sara Robinson has this to say:

After 25 years of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric about liberal hunting licenses and scaring us out of our treason and keeping a few of us alive as museum exhibits, it’s natural that some of us would jump to the thought that maybe, at long last, somebody finally decided to grab a shotgun and go bag himself some libruls — and decided (not unreasonably) that down at the local UU church, they’d be as thick on the ground as quail on one of Dick Cheney’s private hunting trips.

It would be simplistic and wrong-headed of me to blame a particular person or institution for Adkisson’s actions. I don’t know what Rush had to say last week – although I’m sure it was hateful and stupid – but Rush didn’t load up the shotgun and pull the trigger.

However, Rush is one of the people who has helped poison the waters in the sea that is American culture. FOX “News” and its hatefuck parade of gleefully toxic talking heads have dumped billions of gallons of rhetorical bile into the streams feeding the ocean of public opinion. Karl Rove has taught a new generation of bright-eyed Typhoid Marys to bathe in the waters that the rest of us drink.

Jim Adkisson was an unbalanced man, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before he snapped. But two questions to ponder: first, who created the conditions that hastened the snap? And second, when the train jumped the tracks, who created the bogeyman that the diseased brain latched onto as the cause of all the pain?

I can’t tell you who to point to specifically if you need to blame somebody. But I can tell you that yesterday’s tragedy at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church occurred in a context, a known and knowable context. His reasons strike us as familiar because they are. Every day for the past 30 years we’ve heard words like these – on talk radio, on right-wing propaganda outlets like FOX, on blogs aimed at dividing and conquering we the people, from the mouths of sub-human politicians who’ll do anything to assure their spot at the trough. And eventually, from the mouths of ordinary citizens who have been systematically denied the kinds of educational programs necessary to inoculate them against these obscenities, which to the genuinely critical mind are so transparent as to be invisible.

I can tell you that while there’s no way to point at one person, it’s easy to point at those who worked together to poison the well from which Jim Adkisson drank. Limbaugh. Rove. Savage. Schlesinger. Murdoch. Helms. Falwell. Robertson. Dobson. O’Reilly. Phelps. Matalin. Ingraham. Coulter. Hannity. Beck. Bush. The list goes on for quite awhile, but these are some of the bigger names.

There’s also ample blame for the dolts in charge at CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, USA Today, and hundreds of local papers and stations around the country, because you ignorantly parroted their lies in the name of “balance.”

Adkisson is on you. All of you. And while yesterday might prove, mercifully, to be the last event of its kind that we ever see, only a moron would bet on it.


UPDATE: In other places around the ‘sphere I’m hearing this caution: we have to be careful – we can’t try and link the shooter with the right-wing hate machine until we know that he was listening to them. As I think I indicate above, it’s not about showing direct cause, it’s about describing the context. I’m a culturalist, and we’re not afraid of a little complexity.

However, if that approach fails to satisfy some simplistic need for “proof,” then check this:

Inside the house, officers found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

Gee. I’m stunned.

25 replies »

  1. Pingback: www.buzzflash.net
  2. I really like this passage:

    “They’ve been encouraged to believe that these others are bad humans who are responsible for everything wrong in the world, even when the alleged responsibility isn’t even barely plausible. They’ve been taught that complex problems result from simple causes and that the solutions are simpler yet.”

    Unfortunately there are mirror images of this on the far left as well and these individuals can be just as dangerous. We need to admit our problems ARE complicated and we must face them anyway. I recently read the book “The Thirteen American Arguments” that hits on this idea. The link below offers a good review of the book.
    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/04/quarrelsome_nation_the_thirtee.html

    Another well written post on a great blog. Thanks you guys!

  3. Thanks, Bob. While I agree that there are ideologies that … lack nuance? … across the board, I’d also note that here in the US we don’t really have anything on the left that mirrors the virulence of the right. At least, not in any numbers. Media Matters may be as far left as FOX is right, but they’re not putting out anything that would serve as a manifesto for the mass murder of conservatives, either.

    That’s a point that matters.

  4. Hello again folks. This is a serious tragedy. This unbalanced and psychotic individual did our community great harm on Sunday. He killed people who have had a great influence on our social fabric and who have exercised their principals and their beliefs in socially bettering ways.

