Sunday, January 09, 2011

Words have consequences, part two

Back when Dr. Tiller was murdered, I wrote a blogpost called Words have consequences, in which I wrote about Operation Rescue

Calling someone "America's Doctor of Death" is dehumanizing him to an extreme degree, allowing people to ignore the fact that he is a person, which again allows people to do things like murdering him. Operation Rescue might not have pulled the trigger on Dr. Tiller, but they created an environment, where someone could pull the trigger on him.

Now, after the Tucson schooting where several people, including a child and a federal judge, were killed, and a congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was critically wounded, I want to revisit this theme.

Ever since the Obama election, the rhetorics on the right have been vitriolic, and used violent images. There have been cases where people carried weapons at events where the President spoke. There have been talks of "revolution" and sedition - heck, the Tea Party crowd takes their name from the very concept of an American revolution.

In this sort of environment, it is hardly surprising that someone will follow up on that rhetoric, and take violent action.

The choice of victim is not surprising either.

After all, a public supporter of the Tea Party, and a senior figure of the Republican Party, had used violent imagery targeted specifically at congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Before the midterm election, Palin posted the above map, showing which members of congress she wanted people to target, using cross-hairs to show the location of their districts.

After congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords managed to win over tea party favorite Jesse Kelly, Palin posted the following tweet

Combining the image of a cross-hair and using the word "RELOAD" sends a very violent message indeed, even if it is unintended - something which I don't believe it is for a second, given the general usage of such in the current US political environment. This imagery was meant to intimidate, to threaten even. Since the congresswoman didn't hide, someone took the rhetorics to its next logical level, and tried to murder her.

This is the sort of actions that the current US political environment breeds.

Yes, there were vitriolic, perhaps even violent, rhetorics under the George W. Bush presidency, but not as part of the mainstream debate, not from leading political figures. To try to make it seem so, is to make a false equivalent, and to let the people who created this political environment get away with it.

It is no coincidence that militias have been on a rise in the US since President Obama was elected.

At the moment, Sarah Palin and others of her irk are busy trying to distance themselves from the shootings, even to the degree of scrubbing the web from the sort of messages I've posted above. I don't for a second doubt that they are shocked, perhaps even horrified, over the fact that someone did the very thing that they have been implicitly advocating for two years. Yet this doesn't absolve them of their guilt, and we should not let them get away with having creating the environment where this sort of actions happens more easily. The people who uses violent imagery should be shunned by the rest of society, not get their own TV-shows.

Words do have consequences, and it is high time that Palin and her irk started to feel the consequences of their words.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I much agree. Using violent rhetoric has consequences - both short-term and long term. Similarly, as we see in Europe, using a rhetoric of hate or ostracization has strong consequences. (Political) leaders who engage in such are being irresponsible in the extreme.

It is shocking to see how far the rhetoric in the US has gone. We even see groups who thank God for the recept shootings (

January 09, 2011 5:31 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

The people who thanked god for the shootings are not doing so as result of the current political environment. It's the Westboro Baptist Church, who have been doing such things for decades.

Anything out of the Westboro Baptist Church should be considered outside the mainstream - even the Tea Party repugnates Phelps and his followers.

Even without the current political environment in the US, they would have thanked god for the shootings.

No, I think we won't see any mainstream downplaying of the tragegy just yet. But I don't doubt for a second it will happen (doin't believe me? look at how the Oklahoma bombing has been downplayed by some).

January 09, 2011 6:05 PM  

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