I admit that I spent many — probably too many — hours this weekend glued to the computer, compulsively refreshing about 10 different Firefox tabs, seeking updates on the Giffords shooting. I have read half of the Internet at this point, and the only definitive things I can say on the matter are a) Although it’s been useful this weekend, by God I hate the Huffington Post and b) Turns out FrumForum is not the Orthodox Jewish message board I assumed it was, based on the domain name.

I’m not here to minimize the tragedy. A nine-year-old girl died. A lot of people have been accused of inappropriate grandstanding in the wake of this event. But I want to discuss some of the ideological aspects right now. It’s how my brain processes these things. A few scattered thoughts.

I’m bothered by Jack Shafer’s “awesome stupidity,” stating that the county sheriff isn’t qualified to opine on Arizona’s horrendous influx of and ugly rhetorical fomentation by a fast-growing group of its citizens. I often respect (if not agree with) Shafer’s opinions, and I don’t agree with calls to repress political rhetoric/polemic if it’s protected by the First Amendment. But he’s way off-base here with his knee-jerk libertarian smear. Frankly, Arizona *is* a fucking cesspool.

The mental illness aspect: Loughner’s online footprint indicates that he’s quite mentally ill. (And wow, how the hell did this guy fall through the cracks in the system? Everyone around him, including his parents, had to have seen something was very, very wrong.) But we can’t fully prove that the mentally ill are more prone to commit violent acts than the rest of us. This 1999 study of assassinations of public officials [PDF] from the Journal of Forensic Science states that although 3/5s of the attackers in the study had been “evaluated or treated” by mental health professionals, “relatively few suffered from serious mental illness that directly affected their assassination behaviors.” Both studies linked here indicate that substance abuse was a very common factor.

Interestingly, the JFS study also states that attackers are unlikely to target public officials for political reasons. (This is an interesting post also about the shaky connection between political motivations and assassination attempts.) I’m very curious to see what comes out in the next few days in terms of Loughner’s political and social affiliations. Is he part of some larger conspiracy, a pawn in a Manchurian Candidate-style scenario? Eh, we’ll see. (The SPLC is alleging that he’s a follower of far-right-wing-loony David Wynn Miller, which does seem plausible. How anyone can understand what Miller’s trying to say, though — that’s another question.) The problem with media analysis — and, for that matter, vetted medical studies published in esteemed journals — is that you come up with the conclusion you were looking for going in.

This, I thought, was a particularly interesting Metafilter comment from back in August:

The current cycle will likely peak next spring. The usual pattern is for the Patriots to ride on the energy of electoral cycles and then the more violent ones will have a temper tantrum (usually in the form of mass killings) in the spring after the federal elections. You may recall the last cycle turned violent in 1995, six months after the right-wing frenzy gained the Republicans control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Depression. The crazies like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph don’t have any investment in electoral politics, but they are activated by political agitation and take the hot air coming from the far right as encouragement and approval for their own extremism.

The First Amendment vs eliminationist aspect: I’m of two minds when it comes to whether a) the violent political rhetoric of the Right somehow crosses the line of “protected speech,” and b) the rhetoric actually brings about this kind of violence. David Neiwert makes a compelling argument for a) yes and b) yes. Neiwert knows hate speech and hate groups better than most. The moment I hear dog-whistle words like treason, tyranny, traitor, sovereign, etc., come out of a pundit or politician’s mouth, I do get nervous. Because it means that that person is making two simultaneous statements — one directed at the general public, and the other at the fringe. Whether the fringe interprets this rhetoric as a call to arms is, to me, what determines whether it’s hate speech or not.

But we’re not talking Hal Turner calling for the murders of judges and Mexicans (which, as it turns out, may have been entirely payrolled by the FBI). We’re talking about greater nuance. Glenn Beck, who told us that it isn’t the time to pick up our guns and revolt — yet. Or Sharron Angle’s Second Amendment remedies. And Palin, Jesse Kelly, Beck, and all the other stupid, hateful *mainstream* political figures and pundits who use incendiary words and “surveyor’s symbols” on infographics. Even given the tragedy this weekend, I remain comfortable with letting them continue their stupid, hateful campaigns of stupid hate, because, eventually, and hopefully soon, they’ll shoot themselves in the foot (no pun intended) in doing so. As a defender of the First Amendment, I say, keep talking, bozos. But those of us who vehemently disagree (and I include myself in this) should be doing a lot more to exercise our own First Amendment rights in decrying this bullshit.*

The gun control aspect: This “insurrection timeline” is probably the most comprehensive list of violent insurrection (and attempts) since 2008. I think it’s casting entirely too wide a net, but it’s useful. I don’t have a lot to say on this, right now, other than I’ve read Loughner purchased his gun legally. (Although I have to question why someone with documented mental issues is legally entitled to do so…)

Anyhow, more later(ish).

*Not that I’m implying we should stage a leftist uprising or anything, she said.

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