    He was not a product of bitter partizan politics any more than the rantings of the left’s “Kill Bush” crowd has produced assassins who would attempt to kill the president. He searched for and found justifications for his actions in the popular press. He acted on his paranoid fantasies and killed decent people of our community.

    He is certain to be found mentally disturbed, and may never spend any more time unincarcerated. One would hope.

    He did nothing that anyone in the political discourse universe that is our present system can condone. Not on the right and not on the left. He is not a “cause celeb” for gun control or mental health funding or drug company support or ANYTHING! He is a sick individual whose behavior should be condemned on that basis alone.

    I would hope that your prayers and support would follow for our citizens who have lost loved ones due to this event. I would hope that your condemnation would follow on his head. I would hope for a world that is a better place than this person found it to be. I will not however hold my breath while I hope, nor will I cease to work for such a place.

    My $.02 worth

  5. Bob and vlad:

    I disagree with both of you. Bob, there was a time in the country when the left was the more violent of the two extremes: the 1960s and early 70s (though the Ku Klux Klan, Chicago police, etc. certainly gave the SLA, Weathermen, Black Panthers, et. al. a run for their money). That time has long past. It’s the right (Timothy McVeigh, white supremacist groups, Adkisson) that perpetrate most, if not all, of the domestic violence and terrorism these days. And, like Slammy says, there is simply not a left equivalent for Coulter, Savage, Limbaugh, O’Brien, Hannity, and their ilk. They PREY on hate.

    Sure, the hate was there before they started, but they amplify and focus it the way the Nazis found German anti-Semitism and amplified and focused it.

  6. Just to stir the pot, and just because I like pushin’ Slammy’s buttons, isn’t this like saying Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade causes people to go out and kill people? ***ducks and runs for cover***

  7. Yes, Mike, it’s exactly the same. Because D&D tells you that real people who live next door to you are evil and sub-human if they disagree with Rush Limbaugh and we’d be better off if they were all dead.

    Good analogy.

  8. Where, in any of those publications you listed that were found in this guys house, does it actually advocate killing “libruls”? Whereas, to the off-balanced, unstable people who might be influenced by something as harmless as D&D, the neighbors ARE subhuman…

    In both cases, it requires someone who’s already nuts, and who believes what they want to believe, filling in the blanks as they see fit.

    Now, if this guy was basing his actions on something like say, Mein Kampf, then, maybe I’d agree with you.

  9. Mike, have you ever listened to people like Savage, Coulter, Hannity and O’Reilly?

    Let’s remember something – I’M the one who said, quite explicitly, that causes in cases like this are complex and that the guy was off the rails. Please, you want to argue, argue with the argument I MADE. Don’t pretend I’m saying something I’m not, especially if you’re then going to use MY argument as though you’re the one who introduced it in the first place.

  10. My point about D&D and other RPGs is that there actually ARE discussions and rationales and “rules” for killing your opponents.

    Yeah, I have listen to some of them. Well, mostly O’Reilly and Beck. The others don’t really talk so much as yell their arguments so I tune them out. I’ll agree that much of what they say is disagreeable. But I don’t see them actively advocating killing anyone. That’s ridiculous. At worst, I find that the parts you find most objectionable are (much like the New Yorker cover) very bad attempts at satire.

  11. Mike, you’re actively ducking the point. If I can teach a nation to hate a group of people, I don’t HAVE to teach them to kill.

    But let’s flip this around a bit. Let me ask YOU a question. We know the killer hated libruls. We know he set out to kill as many as he could. And we know that he was reading some books that fostered – at the least – a grave dehumanization of this group of people.

    Explain why you don’t think there’s any relationship between these facts at all, if you would.

  12. There’s a big difference between teaching hate/dehumanization and arguing that someone is dangerously wrong. I simply don’t see O’Reilly or Beck teaching hate. I see them arguing about ideas with which they disagree strongly. If anything, I find that healthy in a democracy. That’s what we’re SUPPOSED to do.

    As for the connection between this killer and his choice of reading material, I still think it’s no different from finding a nutcase who had a house full of RPGs. What if they find that this guy printed out your blog from several months ago about how it’s “consistent” (however wrong) for the pro-life faction to be going after doctors who perform abortions and wallpapered his house with it? Ridiculous, right? But in both cases, it is/would be the actions of a madman. And in both cases, his choice in reading material would be blamed for his actions.

