The moment that 12 persons were gunned down and nearly 60 wounded in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre, the buzz hit that the alleged shooter was a possible Tea Party member. The rumor was false.
There is no immediate evidence that alleged shooter James Holmes was anything more than a disgruntled, frustrated, fantasy acting-out, near dropout college grad student.
Tea Party leaders publicly condemned the violence. They also loudly protest that they should not be held accountable for the deranged acts of Holmes or Jared Loughner, the accused shooter of former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford. They are right. The individuals that committed the blood-drenched acts are not Tea Party activists, or even members.
But that doesn’t change the terrifying fact that Tea Party leaders and members have been the nation’s outspoken cheerleaders for virtually unrestricted gun advocacy. The litany of violence-inciting signs, posters, caricatures and bullseye-ringed targets of President Obama, as well as the numerous, bellicose demonstrations and protests of gun controls that have been staples at some Tea Party protests, have drilled home the public perception that the Tea Party does have more than a faint relationship to the murderous acts of loose-hinged, gun-crazed types.
That image of Tea Party gun craze was never more evident than in May last year when dozens of gun-toting, Tea Party affiliated backed gun rights activists rallied in Virginia and at the Washington Monument in the capital with signs reading, “Which part of ‘shall not be infringed’ confuses you?” and waving bright orange stickers saying, “Guns save lives.”
Dozens of the participants proudly displayed their holstered handguns and unloaded rifles over their shoulders while they listened to speakers saber rattle the usual Tea Party villains — liberals, Democrats, and the federal government for gun restrictions. There were even veiled hints that armed confrontations were OK to defend their gun use rights.
Tea Party member Catherine Crabill, who ran for the Republican nomination in Virginia’s 1st congressional district, flatly declared that the right to carry firearms was the way the Founding Fathers meant for citizens to fight off tyranny.
Failed Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle was unabashed in proclaiming that the Constitution gave citizens the right to oust a “tyrannical” government, which, she cryptically added, meant removing her opponent Harry Reid from office. Angle backpedaled fast, and claimed that she meant vote him out, not kill him.
America, of course, has been the Western world’s runaway leader in the number of civilian gun killings for years. In the decade before the Tea Party was thought up, the number of violent threats against federal judges and prosecutors jumped sharply, according to a report by the U.S. Marshalls Service.
Federal officials blamed a number of parties, including the “sovereign citizen” movement — an unorganized grouping of tax protesters, white supremacists and others who don’t respect federal authority — for the sharp increase in violent threats against officials.
But the inflammatory, gun violence rhetoric rose to an even higher pitch, and exploded as a national issue and major concern during the health care reform debate in 2010. Then nearly a dozen Democrats and Republicans received threatening messages.
Numerous psychological studies and research have conclusively shown that there is a firm link between hyper-inflammatory violent rhetoric and excessive media saturation of the airwaves with violent rhetoric, and the rampages of unbalanced individuals.
In an American Psychological Association discussion on the cause and effects of the shooting of Gifford, participants noted that the media plays a huge role in spurring violence and aggression and increases the likelihood of more violent acts by mentally deranged individuals.
One expert noted that violent rhetoric and media saturation of it create “a rhetorical climate” in which unstable persons who are not able to balance messages that they see and hear may act out their frustrations and violent impulses.
They specifically cited the firearms imagery Sarah Palin conveyed with her dubious map marked with crosshairs and her instructions to “reload!”
In a lengthy discourse on its website, the Colorado Tea Party calls on “red-blooded Americans” to stand up for the values of freedom and liberty and boasts that gun ownership is sacred.
The Colorado Tea Party and national Tea Party leaders are not directly responsible for the monstrous violence Holmes is accused of. But Tea Party leaders and followers that have made a fetish of violent gun talk and toting shouldn’t be surprised when the inevitable violent outburst claims the lives of innocents and that the finger instantly points their way.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.