SYNDICATED COLUMN: Political Violence? Stop Violent Politics

Media Spokesmen Move to Stifle Violent Speech

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 other people is tragic. But it is not shocking. It isn’t even surprising.

What is surprising—weird, even—is the response of the corporate-owned political and media establishment. They’re coming out against violent rhetoric. Not real violence. They want to stop talk about violence.

Liberals accuse right-wingers of creating an atmosphere of hatred that fuels incidents like the Arizona shootings.

“We need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently,” urged MSNBC’s Keith Olberman. If he gets his way, a lot of people in Hollywood are going to be out of work.

Violent-rhetoric-causes actual-violence-is-a-liberal-meme. “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin,” tweeted Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos after the Tucson shootings. Moulitsas noted that the website for Palin’s PAC featured an image of Rep. Giffords’ district with crosshairs over it. There is, however, no evidence that the accused gunman ever saw Palin’s website.

Righties counter that the really inflammatory rhetoric comes from the left. From, for example the likes of me: “Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right,” Erick Erickson of RedState whined after Giffords was shot. “The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall,” he then backtracked. Like hell.

The cognitive disconnect between reality and self-perception in American society and politics is bizarre and frightening. Whenever there’s a school or workplace shooting spree, Americans act shocked! shocked! shocked! To hear media commentators, you’d think this was a peace-loving nation of Dalai Lamas rather than a bunch of brawlin’, trash-talkin’, gun-totin’, foreigner-bombin’ yahoos who drive around Iraq shooting people while listening to death metal.

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy,” said Keith Olberman. Does he live in America? Americans worship violence. Kicking ass is our national religion. “Violence and threats of violence” are part of our daily lives. As a kid, I got beaten up by bullies. As an adult, I collect death threats in response to my cartoons. When I ride my bike, motorists try to run me off the road. Most of my female friends have been raped.

When I served jury duty in New York prospective jurors were asked whether they or someone close to them had ever been the victim of a violent crime. Down the line they went, 50 at a time. They went through 150 people. Every New Yorker there had suffered the effects of a brutal assault or the murder of a loved one.

The first time I felt any self-respect was when I sent a high school bully to the hospital.

Sorry, Keith. Violence has plenty of place in our lame excuse for a democracy. Remember how Bush became president in 2000? He hired goons to assault Florida election workers and had a representative threaten a coup on national television.

“Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” chimed in President Obama. Who was either coming from or en route to a meeting with Pentagon generals to discuss America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, or perhaps the occupation of Haiti, or expanding the new concentration camp at Bagram. How many assassination orders have you signed so far, Barry? How many extraordinary renditions? How many torture memos?

As I recently explained to an interviewer: “The reason I oppose this particular regime is because it is so aggressively violent.”

And I’m not talking about gun violence.

I’m talking about the wholesale over-the-top violence of neo-colonialism abroad, fueled by a cult of militarism here at home. U.S. forces are currently engaged in combat operations and propping up puppet regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other countries. They are hated and reviled there. Here every other car’s bumper urges us to “support our troops.”

We kill so many civilians we can’t be bothered to count them; not even America’s wimpy phony Left opposes the killing of “enemy” uniformed soldiers who die defending their homelands. Military action is America’s default response to every major news story. The 9/11 attacks? Kill them all—even if we’re not sure who “they” are. Hurricane Katrina? Send in the troops—not help. Indian Ocean tsunami, earthquakes in Pakistan or Haiti—anything and everything is an opportunity to invade, corrupt, pillage and murder.

The young man accused of shooting Rep. Giffords is portrayed as sick, deranged, and fond of oddball conspiracy theories. In these things, he is a typical American. “Typical” Americans, after all, believe in angels and creationism and that Bush found the WMDs in Iraq and trickle-down economics. Typical liberal Americans think it’s perfectly fine to give trillions to bankers while millions lose their jobs and get no help whatsoever.

The Tucson gunman is accused of an act of “senseless violence.” Here, too, he is just another face in the crowd. We all pay our taxes. None of us loses a minute of sleep as those taxes are used to make bombs and hire men and women to drop them on innocent people, who then blow into bits of flesh and bone.

Then there is the covert violence all around us: the tens of thousands of Americans who die annually because they can’t afford to pay for a doctor’s visit, the millions of children who go to bed hungry every night, the millions evicted from foreclosed homes (tell them it’s not an act of violence), the hundreds of thousands who sleep outside and the millions who couchsurf with friends and relatives because shelter is too expensive. We don’t even think about getting serious about solving these problems.

Like terrorism, political violence is a relatively minor issue. And as guys named Lincoln and Garfield and Charles Sumner—who was nearly beaten to death by a fellow member on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856—could attest, it is not a new one.

The brutality being carried out by the political system and its corporate sponsors is responsible for the equivalent of tens of thousands of Tucson-level shooting sprees each year in the U.S. alone. For example, a peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2005 found that the death toll directly attributable to income inequality is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”

But the ruling classes doesn’t want us to think about reality. They want to make us shut up. Thus their calls to ramp down high-octane political speech.

