right wing violence since September 11, 2001.
Homegrown right wing fanatics have a long and bloody history in this country, but the recent spate of shootings feels like something new, more like of a frightening trend than the random spasm of a lunatic fringe. And while it would be folly to try to pinpoint any one cause, there seem to be a confluence of contributing factors.
First, of course, is the ready access to guns -- military-style guns -- and the N.R.A.'s ability to prevent a majority of cowering politicians from enacting even the most minimal gun control legislation. There have been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook and, if anything, the gun fetishists have gained influence. The Open Carry Texas movement, involving men brazenly displaying their assault weapons in fast food restaurants, seemed to discomfit even the N.R.A. But only temporarily. Meanwhile, no tragedy seems to be able to move the government from its blithe acquiescence to these gun nuts.
Closely related is the deep-rooted belief among a wide swath of conservatives that the Second Amendment sanctions their fundamental right to armed revolution in response to what they perceive as tyranny. As Ed Kilgore puts it, they believe that "virtually unlimited access to weaponry, including military weaponry, is essential to the maintenance of liberty on grounds that patriots might need to emulate the original American Revolutionaries and undertake the armed overthrow of the government."
The problem is that what they view as tyrannical encompasses pretty much anything that a Democratic Administration, especially the current one, endorses. Obamacare is an assault on freedom. Climate change is a hoax. Legalized abortion is akin to the Holocaust. The IRS is a tool to deny free speech to the Tea Party.
And right wing politicians eagerly play along. For example, as Brian Beutler describes, "when Democrats tried to pass an extremely modest gun law in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Ted Cruz said the real goal was 'a federal list of every gun owner in America.' When Democrats more recently proposed a constitutional amendment to effectively reverse the consequences of the Citizens United ruling, he said they were trying to 'repeal the First Amendment.'"
And what makes this particularly explosive is the apocalyptic rhetoric of mainstream conservatives -- Republican politicians and Fox News pundits alike -- who pander to their base, stoking their anger and feeding their paranoia by engaging in relentless falsehoods and implicitly condoning whatever measures are taken to redress the government's infringement on their liberty.
Back in January 2011, after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tuscon, I wrote that it was inevitable that the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery from the right was bound to land somewhere: "Republicans have demonized the President and others who oppose their political and social world view, and have called, perhaps metaphorically, for their demise in offensively graphic terms. Tragically and predictably, not everyone understands it as metaphor."
Things have only gotten worse. As Paul Waldman writes "when you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about."
Waldman says that "it may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands." I'm not so sure.