Why Political Violence Fails in America

January 10th, 2011 at 11:17 am David Frum | 64 Comments |

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The shootings in Tucson were horrific.  But as my latest column for CNN points out, capsule the event has also reminded us of the strength of the American political consensus.

When people call the shootings in Tucson senseless, they are absolutely right. By all reports, the alleged Tucson shooter was seriously mentally ill and quite probably schizophrenic.

The congresswoman he shot and the judge he killed had been targets of violent threats from political extremists. But the shooter himself was not a political extremist in any meaningful sense of that term.

In this, the Tucson shooter follows a familiar pattern in recent American life.

– A sniper terrorized the Washington, D.C., suburbs in the fall of 2002, killing at least 10 people. It was widely assumed that the motive was Islamic terrorism, an assumption strengthened when the killer was identified as a convert to the Nation of Islam. Yet while John Allen Muhammad used the language of jihad, he seemed at least as motivated by revenge against his ex-wife and greed for the ransom he hoped to extort from the U.S. government.

– In October 1994, gunman Francisco Duran fired 29 shots over the White House fence at a group he believed to include President Clinton. Duran later explained that he was trying to protect the world from space aliens.

– John Hinckley shot and almost killed President Reagan in hopes of gaining the attention of the actress Jodie Foster, with whom Hinckley was obsessed.

– Of the two attempts on the life of President Ford, one was carried out by a member of the Charles Manson cult; the other by a supporter of the bizarre Symbionese Liberation Army.

– The gunman who crippled Alabama Gov. George Wallace during his 1972 presidential campaign wrote a diary detailing his motive: a quest for personal fame.

The United States has a long history of more strictly political violence, from the assassination of President Lincoln through the 1960s murders of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and John and Robert Kennedy. And of course we have a new exposure to international terrorism, especially from Islamic extremists.

Yet since 1970 — and despite horrific throwbacks such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing — the political aspect of home-grown violence has receded. …

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64 Comments so far ↓

  • jakester

    John Lee Muhammud did the DC Snipings because of his ex wife? If that was true, she would have been murdered too. JIHAD!

    greg_barton, I was trying to make the same point about how Trutherism can be found on the Right in the Paul camp, some of it with anti-semitic overtones on another thread. But some ignoramus, who claims he knows that all conservatives love Jews, insulted me for that.

  • jakester

    The trouble with the Nwahs SD Springy type of arguments is no righties were shot because of those remarks. Also, Palin not only put out that stupid map, but constantly wraps herself around guns and is the pin-up girl of gun nuts. So when one of the people in Palin’s map ends up shot in a mass shooting, most reasonable people are not going to foam or fret about Obama’s “gun to a knife fight” comment. I have never seen a picture of Obama handling any sort of firearm while it’s hard to find a pro Palin site that didn’t have at least one “Palin with a gun” pic on each page

  • sdspringy

    Pnumi, the Forrest Gump of the Frum Forum is the arbitor of Stupid. Your presentation certainly have proven that title accurate. Take your box of chocolates Pnumi and go home.

    Six people died from the shooting Jakster and political affiliation played no determination in the killers mind.

    There exist nothing that has been reported that indicates Loughner was driven by political rhetoric. Your argument has no basis in fact and in itself rases the hateful rhetoric by your accusations.

    The simple fact that before the blood had dried on the pavement the LEFT machine was spewing out this drivel proves this is about political point scoring and not about any concern of the political discourse in this country.

  • JonF

    Re: There is increasingly large and organized movement behind the violence we see today.

    Largeish, yes. But the Tea Party is anything but “organized”. At its best it’s incoherent.

  • armstp


    Where to start? The only one over-the-top is you and your excuses.

    You must be blind. You seriously think the few obscure examples of so-called “left” vitriol is even close to what we have seen from the tsunami from the right over the last 3 years. Are you kidding? What alternative universe do you live in?

    I would point you to right in Loughner’s own backyard. Gifford’s recent congressional opponent Jesse Kelly held a rally/event where people where encouraged to shoot M-16s at pictures of Gifford. Have you ever heard of a political opponent doing that before? Is that not over-the-top? How do you know that kind of vitriol right in his own backyard did not rub off on a guy like Loughner? At minimum it creates an atmosphere and environment of pure hatred and violence. Forget all the anti-government hate and threats that are happening at the national level, this guy was exposed to an atmosphere of extreme violence from the Tea Party and the Republicans in his own backyard. This kind of stuff does have an impact on people. Studies have shown this. And this shooting fits a pattern we are see all across America. As I list above we have had dozens of anti-government/far right acts of violence in this country in just the last two years with some of them resulting in the deaths of police officiers. Wake-up! There has been no violence cause by people on the left and plenty by those on the right. So much so that Homeland Security had to write a report about it to warn us.