Political violence? We should be much more worried about violent politics.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is


17 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Political Violence? Stop Violent Politics

  1. I agree with the second part of your column, but I think it would be unfair to not accuse the right and people like Sarah Palin for inspiring the events in Tucson.

  2. No doubt, the lion’s share of violent rhetoric comes from the Right. It’s especially frightening since they control the dominant political and economic power structure. There’s never been a left-wing version of McCarthyism nor could there be. Nor has there been the kind of “send all liberals to camps” ranting we heard during the Bush years from the Right. But I think it’s becoming pretty clear that the Tucson shooter didn’t have a coherent political ideology.

  3. 1.) The Dalai Lama is just a reactionary monarch who is using the fact that white people often confuse him with Yoda to get his kingdom back. I have no love for the Chinese communists, but they’re right about that specific point. Saying we’re not a nation of Dalai Lamas is an unintentional complement.

    2.) Crazy as the shooter was, his question “What is government if words have no meaning?” deserves an answer. Our latest congress is anti-deficit, but refuses to raise new revenue or cut any major expenditures like military and medicare that could make a dent in the deficit. We claim our “combat troops” are leaving Iraq, but the logistical support, advisers, and embassy guards we leave behind can still shoot and be shot at. Bill Clinton beat a perjury rap by arguing what the definition of “is” is and his successor said we don’t torture because he redefined torture to mean torture to death. To rephrase an apparent schizophrenic’s question, how can we choose or leaders when we can’t believe any word they say means what any reasonable person would think it does?

  4. @Billy Mac: I agree with many of your statements, but disagree with the take on the Dalai Lama. Earlier in his life that may have been true, and certainly the Tibetan natives lived particularly stressed and horrid lives under the Lamas (they really had nothing and existed as subsistance farmers who worked had to work on the brink of death just to make ends meet) though it is important to realize that China, somehow, has made their lives even worse.

    The point is though, what do the Tibetan’s want? Interviewing any of them (in a situation where they can be assured of no repercussions from their Chinese overlords) and they will tell you that they want the Lamas back. Most of them are so devoutly Buddhist that they believe the only point of this world is suffering and to be used to atone for previous sins and thus achieve access to a better world in their next life. China has destroyed their religion, with the removal and replacement of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima the Panchen Lama thus destroying their religious heritage and lineage while filling the vital positions with a puppet from the Chinese government. The people want their religion back, and unlike many religions, theirs is embodied in individuals who are supposed to reside in specific location, so they want their individuals back in their specific locations.

    The most recent proposals of the Dali Lama to China is to just allow him back as a religious figure, and that he would gladly seed all political authority to the Chinese. This is, of course, laughably unsatisfactory to the Chinese government.

    Again, while some of the things he did much earlier in his life may qualify him as just another despot, he has come a long way and is only asking for what the Tibetan people demand. Recently he stated that he didn’t think he was going to reincarnate as a person anymore (i.e. end the line of Lamas forever) and the Tibetan people were more offended by that then anything but the Chinese occupation of their homeland and usurping of their religion.

    In conclusion I do believe you have an unfairly cynical view of the man. He preaches non-violence, even against the Chinese government who have destroyed his, and his people’s, everything typically by using violence or at least the threats there of made visceral by previous uses of violence.

  5. Most of the violent rhetoric comes from the Right. However, hands on the Left are just as blood-stained due to the silence and tepid hand wringing of too many Lefties while the Democrats enact a Constitution shredding/war mongering/corporatist agenda that would please any right wing despot. Some of the vitriol is aimed at biracial black Obummer but most of the anger, despair, and general malaise is because people are angry about unemployment, foreclosure, health care red tape, war run amok, assault on dissent and civil liberties. The sheeple are stupid but they have sense enough to notice the rich and powerful getting more so and the govt that is supposedly “of, by, for” the people doing nothing to help the not-rich and powerful majority of the population. More often, said govt helps the rich and powerful get even more at the expense of the increasing population of have nots out here. It’s no wonder many people fall under the spell of violent rhetoric and actions in this environment. I am very sorry for the killed and injured in Arizona. But I am more sorry because the conversation will now center on how we need to tone down our criticism (they make no distinction between valid criticism and violent rhetoric) and make nice while Rome, er, the US burns. This go along to get along silence on the Left along with the marginalization of those who offer valid criticism is the reason violent rhetoric and just plain stupid commentary hi-jacks the conversation now. Watch Obummer and Congress get away with even more mayhem during this period of “reflection on what we say and how we say it.”

  6. “Most of the violent rhetoric comes from the Right. However, hands on the Left are just as blood-stained due to the silence and tepid hand wringing of too many Lefties while the Democrats enact a Constitution shredding/war mongering/corporatist agenda that would please any right wing despot.”

    In other words, the right-wing and the right-wing of the left-wing, aka the “moderates.” Gotcha.

