Did “extreme rhetoric” cause the Arizona shooting?

This is a letter I wrote to the Post (the newspaper at Ohio University) in response to a letter today:


As I began to read Jesse Pyle’s letter to the editor yesterday concerning the recent Arizona shooting, I had hope.  Unfortunately, they were crushed within seconds.

Mr. Pyle asserts that the question of blame is “incorrect in this instance,” yet proceeds to blame any well-known conservative and the Tea Party.  What is woefully ironic is the fact that, while Mr. Pyle mentions the shooter’s YouTube videos are concerned with government conspiracies, he ignores that the shooter’s book list contained The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf.  I somehow missed Palin, Limbaugh and Beck recommending them.

I’ve also missed “most conservative rhetoric” painting the federal government as a “cabal of degenerate communists who are out to enslave the country. ”  While it’s nice to stereotype conservative thought based on the rhetoric of senile relatives, it’s a weak and misleading caricature.

Ultimately, the question of blame transcends partisanship.  The blame falls on the shooter.  “Extreme rhetoric” from the Right did not encourage the shooting, just as extreme rhetoric from the Left did not encourage it.  If the shooting had happened in 2004, individuals would attempt to blame the Left and would be just as wrong.

Extreme is a relative term.  When a writer labels rhetoric or an ideology “extreme,” it usually means nothing more than “I vehemently disagree with those people.”  After every shooting, blame is cast on the “other side” and their “extreme” or “irresponsible” rhetoric.  Rhetoric that advocates violence against others is not extreme: it is stupid and intellectually vacuous.

Crazy people kill, regardless of ideology.  Sarah Palin did not cause this.  Neither did the Tea Party.  Neither did the Communist Manifesto or any person/literature an individual finds objectionable.  When some say the blame does not matter while simultaneously blaming a group, nothing of worth is added to the conversation, only mindless noise.