    It is also irrelevant if this guy was on the right, an independent or even a leftie. Although the evidence clearly shows that his views on many issues line up with those on the right and he did shoot a Democrat. The fact of the matter is that he is anti-government big time. He seemed to be rebelling against government and that was very likely a big reason he went to the congresswoman’s meeting to kill her. Who in this country is visciously attacking government at obscene and irrational levels? Conservatives and the right. It very well could be the case that all this anti-government rhetoric more than rubbed off on this guy. It certainly was not helpful. There is nothing wrong with being anti-government, but you do not need the vitriol or imagery, sometimes very very violent imagery and words (talking about 2nd amendments, violent revolution, reload, etc.).

    “Their rhetoric matches syllable per syllable anything uttered on the Right.” This statement is such complete bullshit. There has been a avalanche of hate from FOX all the way down to the Tea Party and their behavior at townhall meetings. There is a see of violence and hate out there by people on the right. There have even been very specific calls for violent action by those on the right at the highest levels (members of congress in fact). There is nothing even remotely comparable on the left, not even during Bush’s time. You find a few obscure examples of so-called left syllable and you think that is the sames as all the hate, action and vitriol on the right? Bullshit. Again you live in a alternative reality.

    What is going to be your excuse next time this happens?

    Again, I will restate that it is a sad state of affairs after all the violent talk, there is no self reflection whatsoever by the Tea Party, those on the right and people like sdspringy. All they have is excuses, look to false equivalencies and look to deflect blame. Somethings never change.

  • jakester

    Like I have said numerous times, we don’t know what actually drove him. But if you are so dense that you can’t see that your gun nut teabagging pals stand primer inter pares these days with “over heated” rhetoric and gun nuttery and that makes them, if nothing else, look bad in this case, then you are quite dense to the extreme. Sorry but you and the talk radio-FOX crowd level of political discourse is so low and coarse that you need to really look in the mirror first before pointing fingers at other people. I mean really, some tea-nuts were bring AR-15 & other semi auto detachable magazine fed rifles to Obama rallies during the HCR fracas then complaining about how the media maligned them cause MSNBC edited out the one black crackpot in their gun-nuttery toting crowd. But I guess somehow those were leftist or liberals because they failed one FOX News conservative defining point.

    And please don’t try the Fort Hood thing on me. I have always been an anti-jihader and have no problem accepting Islam’s rich tradition of violence. But at the same time you have to wonder about the mainly conservative crowd who runs the Army for failing to weed him out beforehand even it that simply meant giving the man a normal discharge and be done with him. Instead some people let the brass off the hook, claiming the all purpose, all invisible “PC from the Left” excuse for the Army brass’s inaction & incompetence.

  • armstp

    “One more issue needs to be addressed.

    Message to the media (and sdspringy) : Knock it off with the false equivalence.

    Liberals don’t brandish weapons at political events.

    Liberals don’t use the terms “lock and load” or “gather your armies” in urging supporters to take action.

    Liberals don’t advocate “Second Amendment remedies” to combat “domestic enemies” in Congress.

    Liberals haven’t conducted onging terrorism for decades, including murders and bombings, to scare doctors away from providing legal health services for women.

    Liberals don’t use as political props “wanted posters” or maps featuring the crosshairs of a gun sight on targeted Congressional districts.

    Only one of America’s two major political parties is increasingly, alarmingly falling under the control of extremists who advocate, threaten and glorify violence. Implying otherwise by repeatedly bleating, “Both sides are equally at fault” is cowardly and dishonest.”

  • pnumi2


    “Pnumi, the Forrest Gump of the Frum Forum is the arbitor of Stupid. Your presentation certainly have proven that title accurate. Take your box of chocolates Pnumi and go home.”

    In my day, I have been put down by the most clever, and with this sophomoric remark of yours, now I have been put down by the least clever.

    You have said now at least 50 times that Loughner was not driven by ‘political rhetoric’. We all get your point. As a matter of fact you’ve been saying it so much you have started to sound like Bush and his Chimeric weapons of mass destruction.

    But continue to repeat ad nauseam your little mantra about “no political rhetoric.” It’s sure to work for you as well as “wolf” did, for the boy who cried it.

    If I am the Forrest Gump of the From Forum, you are certainly the crass Don Rickles of the group.

  • sdspringy

    Armstp, Giffords herself is a Second Amendment supporter and held rallies at gun ranges while using semi automatic weapons.
    Your statement that Kelly actually used a portait of Giffords to shoot at requires some link and not just your hand wringing hysterics.

    Again the LEFT want the narrative to be Loughner was a political junkie completely tuned into the political discourse. NOT TRUE.

    What is true the LEFT has used victims of a crime to drive a political point. Using spilled blood to score political points indicates the level on political vitrol has reached an ALL time low even for LIBERALS.

    At this point you could argue Loughner tuned into Bill Maher or DailyKos. Both of which have used “targeting imagery” to target Blue Dog Dems which Giffords most certainly is.

    This dicussion of the proper level of political discourse would have proceeded with some insightful review of the past political cycles IF the LEFT had not rushed out with the “Perfect opportunity” to pound Republicans.

    Democrats and their mouthpieces in the press completely lost any credability by tweeting, posting, and strategizing the way to turn this tragedy in to a political gotcha. Within 2 hours of the tragedy the LEFT in firing off their talking points before the blood had even dried and NOW the likes of Armstp and Jakester want reasoned responses. Not going to happen.