    BTW, do we know that this guy’s definition of a “librul” worth killing was really ALL libruls, or those who were pro-LBGT and/or pro-choice? I’m guessing that there is a reason he specifically went after a church, but I don’t really know.

  13. I simply don’t see O’Reilly or Beck teaching hate. I see them arguing about ideas with which they disagree strongly. If anything, I find that healthy in a democracy. That’s what we’re SUPPOSED to do.

    Mike, I barely know what to say to you right now.

    Here at S&R we present ideas that others disagree with and we disagree with others’ ideas strongly. We do so in a generally informed manner that is, as best I can tell, in keeping with what a democracy ought to be.

    It sounds like you believe we’re no different than Bill O’Reilly. We have some rules about commenting, to be sure – you come in here race-baiting and you’re gone – but we don’t scream at you for disagreeing with us before you have a chance to express your ideas. We don’t cut off your mic the instant you fail to toe our line. We don’t call you prefabricated names because you’re a member of a different political party. And we don’t write books explain that half the population is mentally ill.

    There ARE conservatives out there who fit the bill you’re describing. I detest George Will, for instance, but you’ll notice I didn’t include his name. Our own whythawk comes from a radically different political and economic direction than I do, but we LOVE him. We have commenters here that we barely agree with on anything – Jeff, for example – and we argue with them, sometimes vehemently. But point me to the behavior that comes anywhere close to what we get, on a daily basis, from these people.

    I guess it’s conceivable that there’s somebody out there so twisted that they could shoot up a public meeting and when their home was searched it would be clear they’d been reading S&R. Anything is possible. But if you think the chances of that happening are anywhere near the chances of what happened Sunday repeating itself, well, you’re my friend and I love you, but you’ve lost your goddamned mind.

  14. We just had an earthquake, so maybe the gods are trying to tell me something. 🙂

    But, seriously. IF you had the same readership as someone like O’Reily or Beck, yes, I believe 100% that some of what you say here could somehow be linked to someone doing something as stupid along the lines of what this guy did. It’s like a batshit crazy Manson believing he should start a race war because a lyric in a Beatles song. Or Chapman killing Lennon. It’s a consequence of having a big ass soap box.

    I watch these guys at least as much as I watch/listen to CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and NPR. I even put up with Rush on occasion (although I can’t stand more than about 15 minutes of his monologue at the start of his show). When taken in the context of the entire conversation, I simply don’t see what you’re calling “race baiting” or anything hateful as that. I see them arguing issues that oftentimes has race as a factor, but I have NEVER heard them say anything resembling superiority of one race over another.

    The only time they’ve come close is when talking about religion, gays, or abortion. But even then, as much as I vehemently disagree with what they are saying, I don’t feel that they are advocating any sort of violence against these populations.

  15. But, seriously. IF you had the same readership as someone like O’Reily or Beck, yes, I believe 100% that some of what you say here could somehow be linked to someone doing something as stupid along the lines of what this guy did.

    Uhhh, Mike – I know you realize that you wouldn’t HAVE an audience like that if you weren’t chumming the waters, right?

    It’s like a batshit crazy Manson believing he should start a race war because a lyric in a Beatles song. Or Chapman killing Lennon. It’s a consequence of having a big ass soap box.

    To some degree, sure. If people will kill in the name of God, they’ll kill in pretty much ANYBODY’S name if they’re sufficiently cranked. But there’s an important distinction to understand. When you twist a message of love and peace, well, it’s all on you and your particular psychosis. That’s illness and nothing else. But when you kill in the name of a message of hatred, marginalization and divisiveness, then there an alignment of inner dysfunction and external message.

    Say everybody is rated from 0-100 on crazyness. 100 is the person who’d kill babies because Mother Teresa’s ghost was ordering him to, and 0 is the person who’d die before intentionally stepping on an ant. Maybe at the far end – 97-100 – external factors cease to matter because you’re just that batshit crazy. But maybe if you’re 90-96, maybe then there’s an interplay. You’re crazy on your own, but in the absence of a toxicity in the media environment you don’t snap.

    Causation is a complex soup – you’re a scientist so I won’t lecture you on what you already know. In some cases it can take five or six or more factors in just the right proportion before things go kablooie. Take any one of those factors out – no kaboom.

