Given the broad debate over right-wing responsibility (or not) for the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords, I wonder why this story, from August of last year, got so little play. It appeared in the Washington Post:
When California Highway Patrol officers stopped him on an interstate in Oakland for driving erratically, Byron Williams, wearing body armor, fired at police with a 9mm handgun, a shotgun and a .308-caliber rifle with armor-piercing bullets, Oakland police say. Shot and captured after injuring two officers, Williams, on parole for bank robbery, told investigators that he wanted “to start a revolution” by “killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU,” according to a police affidavit. His mother, Janice, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her son had been watching television news and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.”
In other words, the man was directly responding to Glenn Beck, who generated a lot of conspiratorial noise on his television program surrounding the Tides Foundation. Prior to Beck’s targeting of the Tides Foundation, it was simply not a widely known group.
But Beck himself, rather than vocally condemning this man, appears to have chosen, over the past several months, to simply stay mum about the whole incident. (If other media outlets are not paying much attention to the story, then he must figure that he can get away with leaving it alone as well.)
But isn’t this an obvious example of a right-wing personality creating a climate of paranoia that results in a person snapping? Didn’t Beck know that his hysterical schtick directly singling-out a very specific group could increase the risk of precisely this kind of incident?
I recall the Rolling Stones’s famous song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in which Mick Jagger, in the persona of the devil, says, “I shouted out, / ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ / When, after all, it was you and me.”
Is there really no personal responsibility for how things go down in the world (apart from those who physically pull triggers or drop Zyklon B pellets into ventilators)? Isn’t such psychological distancing, and declaiming of any and all responsibility whatsoever, the way that, for example, individual Germans sometimes refused to take blame for what happened in their country under Hitler?
An honest right-winger’s response to Giffords this past month—and the Glenn Beck generated incident back in the summer of 2010—would be this: “I know the rhetoric of my side creates a climate in which such incidents become more probable, but for the triumph of the Tea Party’s political and religious crusade, it is an increased communal risk that I endorse and accept responsibility for. The buck stops with me. I could reduce the probability of such incidents, but for the sake of my cause, I don’t want to.”
Of course, no political or media figure on the right will ever say this. It’s much easier to simply put up a fog of rhetorical blue pipe smoke and rely on plausible deniability. In other words, dishonesty works.