Time to Apologize to Janet Napolitano?
Is it time yet for Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the rest of the hysterical right-wing media to apologize to Janet Napolitano for going batshit over her report about a possible spike in right-wing violence at home? Hmmm… It just might be.
First, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down at his church by an anti-abortion fanatic.
Then, an unemployed truck driver shot up a church because he hated liberals and gays.*
And now a white supremacist has shot up the Holocaust Museum and killed the security guard there.
Okay, I’m doing a bit of the media “three makes a trend” BS here. But it’s also not crazy to see a trend emerging. Yes, folks on the Left are just as capable of violence (especially when we’re talking about Communist totalitarian societies), and “green” terrorism is also on the rise. But the largest terrorist attack on American soil prior to 9/11 was Oklahoma City, and we know who perpetrated that. And we also know when they perpetrated that — after the election of the last Marxist, treasonous, threat to America’s constitutional order… Bill Clinton.
And, so, I ask: Are we at the beginning of a wave of right-wing violence?
There are two factors here, at least, that point in that direction:
1) The right wing feels disempowered — when you think your grievances can never be redressed within the political process, you’re more likely to turn to violence.
2) Violence like this can spread in a way similar to an epidemic.
The first point I don’t think requires much explanation. The second point, though, is important and needs some elaboration.
As so often, Malcolm Gladwell has written lucidly on this. In The Tipping Point, he wrote about the epidemic of suicides that hit Micronesia in the 1980s. In an expanded edition of the book in 2002, he added some material on the Columbine school shooting, which can be found here. Basically, in the 22 months after Columbine — and in the wake of the media circus that followed — there were 19 incidents of school violence patterned after the Columbine shooters (10 of them were foiled, thankfully, before anyone got hurt).
This table, from U.S. News & World Report shows school shootings in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s:
Aug. 12, 1986: Five people are shot and one killed by a student at New York Technical College in Brooklyn.
Nov. 26, 1985: A high school student in Washington State dies after shooting herself the previous day. Police say the female student earlier shot and killed two 14-year-old boys, one of them her former boyfriend.
Oct. 23, 1985: The dean of Bates College in Maine is shot in the back by a sniper while standing in his kitchen in a house just off campus. The dean survives the shooting, and the captain of the school’s swim team is arrested in connection with the incident.
Feb. 22, 1978: After being taunted for his beliefs, a 15-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi, kills one student and wounds a second with a Luger-style pistol in Lansing, Mich.
Dec. 30, 1974: In Olean, N.Y., Anthony Barbaro, a 17-year-old Regents scholar armed with a rifle and shotgun, kills three adults and wounds 11 others at his high school, which was closed for the Christmas holiday. Barbaro was reportedly a loner who kept a diary describing several “battle plans” for his attack on the school.
May 4, 1970: Four students are killed and nine wounded when National Guard soldiers attempt to control an antiwar demonstration at Ohio’s Kent State University.
Jan. 17, 1969: Two students are shot and killed at the University of California-Los Angeles during a student meeting.
Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman climbs atop the observation deck at the University of Texas-Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 31 during a 96-minute rampage.
That’s eight shootings in three decades (including one listed here, from 1985, that doesn’t really fit under what we call a school shooting). And then there are 15, just in the 1990s. This chart from Info Please shows how many more we’ve had in the 2000s.
Clearly, school shootings and the media coverage that follows them have created a cycle that has lead to more school shootings.
And so now, with the Right thoroughly out of power, and with the economy in the tank, we’re seeing a group of dispossessed white men becoming “martyrs” to their various causes. And at home, other dispossessed white men — some crazier than others — are watching these people become national celebrities and extremist folk heroes. And a voice in their brain is saying: I could do that, too.
It’s not to say there definitely will be more incidents. But if I were a betting man I wouldn’t bet against it. And if I were looking for a contributing factor to the next killing, I’d look to the fact that, as with the Virginia Tech killer and the recent school shooter in Germany, the media can’t help doing exactly what they’re not supposed to do: making the killer an antihero, making the body count the headline, showing the killer’s face over and over, etc. (Even in this post, by way of criticizing Drudge, I’ve got the killer’s picture.)
Is there a way to nip this sort of thing in the bud? Well, monitoring potential domestic terrorists is one important thing to do, before the next Ryder truck blows up. As for individual shooters like this — well, some people have a lot more faith in gun control than me. I’d say a certain number of incidents like this are inevitable. But they’re more likely when a paranoid political culture thrives on talk radio, hate Web sites, etc. That doesn’t mean those First Amendment protected activities should be shut down. But it’s the price of living in a free society.
* CORRECTION [6/10/09, 10:00 p.m.]: Sorry, this incident took place last summer, 2008. Still awful and motivated by politically tinged craziness, but not part of this current outbreak.
UPDATE [6/10/09, 11:24 p.m.]: If you really want to make it three, this guy killed three cops in April — at least partly because he thought the Obama administration was coming for his guns.