Sing That Song Again, Kentucky
Matt Welch and Michael Moynihan have already blogged the news that the death of Bill Sparkman, the Kentucky census worker found bound and lifeless with the word FED on his chest, has been ruled a suicide. Michael was kind enough to include a link to my essay on the paranoid center, with its argument that
We've heard ample warnings about extremist paranoia in the months since Barack Obama became president, and we're sure to hear many more throughout his term. But we've heard almost nothing about the paranoia of the political center. When mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers' anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.
I'll just add that the paranoid center thesis didn't rest on whether or not this was a murder. There's a certain number of politically motivated crimes each year, and my position isn't affected by whether one single death is or isn't one of them.
What's important was the leap to judgment. A large number of commentators assumed, apparently inaccurately, that the death was a murder, that the murder was political, and that the motive was linked to one congresswoman's crusade. They made those assumptions because it fit a narrative to which they were committed.
When people on the far left or the far right do that, they're accused of paranoia—of being so eager to connect the dots that they run ahead of what the evidence actually says. Let this sad story from Kentucky be a reminder that the establishment is just as capable of making this mistake as the fringe.