    I watch these guys at least as much as I watch/listen to CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and NPR. I even put up with Rush on occasion (although I can’t stand more than about 15 minutes of his monologue at the start of his show). When taken in the context of the entire conversation, I simply don’t see what you’re calling “race baiting” or anything hateful as that. I see them arguing issues that oftentimes has race as a factor, but I have NEVER heard them say anything resembling superiority of one race over another.

    So you wouldn’t be bothered by Rush telling a black caller to take the bone out of his nose?

    The only time they’ve come close is when talking about religion, gays, or abortion. But even then, as much as I vehemently disagree with what they are saying, I don’t feel that they are advocating any sort of violence against these populations.

    You’re still not listening. I didn’t say they “advocated violence.” I said their words demean and dehumanize people by category – in a way that both relies on and fosters further ignorance. I don’t ever have to advocate violence against a particular group – just let me control what they hear and the violence will take care of itself.

  16. Jesh. I really need to get some work done today. 🙂

    What was the context of that comment from Rush? Yes, it matters to me. I’m guessing that there was a reason for the comment. That was why I said earlier that these guys sometime make bad, failed attempts at satire or sarcasm. If this was a “Nappy headed ho” Imus moment, then fine. You win that point. I just don’t know. But I doubt it.

    By the way, Google “Bo” Snerdly. That’s the guy that screens which callers get through to Rush. It is entirely possible that this guy is the Rush version of Uncle Ruckus, but I seriously doubt it.

  17. I’m a UU. And, right now, I’m a really ANGRY UU.

    I’ve been so angry about this, I’ve had a hard time formulating a response.

    I’m glad someone has labeled Adkisson a “Conservative Terrorist.” If he were a Muslim, he certainly would be labeled as such and the story would still be the lead.

    Was Adkisson so completely brainwashed that he believed he could walk into a liberal church with a shotgun and 76 shells and everyone would just line up and wait for him to reload? Oh, that’s right. We’re weak! We’re weak because we’re opposed to the war and violence in general. We’re weak because we’re gay or lesbian or supportive of those who are. We’re liberals, so, naturally, we’re weak and we’ll just roll over and play dead in the face of strong, conservative, he-man masculinity until he gets around to making our deaths reality.

    Sure, Adkisson had copies of O’Reilly, Savage, and Hannity. I’d be interested in Rush’s recent comments as well—I’m sure they’re in keeping with his long-history of hatred.

    But there’s one thing we can be sure of: O’Reilly, Savage, and Hannity will vehemently deny being any kind of an influence. So will Rush. They never seriously suggested that Adkisson, or any other red-blooded American male, really pull the trigger on the enemies of America. No, they never meant THAT to happen. But they’ll relish the spotlight they’ll recieve for their denials and protestations.

    Chickens, the lot of them. At least Osama takes credit for the terrorism he inspires.

  18. Is anyone else thinking about the connection between this story and Russ’s latest post about the making of terrorists? Desperation, ignorance, lack of opportunity, and a pervasive campaign of misinformation and blame to redirect that rage toward a specific group of people?

    None of the “legitimate” talking heads are issuing explicit directives to go kill a liberal, it’s true. But their hatred is hardly subtle; it can’t be. Subtlety doesn’t sell advertising or rally huge audiences. Complexity is tiring. Empathy is uncomfortable. Scapegoats, easy answers, someone to blame who’s not ourselves: that’s what we want, apparently, because that’s what we listen to and watch… by the millions. Hard to believe.

    I know this man is unbalanced. I believe in personal responsibility and accountability as an individual. But it runs all the way up the ladder, from crazed shooters to hate-mongering attention whores to profit-obsessed media execs. And right back around to us.

  19. Wow…lots of comments.

    Dr. Slammy, I agree that the left is not as extreme at the moment, but my point was more of the myopic view that both sides can take. There are people who will disagree with anything said by the other side.

    I have never voted for anyone other than a Republican un my life (I’m 38) but have been betrayed by the incompetence and shenanigans of the present administration. What burns me is the fact that these commentators couldn’t admit when Bush was wrong or when the Dem’s were right. This is what I was talking about, we need people who aren’t afraid to read both the NY Times and the Washington Times, understanding that both come from opposite views and that both are occasionally right and occasionally full of hot air.

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