It's 4:40 pm on Saturday, January 8, and I'm in the car, waiting for my son. It was a relaxing Saturday oriented around sports and family.
My cell phone rings, and it's an unfamiliar number, so I let it go into voice mail, as I usually do with numbers I don't recognize. I continue reading my book when, a few minutes later, the phone rings again with the same number. With only a few pages left, I hold off listening to the voice mail and read on.
I finally get a chance to listen to the message a few minutes before 5 pm. It's from a local TV station, and they want to know what I, as a Tea Party person, think of the shooting rampage aimed at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I am confounded. Not having seen the news, I had no idea what this guy was talking about. In any case, why did he want a statement from a Tea Party person? I immediately suspected that he was trying to connect the two. Before I could even contemplate making any statement, I had to familiarize myself with the facts.
Later that night, after the Jets won and our guests left, I started surfing and watching the news. There wasn't much, but it was clear from Sheriff Dupnik's press conference and a few cyber-hits that many were pointing fingers at the Tea Party. (Surprisingly, I came across an NPR article calling for restraint before making any judgments about political motivations -- a refreshing shocker.) But too much of the rest of the commentary was predictable and pathetic.
By the time I familiarized myself with the incident, it was too late to call the TV station for the five-o'clock news, but at about 9 pm, I received an e-mail from a local radio station asking for my comment. The editor prefaced her request, saying, "I realize there is not yet any known motive for the shooting, but we just thought we'd reach out to you because many have speculated that the shooter may have been politically motivated, including the Congresswoman's dad," who said Gifford's enemies were the entire Tea Party.
She then went on to quote Tea Party Express's Amy Kremer, who said, "Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas. ... An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process. We join with everyone in vociferously condemning it."
The e-mail concluded by asking if I'd "be willing to send [them] a similar statement[.]" At that point, I judged it important to respond as follows:
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of today's sickening and reprehensible massacre and we wish a full recovery to all of those injured. Any speculation or comment at this time about political motivations, from either the left or the right, is premature and unsubstantiated and therefore irresponsible. This is a tragedy for all Americans. If a political motivation should be uncovered, we categorically condemn any violence against anyone for political purposes, as it undermines the political process and creates a chilling effect on our freedoms.
This incident is sickening. A little girl was shot down for no reason in the prime of her life; a highly regarded federal judge stopped by to say hello and met with a fatal gunshot wound instead of time with his friend.
But what is even more sickening is the witch hunt being conducted for nothing more than political gain. Every person who has suggested that this rampage was somehow politically motivated by the Tea Party or that the killer was incited by conservatives, without having even a scintilla of a hint of evidence to back up those claims, owes an apology not only to Tea Partiers and conservatives, but also, most importantly, to the families of the slain and injured, whom they knowingly exploited.
"Hanoi Jane" Fonda reared her beautiful head just hours after the incident, making the following inflammatory and wholly unsubstantiated "tweetments":
- "Progressive Arizona Rep Gabrielle Gifford is shot. In her ads, Sarah Palin had her targeted in a gun site. [sic] Inciting to violence."
[First, Giffords is a Blue Dog Democrat. Second, it seems a little hypocritical for Fonda to object to the use of this kind of imagery, given the photograph of her splayed across a tank when she visited North Vietnam.]
- "Glen[n] Beck guilty too. Shame. It must stop!"
[Guilty of what? What must stop? Sounds vitriolic and uncivil to me, Jane -- not to mention the shaky legal ground you walk on when you publicly impute criminal liability to someone. But wait, there's more!]
- "@SarahPalinUSA holds responsibility. As does the violence-provoking rhetoric of the Tea Party."
[Now, the entire Tea Party is guilty before proven innocent and not a shred of evidence! I guess when you hang around communists, it rubs off.]
As for pointing metaphorical guns and targets at Giffords, the left shouldn't talk. In the heat of campaigning in June 2008, Obama said he would counter Republican attacks with this quote from The Untouchables: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."
The Daily Kos put a bulls-eye on the back of Congresswoman Giffords and other Blue Dog democrats in a story on June 25, 2008 asking, "Who [sic] to primary? Well, I'd argue that we can narrow the target list by looking at those Democrats who sold out the Constitution last week. I've bolded members of the Blue Dogs for added emphasis." Congresswoman Giffords' name was among those bolded. The author goes on to state that "Not all of these people will get or even deserve primaries, but this vote certainly puts a bulls eye on their district."
Are the writers and readers of the Daily Kos now guilty of murder?
And now for Sheriff Dupnik, who should have been more professional in his press conference at 5 p.m. on January 8, 2011, when he tried to dupe the public about the motivation for the shooting. It's a bit convoluted, but he said:
I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business [read Rush Limbaugh] and some people in the TV business [read Fox News] and what we see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in and I think it is time we do the soul searching.
When you look at unbalanced people, the vitriol that comes 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... There's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue and I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol.
If you don't believe that "Rush" and "Fox" were implied in this statement, then perhaps recent remarks by California State Senator Mark Leno heard on KCBS 740 AM in San Francisco at 7:55 a.m. on the morning of January 9, 2011 should clear things up. Leno unabashedly clarified that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh foment hatred and hatred incites violence of the type we saw levied against Congresswoman Giffords.
According to the Huffington Post, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) attributed the shooting to the "vitriolic rhetoric that has arisen over the past few years among extreme elements of the Tea Party." He said that Sarah Palin "[contributes] to this toxic climate [and] needs to look at her own behavior, and if she wants to help the public discourse, the best thing she could do is to keep quiet." This isn't just a collection of pundits, politicians and glitterati stumbling about a rush to judgment. This is a deliberate attempt to hunt down and stifle political opposition. If any group of people have a target on their backs, it is now members of the conservative grassroots. Still doubt me? Check out this hot-off-the-press e-mail from MoveOn.org with a petition "calling on every member of Congress, as well as the major TV and cable news networks, to put an end to the hateful rhetoric and all overt or implied appeals to violence." If they are successful in suppressing political discourse with this latest permutation, do you think they'll enforce perceived violations even-handedly? Sure, just like the juntas and politburos of yesteryear.
Sally Zelikovsky is the founder of Bay Area Patriots and the coordinator of the San Francisco Tea Party.