In Tennessee this weekend, the chickens came home to roost when a gunman named James David Adkisson walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church and began shooting. So far, two people are dead, and seven more were wounded. He was saying “hateful things,” according to all the news reports.
Naturally, right-wingers like the Ole Perfesser tried to fob it off on “Christian haters” — Adkisson was the son of a church deacon and evidently hated going to church. But that also ignores the fact that he identified himself as a “Confederate.”
Now, MSNBC is reporting this morning that Adkisson targeted the church because of its liberal politics. A four-page letter police recovered, according to Knoxville police officials, referred constantly to his “stated hatred for the liberal movement.”
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.
This was a violent attack on liberals. It was inspired by years of wingnuts talking about how much they hate liberals and wish they could do something about them. This man did. But watch the people who have been telling these “jokes” run away from any culpability for it.
And let us remember when. There are endless examples of the sort of rhetoric Neiwert is talking about, coming from low talk radio barkers and high government officials, and all points in between. I’d say that this rhetoric is more damaging in the way it relentlessly stupidizes political discourse in this country than in what it may encourage mentally unstable individuals to do – although I doubt I’d say it to the victim’s families. That said, it would be nice if this rhetoric could receive as much media attention as the fact that someone on the internet somewhere said “wanker”.