Mental illness, not political speech, to blame for bloodbath

Over the last few days, I've gotten a few e-mails accusing me of playing some role in the horrendous mass shootings at the Safeway store in Tucson, Ariz. The last time I was similarly accused was 15 years ago, after the Murrah Courthouse bombing in Oklahoma City.

I guess the idea is that I'm a player (albeit a minor one) in fostering that "climate of hate" that loony left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman alleges is somehow responsible for Jared Loughner's shooting spree last Saturday. Let's dispel this libel.

Almost as soon as the gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was rushed to the hospital, shot through the skull, and the news came that 19 others had been shot, six of them fatally, a flurry of scurrilous commentary was hurled into public view. These commenters blamed Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and as many other opinion mongers on the right as they could think of, for the act of a rampage killer who, as it turns out, fits the profile of a particularly dangerous paranoid schizophrenic.

I mention Mr. Krugman first because he writes for the most influential newspaper in the land. Former senator and presidential wannabe Gary Hart didn't equivocate either, saying the killings were the result of angry political rhetoric.

TV gabber Keith Olbermann, who denounces angry rhetoric by means of his own angry rhetoric, demanded that Sarah Palin own up to her part in this horrific crime.

This newspaper editorialized in a more restrained manner, saying flat-out that the shooting "is not Sarah Palin's fault. Based on what we know so far, it has nothing to do with the tea party, with discontent about the health care reform law or with immigration policy."

So far, so good, because we've learned enough about the 22-year-old (alleged) assassin to have a pretty good understanding of where the fault lies, and that's with Jared Loughner and his malfunctioning brain.

Schoolmates and friends of Mr. Loughner were scared to death of him in recent months. One said he had become a nihilist, saw no meaning in anything and wanted to sow chaos — much like the Joker played by Heath Ledger in the last Batman movie — just for the hell of it.

Anyone who has seen this young fiend's mug shot can sense the evil blazing in his eyes and playing around his mouth. As the late George Carlin remarked about trying to find reason in acts like this, "What's the matter with old-fashioned crazy?"

There was nothing political about this young person. Certainly nothing suggesting the tea party or political blathering of any kind led him to stage this bloodbath.

Since I'm not a clinical psychiatrist, let's turn to a columnist who is, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post, who referred to the behaviors described by those who knew the young man, including ravings interspersed with unnerving long stupors of silence, his own incoherent writings and strange obsessions with his personal numerology, concluding: "This is not political behavior. These are the signs of a clinical thought disorder — ideas disconnected from each other, incoherent, delusional, detached from reality."

The flood of condemnation of Sarah Palin (for her use of crosshairs in targeting congressional districts represented by people she would want replaced), of Glenn Beck, Rush, Sean Hannity and others on the right, was more than a mere rush to judgment; it was a rush to ignore evidence and recklessly indict political opponents by tying them to this massacre.

A well-noted irony in all this is the contrast between what the "respectable" media urged passionately after the Fort Hood shootings: Don't leap to conclusions about the shooter's motivations. Something other than Jihadist rage may be to blame, even though there was ample evidence that he possessed such emotions.

It's clear to me that this warning, echoed from the White House on down, was agenda-driven — an attempt to dampen any public desire to blame the American Muslim community for the killings. We mustn't have that. Actually, I agree with the sentiment.

Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, the rash of libelous condemnations of the political right in the Tucson massacre is clearly agenda-driven as well.

Returning to the Sun editorial, it concludes: "Republican and tea party leaders may not deserve any blame in Saturday's shooting, but confronted with what political violence actually looks like, they need to abandon the rhetoric and imagery that sanctions it."

I've never urged violence toward anyone, and as far as I can tell, neither have Ms. Palin, Mr. Limbaugh and the others named by the irresponsible accusers.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com.

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