“Who I Wanted to Kill Was Every Democrat in the Senate + House”: Where the Notion of Right-Wing Political Murder Comes From

In the comments on the

roundup of recent political murders

by right-wingers, reader Andrew Bockover points out that I missed a big one. In July of 2008, unemployed truck driver Jim Adkisson

opened fire with a shotgun

during a performance of “Annie” at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and wounding several others.

Adkisson attacked the church because he

identified it as liberal

, and he had specifically planned to go out and assassinate liberals. “This was a symbolic killing,” he wrote in a

four-page manifesto

. “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate, + House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book. I’d like to kill everyone in the Mainstream Media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me.”

Bernard Goldberg’s book .

It’s hard to imagine a more straightforward case. Adkisson was, by his own description, angry, broke, and frustrated, looking for something to give shape to his rage and meaning to his life:

I know my life is going downhill fast from here. The future looks bleak. I’m sick + tired of being sick + tired, I’m absolutely fed up.

So he decided to take it out on liberals:

The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attack’d every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the military, from education to Religion. The major News outlets have become the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party. Liberals are evil, they embrace the tents of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.

The reason Adkisson’s anti-liberal message sounded like he borrowed it from talk radio and Fox News is that he was

borrowing it from talk radio and Fox News


Inside the house, officers found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

There are probably some reasonable explanations for why we keep forgetting about cases like the Tennessee shooting—and the

Pittsburgh shooting

, and the

Bay Area shooting

, and the

Tiller assassination

. Adkisson explicitly wrote that he wanted “to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done.” Paying attention to domestic political terrorists gives them the meaning and coherence they’re looking for. By treating every attack as an unexpected aberration, maybe we keep more people from believing it’s a normal thing to do.

Nevertheless, about once a year, it happens. Someone like Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly or Michael Savage goes on television or radio and names the names of people or groups who are treacherously subverting and destroying America. And some angry man gets a gun and sets off to kill some of those people—not out of some fractured, idiosyncratic crazy-person logic, but because the TV and the radio told him that these people were the enemy.

Yes, vigorous dispute is

essential to a free society

. The idea that disagreements have to be polite, or that really deep down

we don’t disagree at all

, is oppressive and is an instrument of oppression. And Jared Loughner does seem to belong to the

older, more complicated tradition

of political murder in America, rather than this contemporary wave of liberal-hating paranoid anger.

But, again, Rush Limbaugh’s claim that there has

never been any evidence

connecting the American right wing to violence is a brazen, ridiculous lie. Adkisson wrote four pages of evidence. This is not a gotcha in some game of partisan blamesmanship. This is what an actual person put down on paper to explain why he was about to go out and kill people with a shotgun in a church. Then he went out and killed them.

Liberals were targeted for murder because they were liberals. The question about the Gabrielle Giffords shooting isn’t whether this particular incident proves that the right-wing

Two Minutes’ Hate

approach to politics can move people to violence. The question is how or why anyone can pretend that was still a question.