Sunday, January 23, 2011

Newsweek's Arizona Shooting Cover Story Wraps 'Assassin' in American Flag

The article's entitled "The Peculiar Psyche of the American Assassin." Thus, it would seem for Jonathan Alter and Newsweek's editors that the roots of the January 8th shooting are found most prominently in mental illness. But as we read the story, it's clear the Alter's agenda is much larger. He works overtime to place Jared Loughner into the long line of political assassins going back to John Wilkes Booth. It's an extremely strained exegesis. But particularly egregious is the cover image at the hard-copy magazine (which I saw on the newsstand last night). In the current era, frankly, to wrap an ostensibly political actor in the flag is to imply some relationship with the tea parties. I noted this previously with Jill Lepore's scurrilous linkage of Jared Loughner to the "cult of the Constitution." What Alter does is even worse, since in purporting to offer a grand analysis of political assassination in history, he reveals only a cookie-cutter template within which to place the Tucson rampage:

American Assassins

President Obama was right last week to focus his thoughts—and ours—on the victims of the Tucson rampage and the lives they led. Those who gathered that day were doing something fundamentally American: they were meeting with their elected representative at a “Congress on Your Corner” event, participating in the give-and-take of the democratic process. For nearly 200 years, Americans have also been rightly haunted by that strange subspecies of citizen that is their opposite: those who see killing political leaders as a better form of self-expression. They are a sorry lot, mostly a collection of sexually frustrated loners and misfits united only by their common background in social isolation. But they, too, are a longstanding part of the American fabric.

They may have something to teach the rest of us, however unintentionally, about the consequences of our atomized country. Where political violence in other countries is nearly always associated with extremist movements, religious fundamentalism, or criminal organizations, American assassins are usually peculiar stalkers defined less by ideology than vague political and personal grievances.

Jared Lee Loughner would seem to be just the latest to fit this American profile. The 22-year-old gunman killed six people, including federal Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina Green, and wounded 14, among them Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Wielding a Glock semiautomatic, the assassin fired 30 rounds in a few seconds outside a Tucson supermarket. His mugshot, with that twisted smile and weirdly sparkling eyes, told you almost everything you needed to know about the coherence of his motives.
And this next passage is forced to the extreme:
It’s often impossible to cite specific, direct causes for individual episodes of mayhem. Most people can hear repeated references to comments like “If not ballots, bullets” (Florida radio talk-show host Joyce Kaufman) or “Tiller is a baby killer” (a reference to Dr. George Tiller, murdered by an anti-abortion activist) or “Second Amendment remedies” (Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle) and do nothing violent. Still, Arizona alone is home to roughly 21,000 schizophrenics, according to the calculations of Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, and about 10 percent of them are potentially dangerous. When they explode, they could be responding to the voices in their heads, or the voices on the radio (or in books and online), or, most likely, some cacophony of voices within and without.

An “Insurrectionism Timeline” posted by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence cites more than 100 examples of incitement (gun sights on congressional maps weren’t threatening enough to make the list) and direct threats of bodily harm in the last two and a half years. Just two days before the Tucson attack, police arrested a man for threatening to shoot members of the staff of Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. Three days after Giffords and the others were attacked, police took a man into custody after he allegedly made threatening phone calls to the office of Rep. Jim McDermott, suggesting he deserved to die for voting against the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Loughner’s motives were less coherent, but that doesn’t mean his heinous act was nonpolitical. This was not a case of a lunatic going berserk and shooting up a random shopping center. Loughner felt aggrieved by what he considered to be Giffords’s failure to answer a question he asked her at a previous community meeting in 2007. He obsessed over his desire for vengeance (“Die bitch!” read one of the missives recovered from his personal possessions) and apparently plotted the attack in advance. By aiming for a political leader, he moved from the ranks of mass murderer to assassin.
I'm calling bullshit right there.

Actually, it is a case of a lunatic going berserk. The key questions discussed this last week focused on how
states had been cutting mental services, including Arizona (and the implications for public health and safety), and on whether Jared Loughner's legal team would be able to use an insanity defense at trial, as the Los Angeles Times points out:
In Loughner's case, defense attorney Judy Clarke would have to show that her client did not know his actions were wrong. Evidence that Loughner was paranoid or delusional would not be enough to shield him from punishment, under either federal or Arizona law.

Such evidence may be good enough to shield him from a death sentence, however, if the Justice Department or the state asks for one.
Last Sunday, New York Times ombudsman Arthur Brisbane published an apology for the paper's erroneous reporting on the Arizona shooting. While strained, the essay at least acknowledged that reporters had jumped the gun (metaphor) in their early coverage and the editors had failed their responsibility to provide professional, untainted journalism. But in the case of Newsweek, it was Jonathan Alter himself who was the very first journalist to recommend that President Obama exploit the massacre for political gain. Never let a crisis go to waste, they say. And while the facts have long been clear regarding what happened on January 8th --- and while the country has made great attempts to increase civil debate --- not wasting the crisis remains the top agenda item for the progressive left.


JBW said...

"This was not a case of a lunatic going berserk and shooting up a random shopping center."

"I'm calling bullshit right there."

Uh, sorry Don, but you're wrong. This guy went to this specific shopping center to address a specific grievance he'd been nursing for years. He didn't go berserk and it wasn't random: he went after a specific target. We still don't know his specific motivations for doing so but this was definitely a political assassination.

"But particular[ly] egregious is the cover image at the hard-copy magazine. In the current era, to wrap an ostensibly political actor in the flag is to imply some relationship with the tea parties."

Uh, sorry, no again. Tea partiers aren't the only ones to fly the American flag; you don't own it or its associated imagery, and that goes double for the Constitution, no matter how much you ladies fetishize it.

Keep reaching for victimhood, though. You're still priceless.

AmPowerBlog said...

@ JBW: Bwahahahahaha!

Right. He was clinically obssessed with Giffords. His ramblings are certifiable, and his lawyers are jonesin' for an insanity defense. But hey, JBW, if Alter's malicious tea party hit piece keeps your blood libel campaign going, all the good to you. That atheism has really fucked up your sense of right wrong, not to mention the bong tokes.


AmPowerBlog said...

@ JBW: Started to go around the web with this, at Pajamas and The Other McCain, "The Word is Reprehensible'."

And is it bully or victim? You and RepRacist3 need to coordinate better, yo!

JBW said...

I haven't read any more of Alter's piece than what you've cut and pasted here and am thus not directly commenting on it Don, I'm just taking exception to your general characterization of it.

Obviously Loughner is mentally deranged and any competent lawyer would have him plead insanity but he did not go berserk: he calmly walked into the grocery store to make change for his cab ride before shooting up the crowd. And it wasn't a random shopping center: he went to that specific store to assassinate that specific politician. You can call bullshit on Alter all you want but it won't change those facts.

But hey, Don, if squealing "blood libel" over and over again keeps your perpetual victim hood campaign going, all the good to you. And regardless of Reppy's views, you'll always be the whiny victim (Palin as well) to me. DON=VICTIM. See?

And it's bong tokes that make it possible for people like me to tolerate a person like yourself (the atheism just keeps me rational while I do it). Cheers.

Bob Belvedere said...

Thanks for the story, Donald, for getting the word out.

Damn find analysis too.

Quoted from and Linked to at:
[Anti-]American Asses