Trent Humphries, who was president of Tucson's tea party organization at the time of the Giffords shootings, said he lived around the corner from an older couple, both of whom were shot, one fatally, making the situation that much more unbearable.
"They were friends, it wasn't a political thing for me," he said. "But my family received death threats, we had sheriffs' cars outside, because of stupid comments made…in the press."
In the aftermath of the [Gabrielle] Giffords shooting, said Humphries, the media compounded the situation by expecting tea party members to weigh in immediately as opponents of gun control.
"[The press] came to me and asked, 'What should we do about guns?'" Humphries said. "Of course they go to the tea party guy. I said, 'How about you give us a chance to bury our dead, give us a chance to suffer through what we need to suffer through, and then we can get to politics.'"
In an editorial, the Washington, D.C. Examiner notes some other examples:
In February 2010, a man named Joseph Stack committed suicide by flying his small airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. New York Magazine, after reading his online suicide note, immediately declared that "a lot of his rhetoric could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally." The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart added that "his alienation is similar to that we're hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement." Neither mentioned that Stack had approvingly quoted "The Communist Manifesto" and denounced capitalism in his last message to the world. That may be a relevant detail if you're trying to blame his crime on a movement that believes the opposite.
Months later, right after the famous attempt to bomb Times Square, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested it had been carried out by someone "with a political agenda who doesn't like the health care bill or something." The would-be bomber, a Pakistani immigrant, later said in court: "If I'm given a thousand lives, I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah."
And don't forget Census worker Bill Sparkman.
It already feels like a fever dream from another era, but the liberal commentariate spent the entire summer of 2009 in a deranged panic that populist anger at government overreach was on the verge of exploding into a race war. I rounded up a fraction of the output in this August 2009 column:
"Violence" is "in the air," warned Woodrow Wilson International Center scholar Jamie Stiehm, in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed that revisited the 1830s torching of an abolitionist-built hall in the City of Brotherly Love. "If it could happen there and then, it could happen here and now." The American right's "recurrent" and "deep-seated problem with political violence," warned popular liberal blogger Josh Marshall, "endangers the country." The "election of Barack Obama," wrote Mother Jones' James Ridgeway, "adds even more fuel to nativist rage." Lefty historian-of-the-right Rick Perlstein, in a Washington Post chat to discuss his theory that "the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy," analogized anti-Obama protesters to "brownshirts" and "Nazi street thugs" in Weimar Germany, warning that "authoritarian takeovers of nations happen, they happen slowly, and it's a process." Washington Post columnist and regular public broadcast commentator E.J. Dionne went even further with the Nazi comparisons, describing this summer's town hall disputes as "the politics of the jackboot." Dionne added:
[V]iolence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. Lynching was the act of those who refused to let the legal system do its work. Guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments.
Yes, I have raised the racial issue, and it is profoundly troubling that firearms should begin to appear with some frequency at a president's public events only now, when the president is black.
It was a shameful, factually untethered episode that really should not be forgotten, leading directly to such debased Gifford-shooting commentary as Paul Krugman's deservedly infamous reaction of, "When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?" With that kind of just-add-violence confirmation basis, it is no wonder that the inevitable half-assed media speculation this time around landed on such a familiar target.
It might just be that the Brian Ross fallout will be loud enough to prompt journalistic outlets to avoid pinning immediate blame on the Tea Party next time around. Maybe one day they'll even get around to admitting how wrong, unfair, and divisive they were back in 2009. I won't hold my breath.
Here's an important piece to read, if you're interested in such things: In The New York Times, Columbine reporter Dave Cullen pleads with people, "Don't Jump to Conclusions About the Killer." And of course, it's always a good time to re-read Jesse Walker's "The Paranoid Center."