    David Frum has exhibited the same behavior as Paul Krugman and in that regard falls squarely with the crowd using blood to pen a political piece to score points.

  • armstp



    What is your answer to this:

    – July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how “liberals” are “destroying America,” walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

    – October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

    – December 2008: A pair of “Patriot” movement radicals — the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted “to attack the political infrastructure” — threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

    – December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear “dirty bomb” in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

    – January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

    – February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

    – April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

    – April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama’s purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

    – May 2009: A “sovereign citizen” named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

    – June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

    – February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one “domestic terrorism” too.)

    – March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

    – March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

    – May 2010: A “sovereign citizen” from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

    – May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

    – May 2010: Two “sovereign citizens” named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

    – July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

    – September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year–old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the “Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.


  • sdspringy

    What I see is a nation of individuals some of which are completely out on the fringe. You however see politics.

    You think politics, government is the method to provide a safe society. I know that only as individuals can we provide a safe society. No amount of law enforcement or government intursion will povide you the haven of safety your tembling hands are reaching for.

  • pnumi2


    Yesterday the Right Wing Talking Points included the charge that the Left was engaged in Blood Libel. Maybe you saw Glen Reynolds and others. This is what the Right put into the public consciousness.

    Descriptions of alleged ritual murder

    In general, the libel alleged something like this: a child, normally a boy who had not yet reached puberty, was kidnapped or sometimes bought and taken to a hidden place (the house of a prominent member of the Jewish community, a synagogue, a cellar, etc.) where he would be kept hidden until the time of his death. Preparations for the sacrifice included the gathering of attendees from near and far and constructing or readying the instruments of torture and execution.[citation needed]
    At the time of the sacrifice (usually night), the crowd would gather at the place of execution (in some accounts the synagogue itself) and engage in a mock tribunal to try the child. The boy would be presented to the tribunal naked and tied (sometimes gagged) at the judge’s order. He would eventually be condemned to death. Many forms of torture would be inflicted during the boy’s “trial”, including some of those actually used by the Inquisition on suspects of heresy. Some of the alleged tortures were mutilation (including circumcision), piercing with needles, punching, slapping, strangulation, strappado and whipping, while being insulted and mocked throughout.

    In the end, the half-dead boy would be crowned with thorns and tied or nailed to a wooden cross. The cross would be raised and the blood dripping from the boy’s wounds, particularly those on his hands, feet, and genitals, would be caught in bowls or glasses. Finally, the boy would be killed with a thrust through the heart from a spear, sword, or dagger. His dead body would be removed from the cross and concealed or disposed of, but in some instances rituals of black magic would be performed on it. The earlier stories describe only the torture and agony of the victim and suggest that the child’s death was the sole purpose of the ritual. Over time and as the libel proliferated, the focus shifted to the supposed need to collect the victim’s blood for mystical purposes.[citation needed]
    The story of William of Norwich (d. 1144) is the first case of alleged ritual murder that led to widespread persecutions. It does not mention the collection of William’s blood nor of any ritual purpose to the alleged ritual murder. In the story of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255) it was said that after the boy was dead, his body was removed from the cross and laid on a table. His belly was cut open and his entrails removed for some occult purpose, such as a divination ritual. In the story of Simon of Trent (d. 1475) it was highly stressed how the boy was held over a large bowl so all his blood could be collected.
    “Altogether, there have been about 150 recorded cases of blood libel (not to mention thousands of rumors) that resulted in the arrest and killing of Jews throughout history, most of them in the Middle Ages… In almost every case, Jews were murdered, sometimes by a mob, sometimes following torture and a trial.”[8]

    Well, armstp they turned their charge of unfairly blaming Palin for the attempt on Gifford’s life into their business as usual anti-Semitism. The tragedy of Gifford and the other’s is now turned into Blood Libel and if any Republican googles ‘Blood Libel’ and reads what the Jews used to do or were accused of doing and that Republican’s hatred of Jews increases because of the unimpeachable perfection of Glen Reynold’s mind, that’s just a lovely unintended consequence of using that expression.

    Or maybe it was not so unintended.

  • armstp


    What I see as clear as day is a bunch of right-wing violent attacks. Your side is a culture of violence. This has become very very clear since Obama took office. This latest shooting is AZ is just more of the same. All the anti-government hysteria that your side has whipped up is begining to have an impact and influence on the fringes of your conservative movement.

  • sdspringy

    And your attempt to assign political motives to an obviously insane individual to score political points is equally disgusting and disingenuous.

    What I find all too stereotypical is the Left’s constant refrain that restriction of freedom, whether that involves restriction on verbal or written speech, is the answer to their hand wringing and fearful hearts.

    That restricting the freedom of 308,000,000 people to protect you, Armstp from the ONE person is somehow what this country should be about is absurd. You have no concept of freedom and the risks and responsibilities associated with those ideals expressed at the founding of this country and as such is probably better you remain in Mexico.