Monday, January 10, 2011

The Arizona shooting: A depressing lack of surprise

I know that Saturday, there was a politically motivated shooting that made the news. A congresswoman, a sitting district court judge, and many other people were shot. Part of the "news" running through the mainstream media outlets is that this is shocking. Which means unexpected.

To me, it was not a surprise, and I don't think that reporters who make news their business have any right to claim surprise. Could I have predicted this specific time and target? No. Does it fit right in to the political environment? Yes.

There has been lately, and particularly in the last two election cycles, with Obama taking center stage, a dramatic upswing in indicators of political violence and domestic terrorism from the political fringe. The rhetoric of a number of talking heads has been a constant drumbeat of fear and terror.

There have been a number of incidents of attempted or successful acts of political violence just during this past election season; probably the most publicized being the videotaped stomping of a young woman at a rally in Kentucky days before the election (a fortunately non-lethal happening; but one which I found alarming nonetheless).

The only thing particularly special about this attack is how successful it appears to have been. I imagine there will be many public debates over the precise ideology of the gunman. There will be backlash against the way some media figures have been inciting violence. And if we're especially lucky, maybe we'll see lasting change in the infotainment arenas.

The shooter himself has every reason to lie through his teeth about his ideology for maximum impact at this point, if he is even capable of presenting his views in a coherent and understandable fashion. I can't afford to trust what he says about his own purposes. He's on the political fringe and almost certainly mentally ill, and his views won't line up perfectly with any mainstream figure anyway, however much the pundits try to fit him neatly into the box of their favored ideological opponents.

The problem is how neatly this fits in a pattern of rising violence, a tide whose leading edge can retroactively be seen starting in when he was still in high school and Giffords wasn't a US congresswoman, and a tide which reached full froth when Obama was elected president.

That's a fact. We've been watching a rising tide of political violence targeted very specifically at the left and the Democratic party. So. That's a plain statement of fact. Could I add anything - anything at all - from my own personal experience?

One thing, maybe.

I see a steady movement of white nationalists into the mainstream right wing. I suppose this could be both a symptom and a cause of the rise of violence. I can't claim to be an expert on the sociology of violence.

A long time ago, back in January of 2003 - almost exactly 8 years ago - I was a college freshman out to see the online world who joined NationStates. I fell in love with the community immediately. Just the year before I had been an ideologically extreme high school student fond of describing myself as "left of Lenin;" and NationStates had a large and diverse community from all ends of the political spectrum.

There were Democrats. There were Republicans. There were anarcho-capitalists. There were communists - authoritarian and anarchist varieties both. There were Islamic socialists. And perhaps most visibly of all, there were neo-Nazis - a host of white nationalists had come to NationStates from Stormfront.

The political debates were fierce and multi-faceted. I came to be familiar with the types of rhetoric frequently employed by white nationalists. The dangerous ones could make themselves sound more or less reasonable.

In the past few years, it's been remarkable to me to see just how much more widely distributed, how much more mainstream that rhetoric is. One of the most famous of the Republican primary candidates of 2008, Ron Paul, was remarkably skilled at speaking in ways that sounded perfectly reasonable, and to white nationalists, sounded like he was agreeing with them.

The things the more reasonable sounding white nationalists would say in 2003, I might hear today on talk radio or Fox News. And back on NationStates, I'm wondering where all the neo-Nazis went. I'm wondering why we mysteriously have so many more Republicans now, and why so many of them sound so familiar.

I'd rather just blame Beck or Palin or Fox News in general. Domestic terrorism, though, isn't new. Timothy McVeigh didn't need Beck or Palin to make his decisions. People on the fringes of politics and society don't necessarily listen too closely to mainstream media figures (though sometimes they do).

And I wonder: Is the important thing that ties McVeigh and Loughner together the former's KKK connection and the latter's love of Mein Kampf? Or is it media-fueled anti-government paranoia, running off the fires of a hostile Republican reaction to a Democratic president?

The more connections I try to explore, the more know that I don't know about the cause and effect. But I am pretty sure that something's rotten in Denmark. There just isn't enough room in the world of statistics for me to be able to pretend to be surprised by Saturday's attack.

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