After Sarah Palin targeted her district
with a gunsight on a map identifying Democrats Palin was urging her
followers to "reload" and defeat, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle
"We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it
depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When
people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that
On Saturday, Giffords, a moderate Democrat who stirred the wrath of right-wingers with her vote for health care reform, was shot by a gunman who had posted "I can't trust the government" videos on the Internet. The shooting spree killed six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, and left 13 others injured.
Now, Palin says she's praying for the dead and wounded,
including Giffords, who remains in critical condition after hours of
Another targeted Arizona representative, Congressman Raul Grijalva, says: "Ms. Palin needs to look at her own behavior."
And the sheriff of the county where the shooting took place
says: "It's time to do a little soul searching about the rhetoric we
The incident has sparked a national dialogue about violent
political rhetoric and political violence. While Palin is in the thick
of it, as is so often the case, the dialogue goes to a deeper place --
and to deeper questions about how a democracy maintains a robust
national debate while maintaining the measure of civility that invites
rather than repels public participation.
Giffords is likely to survive the apparent assassination
attempt at a community event in Tucson. She was in critical condition
But others, including a federal judge, lay dead.
Federal judge John Roll was killed in the rampage outside a
Tucson supermarket. Roll, who was appointed to the federal bench by
George H.W. Bush in 1991, has served as Chief Judge of the U.S. District
Court in Arizona since 2006. Roll, who presided in 2009 over a $32
million civil-rights lawsuit filed by immigrants against an Arizona
rancher, had faced death threats.
So, too, had Congresswoman Giffords. And Arizona authorities
said there was little doubt that the gunman came to the meeting looking
to shoot Giffords, not Roll.
The target of a highly controversial campaign for her defeat
in 2010 by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Giffords was one of 20
House members whose district was marked with a gunsight target in a
SarahPAC message that had Palin telling her ardent backers: "It's Time
to Take a Stand."
After the health-care vote, Palin urged her minions to "reload" and go after the targeted members of the House.
Palin was talking politics, but she used the langauge on gunplay and hunting for prey.
Despite Palin's campaigning, Giffords was reelected.
On Saturday, however, she was felled by a gunshot wound to
the head. Initial reports said the congresswoman had been killed; later,
after a lengthy surgery, she was listed in critical condition.
At least six others who had come to see Giffords at the
community event were killed. As many as 18 people were hit. The
assailant, who is in custody, has been identified as Jared Lee Loughner,
a 22-year-old white male who posted YouTube videos that included rants
about immigrants and the government. In one, he criticized the voters of
Giffords' congressional district, complaining that: "The majority of people who reside in District 8 are illiterate..."
While Loughner's political statements came in the context of broader rants that seemed to suggest he was unstable, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik observed
that "when you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the
vitriol that comes out of certain people's mouths about tearing down the
government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this
country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I
believe has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for
prejudice and bigotry."
"It's time to do a little soul searching about the rhetoric we hear on the radio, how are children are being raised," the sheriff added.
A shaken President Obama described the shooting spree as "a
tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our country," and dispatched the
director of the FBI to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation. The
president huddled throughout the day with top security officials and
made numerous calls to key Democratic and Republican congressional
leaders regarding the incident.
Federal officials and police moved Saturday to provide extra
security for other nenbers of Congress who might be targeted
by assassins. Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, whose strong support
of immigrant rights inspired attacks on his offices and death threats.
"The climate has gotten so toxic in our political discourse,
setting up for this kind of reaction for too long. It's unfortunate to
say that. I hate to say that," Grijalva said Saturday. "If you're an opponent, you're a deadly enemy."
Referring to those who employ violent language to attack
those they disagree with, Grijalva said: "Anybody who contributed to
feeding this monster had better step back and realize they're
threatening our form of government." In particular, he called out Palin,
saying: "Ms. Palin needs to look at her own behavior, and if she wants
to help the public discourse, the best thing she could do is to keep
Giffords was one of several Arizona Democratic U.S. House
members who were targeted with violence and death threats last year-both
in relation to their support for health care reform and to their stances they have taken on immigration reform issues.
Giffords' office was attacked
after she voted for the health-reform bill last March, and her friend,
Sylvie Lee, told reporters Saturday that "there have been threats"
against the Jewish congresswoman.
In the summer of 2009, when health-care reform debates raged,
police were called to a town-hall meeting at which Giffords was
confronted regarding the issue. One of the attendees had dropped a gun.
But Giffords remained remarkably open and accessible,
continuing to hold public events as the immigration issue heated up and
she was targeted for defeat by a Tea Party-backed Republican in one of
the most intense races of 2010.
Giffords won the contest by a 49-47 margin and began her third term this week.
The congresswoman was conscious of the threats she faced -- discussing them broadly and specifically addressed Palin's over-the-top targeting. Yet, she remained remarkably accessible to her constituents and critics.
Giffords returned to Tucson this weekend for the public event
outside a local grocery store. An hour before the event, the
40-year-old congresswoman wrote on Twitter: "My 1st Congress on Your
Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or
tweet me later."
Around 10 a.m. Arizona time, Giffords was holding one of her regularly scheduled "Congress on Your Corner" sessions-where the
Blue Dog Democrat talks with constituents about issues that are
concerning them. The gunman ran up and began shot her point-blank in the
A shocked Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat
who has worked closely with Giffords on a number of issues, focused on
the fact that the congresswoman was meeting with constituents when the
shooting took place. And she worried about the threat to our discourse.
"Rep. Giffords was meeting with her constituents, holding
public office hours to better serve them," said Baldwin. "Communication
between citizens and their elected representatives is critical to the
proper functioning of our democracy. There is no place for violence,
under any circumstances."