I’ve had a weird feeling since Friday morning but I wasn’t expecting this.
I was wandering Brooklyn with a friend yesterday, taking a day to not think about politics, when I got a text that told me what happened. My friend and I kept walking, trying not to think about it because we knew what would happen—there’d be a ton of misinformation, not much real information, and what could we DO?
But that didn’t work. We wound up sitting in a cafe obsessively refreshing Twitter for new updates, and then back at her house in front of MSNBC cursing Luke Russert and still obsessively refreshing Twitter.
The information age: you can get tons of it, and it can all be wrong. Or some of it can be right, and you can get your hands on the shooter’s YouTube page, and you can get screengrabs of the things Sarah Palin’s handlers are desperately trying to scrub from existence, and you can retweet reminders not to use ableist terms to talk about the shooter and you can note that if the shooter was Muslim and a prominent Muslim activist had a map with gun sights over the district on a fundraising page they’d be in jail by now—hell, they’d have been in jail from the moment that website went up.
You can text friends and call friends and talk about what to DO, because you are doers at heart and you want to protest someone, do something, find some way to help or to express that it HURTS.
I don’t know Gabrielle Giffords. I don’t know Judge Roll or the nine-year-old girl, born on 9/11/01, who died yesterday. I don’t know the 20-year-old intern who held her as she bled.
I do know a lot of people who work in politics. I work in political media. And what hits me right now is that this could’ve been any of us. That Gabrielle Giffords was the target but the shooter clearly didn’t care who else he hit.
So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)
And it’s true. You don’t target a politician for nonpolitical reasons (unless, I suppose, you’re a domestic abuser, but even then I think it’s possible to argue that there are links). You don’t go on a shooting spree in public without wanting the public to notice. These attacks are meant to be spectacle. They are meant to attract an audience, rather like school shootings.
In other words: they are acts of terrorism. They are not quiet murders in the dark. No one snuck into Gabrielle Giffords’ house in the middle of the night and dumped her body somewhere it couldn’t be found. This man (and possibly his helpers) targeted a political actor at a political event.
I attend political events. I’d bet that a large portion of the people who read this Tumblr (and actually read my long-winded political posts) attend political events.
Arizona might have been the base of a lot of the worst rhetoric (and indeed, the point I came back to over and over yesterday was “I wish Obama had left Janet Napolitano in the governor’s office there.” Of course we didn’t know how bad it would get, or that Arizona would be Ground Zero, but…) but this stuff is everywhere. I’ve worked politics in South Carolina, which has its own very nasty history—I worked for the Obama campaign there, for chrissakes, worked a Michelle Obama event at a black church in semi-rural SC.
Someone—hell, it might’ve been Ezra Klein—said on Twitter yesterday that the best way to express support and solidarity after this is to go to your congressperson’s next public event. I think I agree with that. “Coherent political argument” or not, this was an attack meant to scare people away from public political expression. This is not “go shopping!” after 9/11. This is “do not dare let them shut you up.”
Because let’s be frank. I’m a huge believer in free speech. I don’t think we should legally restrict Sarah Palin’s ability to say “Don’t retreat, reload!” or post a map with crosshairs on districts. But those kinds of threats are designed to limit speech themselves. They’re designed to make us afraid to say what we mean.
But anyone who’s seen the Tea Party movement evolve knows it was never about “vitriol.” We saw the racist images and slogans being toted around: We knew those weren’t vitriolic, they were racist. In Ohio, I saw the signs on lawns — many signs, multiple lawns — about the 2nd Amendment and how citizens had to form militias when governments became oppressive: Those weren’t vitriolic, those were incitements to and defenses of murderous violence. We heard “lock and load,” we saw “IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND” next to the gun-sight logos, and we knew it wasn’t vitriol: It was an incitement to violence, it was about 1.5 steps away from sic semper tyrannis shouted by a white supremacist with a gun in a theater.
And I mean—most of those people with the signs in Ohio/Arizona/Staten Island don’t take a gun to a congressperson’s rally and shoot her in the head and shoot a nine-year-old child and whomever else happens to be standing around. No. But when this is the climate and this is the side and this is the party that has candidates (women candidates, a point I tried to get at earlier this year) saying “reload” and “armed and dangerous” and “2nd amendment remedies” while the other side is trying to get people to fucking VOTE, well. You have created a world where you make shooting people seem like it might be an acceptable way to make a point.
And when that same country (and both parties, but especially the Republican party) makes it acceptable to invade a country and kill nine-year-old children or charge into homes and kill nine-year-old children and we gloss over those stories because those children aren’t the same ones we care about and neither is this one or so many others.
We have made violence a solution, as a society. It’s not just gun control or the tone of our politics or Arizona. We have created a world in which a gun or another weapon is a justifiable way to make your political opponents go away.