Friday, March 13, 2009

Glenn Beck thinks 'political correctness' is driving people to shooting rampages

-- by Dave

In conversation with Bill O'Reilly yesterday on his Fox News show, Glenn Beck speculated that the cause of that murderous shooting rampage in Alabama might have been the shooter's frustration with "political correctness":

BECK: But as I’m listening to him. I’m thinking about the American people that feel disenfranchised right now. That feel like nobody’s hearing their voice. The government isn’t hearing their voice. Even if you call, they don’t listen to you on both sides. If you’re a conservative, you’re called a racist. You want to starve children.


BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.

As Melissa McEwan puts it over at Shakesville:

So, according to Glenn Beck, murderous rampages are the inevitable consequence of conservatives not getting what they want. Never mind that we've no idea whether the man in question was a conservative; it's easy enough to presume a white man from Alabama is a conservative just to make the point that his killing spree is all liberals' fault.

Steve Benen notes that there's a history to this kind of logical leap:

One of the right's more disgusting habits is exploiting violent tragedies for ideological gain. After the shootings at Virginia Tech, Newt Gingrich blamed liberals' "situation ethics" for the tragedy. After the shootings in Arvada, Colo., the Family Research Council blamed the "secular media" for the rampage. After Columbine, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took to the floor to blame public school science classes for teaching young people that "they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup." Just 48 hours after 9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed liberals for "helping this happen."

Matt Yglesias notes:

Thankfully Bill O’Reilly (!) was around to act as the voice of reason (!) and observe that spree killing seem more related to mental illness than to political disagreement.

Actually, the dynamic is more complicated than such simplistic formulas. Spree killings often do have a political motive, even when they clearly involve mental illness (and there's no immediate evidence of that here, though it likely will emerge; the Alabama shooter does not appear ever to have been treated for mental illness).

Moreover, as I discussed in some detail recently, there is often an element of pre-event scapegoating, often in the form of overtly eliminationist rhetoric:

Part of the problem is that we actually have seen this happen time after time after time: A mentally unstable person is inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric to act out violently -- and yet because of that mental state, the matter is dismissed as idiosyncratic, just another "isolated incident." And over the months and years, these "isolated incidents" mount one after another.

But simply ascribing these acts to mental illness is a cop-out. It fails to account for the gross irresponsibility of the people who employed rhetoric that inspired the violent action in the first place, and their resulting moral culpability.

The most notable recent case of this was the church shooter in Knoxville, who wrote out a detailed manifesto explaining why he went on his rampage:

This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence.

The same is true of people like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph: They may indeed be mentally unstable, but the trigger that makes them kill is always scapegoating, eliminationist rhetoric that inflames their hatred of other people.

This doesn't appear to have been the case in Alabama; the man mostly killed family members and people he thought had "wronged" him. There's no evidence whatsoever of a political motive. Indeed, there isn't a scintilla of evidence for Glenn Beck's thesis except his idle speculation.

But what we can say is that rhetoric like Beck's -- the overt fearmongering, the scapegoating, the paranoid conspiracy theories, the overheated demonization of his opponents -- helps contribute mightily to people's irrational fears of being oppressed, of being under siege, and of feeling the need to lash out.

In other words, if a killing rampage is indeed motivated by "PC backlash," then the far more serious problem is the nonstop rhetoric from the right that tells people that "liberal political correctness", or that various kinds liberal perfidy -- their "treasonous" approach to the war, or the "socialism" or "communism" they are bringing to our economic system -- is the root cause of ordinary people's problems and is destroying the American fabric. In other words, people like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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