Political Violence And Media Malpractice
On Sunday June 8, Jerad and Amanda Miller walked into a Las Vegas restaurant and shot two police officers to death. The married couple then fled to a nearby Walmart, where they murdered a customer before being killed during a shootout with police.
In the aftermath of this senseless attack, many liberal pundits engaged in the post-rampage ritual of linking the perpetrators to conservative politics and blaming conservative commentators for inciting them to violence. That narrative, in this case and in many others, is both inaccurate and irresponsible.
The Millers clearly loathed the federal government. They regularly made anti-government statements on Facebook and blogs. Jerad Miller had recently spent time with the supporters of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who fought the federal government’s attempt to remove his cattle from public land.
But the Millers also held views that weren’t easily categorized as liberal or conservative. In online videos, Jerad Miller made it clear that he hated law enforcement—so much so that police officers became the first target of the Millers’ rage. He worried that the police would take away his guns. But he was also angry about being jailed for possessing marijuana and railed against the drug war.
Some journalists suggested that the Millers’ political passions were inflamed by a conservative media that allegedly has a monopoly on outrageous rhetoric. As The New Republic’s Brian Beutler put it, “the basic narrative Democrats propound about the right is far less provocative than the fire-stoking that Republicans engage in.” Oh, really?
The liberal agenda depends on convincing the public that conservatives are literally waging war against women, gays, racial minorities and other groups in their coalition; that every conservative utterance is proof of their inherent racism, bigotry, xenophobia and heartlessness; and that if Republicans were back in power, they would, as Vice President Joe Biden put it to a group of Democratic donors ahead of the 2012 election, “put y’all back in chains.”
If that’s not provocative fire-stoking, I don’t know what is.
At the Washington Post, left-wing writer Paul Waldman asked, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?”
Waldman’s answer: a whole lot. “There are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate,” he wrote. As proof, he offers: “The conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office.”
But Waldman’s timeline is inaccurate. Conspiracy theorizing exploded with the rise of the Internet, taking off during the presidency of President George W. Bush, when just about everything having to do with 9-11 and the war in Iraq was made into a conspiracy by extremists on the far right and left.
Waldman then asserts that political violence is the exclusive domain of conservatives. “To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way,” he wrote. “Find me all the examples of people who have shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case.”
Well here’s an example that comes close.
On August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins shot a security guard at the Family Research Council in an attempt, he later said, to “kill as many [people] as possible.” He was angry over the public policy group’s opposition to gay marriage.
In his backpack, Corkins carried ammunition and fifteen Chick-fil-A sandwiches, which he planned to smear in the faces of his dying victims. Chick-fil-A’s CEO had recently made headlines for stating his support for traditional marriage.
We don’t know whether Corkins was inspired to violence by a left-wing journalist. But we do know that he obtained FRC’s name from the Southern Poverty Law Center website’s list of “hate groups,” a list that includes neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups — i.e. actual hate groups.
These liberal journalists seem to forget that, historically, violence has been a tool of the left — from gay activists attacking churches and Occupy Wall Street protestors assaulting women and police officers to radical environmentalists damaging businesses they believe hurt the environment.
In many cases that attract the most attention, however, the perpetrators’ politics are hard to determine. But that doesn’t stop some media outlets from blaming conservatives.
In 2012, ABC falsely reported that Colorado theater mass murderer James Holmes was a member of a local tea party group. In 2011, many in the media rushed to label Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman who killed six people and injured many others at a political event near Tucson Arizona, a conservative.
While Loughner’s main target, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is a Democrat, some of his friends described him as a liberal, and it soon became clear that his motives had little to do with politics.
Then there was Joseph Stack, who in 2010 killed one person and himself and injured thirteen others when he flew his small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. Stack was fed up over being audited by the IRS for failure to report income. In his suicide note, Stack expressed hatred of the government, the IRS and unions, which prompted many liberals to portray him as a conservative. But he also loathed George W. Bush and the Catholic Church and, according to friends, admired communism.
A small minority of people on the left and the right are capable of political violence. And so are people with views that don’t fit neatly into a single ideological camp. It’s not asking too much for the media to acknowledge that.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.