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Lone Madman Used to Smear GOP

By Donald Douglas

I put out the call this morning, perhaps idealistically, for partisans of both sides to end to the politicization of personal tragedies, with reference to Sunday's shooting tragedy at Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It turns out that the alleged killer, Jim David Adkisson, was a fan of right-wing media personalities such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. In a four-page letter outlining his intentions, Adkisson reportedly declared not only his hatred of the "liberal movement," but also "anyone different from him." Adkisson was deeply frustrated with his employment prospects and he was divorced after a deeply troubled and potentially violent marriage.

Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas, an acquantaince of Adkission's for 25-30 years, suggested he was facing psychological crisis:

He always had the attitude the government was trying to get him ... He's a very intelligent man but he couldn't get in the mainstream and hold a job, Smallwood said. He's not a beast. He needed help a long time ago and never got it.
More information will certainly be forthcoming throughout the week, but media reports and blogging analyses have zoomed in on Adkisson's professed hatred of liberals while ignoring his economic dislocation and his statements signaling a larger social-psychological alienation. Yet, I'd argue it's unwise to generalize from this one case, to impugn the entire conservative establishment as "out to kill" left-wingers.

It's happening anyway, however. The Huffington Post has this:
Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians.

Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them "traitors" and suggests you speak to them "with a baseball bat"? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?

If you ask me, it was all of the above.

You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.
TBogg argues:
Adkisson ("...a loner who hates blacks, gays and anyone different from him") probably could have landed a sweet gig at the Bush Justice Department.
Melissa McEwan argued:
As I've said before, and will no doubt say again, this shit doesn't happen in a void. The conservative media has long been centered around violent, eliminationist rhetoric and "jokes."
Note, especially, Dave Neiwert's attack:
Right-wingers love to "joke" about mowing down, rounding up, and otherwise "wiping out" all things liberal. It's become a standard feature of conservative-movement rhetoric. And whenever anyone calls them on it, they have a standard response: "Aw, c'mon - it's just a joke!"

In reality, of course, rhetoric like this has historically played a critical role in some of the ugliest episodes in American history, as well as thousands of little acts of xenophobic brutality: functionally speaking, it gives violent - and frequently unstable -- actors permission to act on these impulses. People like this always believe they're standing up for what "real Americans" think - and the jokes tell them that this is so.

So we can see that prominent left-wing outlets are using the example of one deranged loner to brand the entire "conservative movement" - from conservative evangelists, to corporate media, to right-wing radio shock-jocks - as xenophobic exterminationists.

This is an unprincipled stretch.

Before people criticize me as hypocritcial for routinely reporting on left-wing extremism, note that I denounce both sides fair and square. I have taken down, for example, Ann Coulter for her anti-Semitism, Rush Limbaugh and various other conservatives for their rabid McCain derangement, and extreme right-wingers for their racist extremism.

Most of these people are either promoting a personality shock-cult not always in the interest of the GOP, or they're not real conservatives at all. The most extreme racists and black-helicopter conspiracy theorists are well outside the GOP establishment (indeed, John McCain has repeatedly repudiated exactly this kind of far right-wing fringe activity).

The mainstream blogosphere left, on the other hand, seems to become positively energized by any and all opportunities to demonize conservatives. The tragedy of the Unitarian Universalist murders is held up as purportedly representing some kind of essentialist right-wing killing project. For all intents and purposes, Adkisson's a protean Heinrich Himmler, indoctrinated by the institutional xenophobes of the conservative hate-machine.

In other words, the Adkisson case provides a case study in the secular demonology of the left. We're seeing the politics of hatred in action. It's marked by demands for vengeance and modes of discourse seeking to protect the perceived purity of the liberal sensibility. It is irreligious and opportunistic. It is the repudiation of decency. It is the absence of divine soul. With it, we see the Bush adminstration, John McCain, Bill O'Reilly, and Fox News attacked as the manifestation of the Fourth Reich.

I am not so naïve to think that the next left-winger who's accused of commiting a brutal crime will be spared the wrath of the conservative blogosphere. I do think, however, that there's a qualitatively ideological distinction between left and right when it comes to moral judgment and the relative balance of grace.

Meanwhile, the suffering of the church victims and their families is largely forgotten amid the mutual recrimination.

May those who have died rest in peace, and may their friends and family be blessed.

Donald blogs daily at American Power