It was the gun. It was the mental illness. It was the Tea. It was "Second Amendment remedies" and "reload" and candidates’ districts marked with cross hairs. It was glennbeckrushlimbaughmichaelsavagetalkradiotv with its 24/7 fomenting of hatred and contempt for Democrats, its antigovernment paranoia. It was the incivility. It was Arizona. It was the Internet. It was hypermasculinity and contempt for women. It was the gun.
It’s been only a few days since Jared Loughner opened fire with a Glock 19 in the Tucson supermarket parking lot where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet. And with Giffords gravely wounded, six dead and thirteen others injured, already millions of words have been written about why. In the Guardian, my Nation colleagues Gary Younge and Max Blumenthal point to Arizona’s poisonous right-wingery, some of it aimed directly at Giffords, a well-liked centrist Democrat: after she voted in favor of healthcare reform, her Tucson office was vandalized; at a 2009 meet-and-greet, a protester dropped a gun. In a letter to the New York Times, Giffords constituent Ronnie Bergen recalls attending a healthcare forum arranged by the Congresswoman: "the event was packed with anti-Obama people, and the tone was ugly: shouting, rude, menacing individuals…. It was a chilling experience, even for one who had grown up in the bitter politics of the 1960s." As Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik put it, Arizona has become "the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Might an unbalanced young man be influenced by the world around him? The very idea is "political opportunism," harrumphs David Brooks: Loughner was simply deranged, possibly schizophrenic and "locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it."
In a way, sure. For example, there’s no evidence that Loughner knew about Sarah Palin’s notorious electoral map on which Giffords’s district was one of twenty marked with cross hairs. This was a man who disrupted his community college math class by shouting out questions about the end of the world, posted gibberish on YouTube and was fired as an animal-shelter volunteer because he deliberately walked puppies in an area quarantined for parvovirus. But you don’t have to be Michel Foucault to understand that mentally ill people express their demons in ways that are culturally—and politically—inflected, and in Arizona that inflection is right-wing antigovernment hysteria. He may never have mentioned Palin (and really, must she always be the center of attention?), but his obsessions—the gold standard, government tyranny through mind control, the "second Constitution"—are familiar themes of far-right patriot movements. Mark Potok, who monitors wing-nut extremism for the Southern Poverty Law Center, sees in the jumble of novels on Loughner’s MySpace page a theme of the individual against the totalitarian state, with Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto thrown in "as variants of a kind of generalized ‘smash the state’ attitude." And David Brooks, let’s get real: Loughner opened fire on a government event—a Democratic government event—not a shopping mall, a swimming pool or a classroom at Pima County Community College, from which he’d been suspended.