  7. And let’s not forget this treacherous precedent:

    In Arizona, anyone can have you locked up if s/he says you’re crazy:

    In Arizona, anyone concerned can report odd behavior to mental-health experts

    “Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.”


    “Arizona has one of the most expansive mental health laws in the country, allowing any person, concerned about the mental state of another to petition local authorities to have the person evaluated if they are a danger to themselves or others, if they are unable to care for themselves, or if they appear to be mentally ill but may not know it.

    “In other states, stricter mental health laws require that people must show that they are an imminent danger to themselves or others before they can be involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment.”

    Set against the backdrop of collapse:

    “National surveys have ranked Arizona near the bottom for how it provides mental health services. And more recently, like other states, Arizona has seen its mental health budget cut dramatically.”

    this terrifies the crap outta me

    think about this

    i mean

    really, think about this

    for a while

    let it sink in

  8. It seems pretty clear now, like Ted warned, that the “lone nut” in this case has no coherent political ideology, and if anything, leans slightly leftwards. Incidentally, it does seem like a “lone nut” incident, unlike other cases. It all doesn’t matter to the mainstream media: since One of the hallowed class of our betters was hurt, culprits must be found left and right. Mostly right.
    What I don’t understand is: when they talk about “vitriolic rhetoric” does that include Lords Bush, Obama and McCain when they talk about obliterating another million Muslims, ordering extrajudicial assassinations and “extraordinary renditions”?

  9. How is it possible that “the death toll directly attributable to income inequality is ‘comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”? What journal was the paper published in? Who were the authors?

    They must be double counting fatalities, given that many of the ways they list to die for comparison can be plausibly correlated with poverty. The only alternative is that proximity to money makes people live longer, like Magic Johnson on South Park.

  10. Excellent, Excellent article Ted! We seem to have a knack for deliberately missing the point. As for the shooter…I don’t think it really matters what, if any, his political ideology is. What matters is, as you’ve eloquently stated, how typically American he is. Paranoid, uninformed, living in a fantasy world.

  11. Pot-smoking (which should be anyone’s right, btw) doesn’t strike me as the typical pastime of the Fox News audience, Albert. Which I think leans more towards bellicose nationalist right-wing types than “anti-government nuts”. You know there can be a difference there, right?
    On another note, your Dear Leader, who is oh-so opposed to “violent rhetoric”, just raised the bar on how many innocent victims, aka “collateral damage”, his bombings can do, from 29 to 50. I guess that’s a moderate bipartisan number, with which both Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann can compromise.

  12. Google comes to my rescue as per Loughner’s ideology:

    A Loughner friend, Zach Osler, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that Loughner “did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.”

    Sounds strangely like the hero on today’s cartoon. The Christian Science Monitor also has a nice selection of Loughnerania, that strangely would put him right at home with some of the folks commenting here (but no, I’m not naming any names 😉

  13. “collateral damage”

    bucephalus, that’s horrible if true but I can’t find it in a search of recent news through Yahoo. What’s your source

  14. Lot of conservatives smoke pot also, why is this a liberal thing? There’s no separation between the bellicose nationalists and the anti-government nuts. When I hear the anti-government nuts rant, it’s usually about non-military spending and if they do rant it’s because IMHO they secretly want the military to do their own bidding. But that is the exception. These anti-government nuts only want the government to do bad things instead of good things.

    Why are you telling me this about Obama and his wars and other policies? I have been critical of him too; not as much as Ted, but I have.

  15. @Russell:

    I got this from, but the article from the Boston Globe it quotes is apparently only accessible to subscribers (silly old, slowly dying, paper media…)

    I don’t mean to be rude, but you should really try to view the world in more colors than black and white: the world’s political landscape (or the USA’s, for that matter) is not neatly divided between “liberals” and “conservatives”. That said, smoking pot is probably a litmus test for not being a conservative, unless you classify as “conservative” all those who don’t vote Democrat.
    The point of reminding folks (not you particularly) about Obama’s actions was to remind people that these politicians and media people haranguing us about “violent rhetoric” have no problem with violent conduct when it is carried out by the state, especially when it’s reins are in the hands of their allies (that goes for both parties, btw).

    @Billy Mac:
    Kudos on the comment about the Dalai Lama: had his butt not being kicked out by the Red Army, he would still be sitting pretty being pampered by the poor Tibetan peasants, and not being fêted by Hollywood celebs as a “light to the world” and so on. He probably would not have an opinion, or care, about “world peace” too.

  16. OK, so one of my pet peeves here……who exactly said they were shocked? I mean, I know CNN reported it as a headline, as did other news….”Americans shocked by shooting”. . . .did they actually poll people? I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t shocked on 9/11. In fact, I don’t know anyone who was shocked about 9/11. Or even surprised for that matter. They were certainly alarmed, some were scared, some were upset. . . but shocked? Who goes around and verifies this claim?

    And, if it is not verified, why is the FCC not fining major news networks for reporting BS? Not that they would care if news networks reported BS, but still.