From the Belly of the Beast: The Tucson assassinations

The US capitalist media are going all out to portray the political assassination of six people in Tucson, Arizona, and the attempted assassination and wounding of 13 others, on January 8, as merely the action of a psychotic individual. But the facts speak otherwise. The assassin, Jared Loughner, planned his attack well in advance. He was a well-trained and accurate gunman, as is evidenced by the fact that he was able to hit 19 people in rapid fire of some 30 rounds in a situation of great confusion.


Gun sight graphics used in Palin's campaign material.

Loughner was inspired by the rhetoric and calls to action by the extreme right in the Republican Party’s  “Tea Party” movement. His main target was Democratic Party Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. After he shot her in the head he turned his weapon upon her supporters who had gathered for an open-air meeting with her. He meant to kill as many of her supporters as he could.

The bullet that passed through Giffords’ skull did not kill her immediately, but has left her with severe brain damage. The six people he did manage to kill, including a nine-year-old girl, were deliberately shot because they were at the rally and Loughner assumed they were Gifford’s political supporters. Media reports indicate that Loughner is an odd ball, and has made some bizarre statements. It remains to be seen, however, if he is actually psychotic - so far no evidence of this has been given. But whether or not this is the case, it is beside the point. Many on the violent extreme right are odd balls, and some are certainly psychotic.

Immediately after the assassinations, before the capitalist media got its marching orders to treat all this as merely the action of a deranged individual, some of the truth came out. The sheriff of Pima County, where Tucson is located, spoke at a press conference and said, “I think it’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from, uh, people in the TV business … I think it is time we did some soul searching. When you look at unbalanced people … how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down government … The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately Arizona, I think, has become a sort of capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

The sheriff was referring to the racist, thinly-disguised calls for violence against what pro-Republican media commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, who have tens of millions of followers, consider the “left”. Of course, the policies of those they call the “left” including President Barrack Obama and the congressional Democrats, would have been considered on the right a few decades ago. Giffords herself is on the right-wing of the Democratic Party, a “Blue Dog”. She had been a Republican, but left that party as it has moved further to the right. She recoiled from the virulent anti-Latino racism that has become Republican mainstream politics in Arizona, which last year passed a law to compel cops to stop anyone who “looks like” an “illegal immigrant” - that is, who looks Latino. There are many millions of workers in this country who do not have immigration papers who are branded as “illegal aliens”.

The sheriff was also referring to a new piece of Arizona legislation demanding that Obama not be allowed on the Arizona ballot in the 2012 presidential election unless he can “prove” he was born in the US. This is part of the campaign by the “birthers” movement to claim that Obama is “really” a Kenyan and therefore an “illegitimate” president. Millions believe this rubbish - or, more accurately, believe that no African American should ever be allowed to be US president. The “birthers” are one section of the Tea Party. Right after she was shot, Giffords’ father was asked by a reporter if anyone hated his daughter, and he accurately responded, “The whole Tea Party”.

In the 2010 congressional elections, Giffords narrowly defeated Republican Tea Party favourite Jesse Kelly. During the election campaign, Kelly ran an advertisement which said, “Get on target for victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Gifford from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly” at one of his rallies.

Also during the campaign, Republican candidate for vice-president in 2008, and Tea Party favourite, Sarah Palin, issued a widely circulated advertisement that put a number of candidates the Tea Party especially opposed in the crosshairs of a gun sight. For a few days after the assassinations, the capitalist media did re-broadcast a video Giffords put out before the 2010 election in response to Palin’s ad. In it Giffords is visibly shaken, and warns that putting her in gun sight crosshairs could have violent consequences.

Giffords received death threats concerning her support for the health insurance “reform” bill passed last year. Even though this legislation solidifies the control of the insurance corporations over health care for years to come, it is opposed by the Republican Party and especially its Tea Party wing for its modest reforms such as restricting the right of the insurance companies to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The right wing is opposed to any system of universal health insurance coverage, even if big business runs it. They don’t want to pay for insurance for “those people”, presently without insurance, mainly the poor and disproportionally African American. Giffords’ campaign headquarters was attacked because of her vote for the health insurance bill. Glass was shattered, by a bullet or another missile.

Some media commentators refer to statements Loughner has made on the internet and videos he made to prove he is psychotic. These are referred to as “garbled”. But some have been shown by people who track such things as originating not in Loughner’s alleged fevered imagination but in right-wing blogs circulated in the Tea Party and beyond. One example is Loughner’s comments on the US currency and the Federal Reserve System, the US central bank.

The “Fed’ was set up in 1913 at the initiative of Senate Republican leader Nelson Aldrich, with the backing of wealthy bankers led by JP Morgan and JD Rockefeller junior. Aldrich’s son-in-law. Rightists have long held that when the US went off the gold standard, this was a left-wing plot, even though it was enacted by Richard Nixon’s Republican administration. They also claim the same for the existence of the Federal Reserve System, and call for its abolition. Newly elected Kentucky senator and Tea Party spokesperson Ron Paul openly holds this position. He also wants to repeal sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which outlawed racist segregation by businesses.

Another example of Loughner’s “garbled thinking” is supposedly his references to a “second constitution”. But what this actually refers to is the view, promoted in right-wing circles, that the present US constitution is an illegitimate “second constitution” that annulled the original and only valid one. In their view, it was the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments after the Civil War, which abolished black slavery, that set up the “second constitution”.

While this view of the constitution circulates in fascist circles, it is finding an echo in Congress today. Many Republican lawmakers are raising the idea that a section of the 14th amendment be abolished. That section stipulates that anyone born in the US is automatically a US citizen. Originally intended to guarantee citizenship to the newly freed African American slaves, it is now being attacked as allowing children of undocumented immigrant workers born in the US to be citizens. In the current anti-hysteria against undocumented Latino immigrants gripping many, the racist right hope to chip away at this humane stipulation, and undermine the 14th amendment itself.

It is not clear if what the right wants is to deny citizenship to children born in the US neither of whose parents are US citizens, or if only one of whose parents is not a US citizen. If the latter, Obama could be declared a non-citizen since his father was a Kenyan while his mother was US born. So raising this idea dovetails nicely with the campaign by the “birthers”.

Whatever his mental state, Loughner was immersed in not only such right-wing ideas, but the broader climate of racism and appeals to violence the Pima sheriff referred to. Moreover, the whole of US society is permeated with guns and the glorification of violence, both on fictional TV shows and in reality, including at the highest levels of government. The daily mass violence the US is committing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan forms the overall context. Killing people by remote-control drones, the open use of torture and assassinations, and kidnappings (the CIA’s “special rendition” program) round out the picture.

These assassinations in Tucson highlight the overall shift to the right of capitalist politics in the past three decades. The rise of the Tea Party on the Republican right reflects that party’s accelerating direction. The Democrats trail right behind. Before last year’s congressional election, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warned that racists were being welcomed in the Tea Party, but exempted the Tea Party itself from the label of racists. The entire Tea Party movement, however, is a racist formation, sparked into being by hostility to the election of a black person as US president. But the NAACP was correct in pointing to the rise of the violent racist groups within the Tea Party. While the Tea Party is not a fascist movement, it is a fertile breeding ground for fascist groups.

[The title of this regular column, “From the belly of the beast”, was how the great Cuban fighter against US imperialism Jose Marti, signed his letters to friends back in Cuba when he was in the US.]