Shooting words

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crosshairsmap.jpgPace Sarah Palin’s spokeswoman, but of course the lady’s map featured crosshairs–just another example of the recourse to firearms imagery in contemporary Republican political rhetoric. Is it accurate to trace it to Pat Buchanan’s famous “Lock and Load!” summons to (metaphorical) arms in his insurgent 1996 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination? Whatever, it’s what we have come to expect from the Party of the Second Amendment and the Ten Commandments.

The commotion over whether such imagery can be blamed for Jared Loughner is also pretty familiar. It happens every time an abortion doctor is shot, most recently after the 2009 murder of Wichita physician George Tiller by Scott Roeder. My colleague Andrew Walsh reviewed the back-and-forth in Religion in the News and came to the following conclusion.

No one argued that Cardinal Rigali or Richard
Land or even Randall Terry ordered a hit on Tiller, but it’s clear that the
unceasing confrontational campaign in Wichita did involve a large number of
“mainstream” pro-life groups over a lengthy period. Reporting by  [David] Barstow, Judy
Thomas, and others showed that Scott Roeder–although by no means a major figure
in pro-life activities in Kansas and Missouri– participated over a long period
in anti-abortion activities and was quite well known. He picketed, he did
“street counseling,” he campaigned on the Internet, and he attended the Kansas
trial that ended in March when Tiller was acquitted of 19 misdemeanor charges
that he broke Kansas law in performing late-term abortions…

“Roeder was not one of us,” Philadelphia
Daily News
columnist Christine Flowers insisted on June 12. “He was a
psychopath, a man whose demented mind led him to commit a crime that is,
essentially, the antithesis of what the pro-life movement represents.”

It is hard, at this point, to take such
self-exoneration seriously. Roeder was one of them, and not the first to take
the movement’s violent words and confrontational deeds one step further.

From the initial reporting, it does not seem that Loughner had the sorts of ties to the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party that Roeder had to the pro-life movement. But if, say, a copy of her map is found tucked inside of one of his books, she will have something to answer for.

  • Imagery and possible specific associations aside, what troubles me is what appears to be an utter lack of self-examination from anti-abortion groups and the fragile-minded people who are sometimes attracted to them. Calling someone a “psychopath” may feel good to someone who doesn’t want to be connected to a murderer (especially of someone in a church or a child at a rally), but it doesn’t say much about the movement’s ability to understand and be responsible for its own power.