Analysis: Vitriolic rhetoric cited after Giffords shooting

Some criticize Sarah Palin after her website showed "problematic" states and politicians with gunsight targets on them.

sarah palin311 (photo credit: erik lesser / AP)
sarah palin311
(photo credit: erik lesser / AP)
NEW YORK – In the wake of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s shooting on Saturday along with 17 others at a Tuscon supermarket meet-andgreet, conjecture abounded as to the shooter’s motives and how they were linked to American political turbulence.
While the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has not yet disclosed his motives for the attempt on the Democratic Jewish Congresswoman’s life, many speculated that the high level of violent anger in modern American political discourse could have led to the attack.
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Former vice presidential candidate and current Tea Party figurehead Sarah Palin came under particular attack by many across party lines.
The incident followed a widely-covered post by Palin on her political action committee’s page,, which showed gunsight crosshairs on each one of the states Palin considered a “problem.” The site listed Congress members – including Giffords – by name.
Palin also recently tweeted one of her catch phrases: “Don’t retreat – reload.”
After news of Giffords’s shooting, the gunsight map was taken off the page, as was the aforementioned Tweet.
Palin posted the following on her website in its stead: “My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.”
For some, the condolences came too late.
Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents an Arizona district adjacent to Giffords’s, attributed Saturday’s shooting to the virulent rhetoric of Palin and her followers.
“The climate has gotten so toxic in our political discourse, setting up for this kind of reaction for too long. It’s unfortunate to say that. I hate to say that,” the Democratic congressman said in an interview with The Huffington Post website.
“If you’re an opponent, you’re a deadly enemy,” Grijalva said of the mindset among Arizona extremists. “Anybody who contributed to feeding this monster had better step back and realize they’re threatening our form of government.”
Grijalva added that Palin should particularly consider the inflammatory rhetoric she has employed.
“She – as I mentioned, people contributing to this toxic climate – Ms. Palin needs to look at her own behavior, and if she wants to help the public discourse, the best thing she could do is to keep quiet.”
Giffords herself, after her office was vandalized in March 2010, decried Palin’s angry rhetorical flourishes, citing the gunsight graphic specifically.
When asked if she was afraid, she said that she wasn’t, but noted that the “rhetoric is incredibly heated.”
“We are on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district,” Giffords said in March. “When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”
At least one commentator has said that the shooting should effectively demonstrate that, as Atlantic monthly associate editor Matt Yglesias tweeted, “gun imagery and electoral politics don’t mix.”
“Perhaps this gross and mad act of violence, which took the life of a nine-year-old girl, a judge and others who had productive lives to lead, will shock politicians and partisan pundits into higher degree of civility, or at minimum tone down some of the divisive, corrosive rhetoric,” CBS commentator Dan Farber wrote.
In several videos Loughner had posted on YouTube before Saturday’s shooting, he expressed furious anger at the US government, referred to himself as a “terrorist” and listed Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf as being among his favorite books.
At Saturday’s press conference on the shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested that “vitriolic rhetoric” in political debates could have deadly consequences.
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this county is getting to be outrageous. Unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital,” he said. “We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”