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Truthout: Few Solutions Emerge After Loughner Shootings


January 13, 2011- As speculation continues over what motivated Jared Loughner's shooting spree in Tucson Saturday, his actions have had a sobering effect on an increasingly hostile political atmosphere.

Debates between elected officials and members of the news media are often heated. But recent months have seen an increase in a type of hateful rhetoric among politicians, public servants and pundits alike that is intended to simply demonize opponents rather than argue with them.

Loughner's rampage ended with six dead and 14 critically wounded. Following his arrest, Loughner was charged with the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), two counts of first degree murder of federal employees and two counts of attempted murder of federal employees.

Conjecture over Loughner's motivations will continue forever. But as many public figures from across the political spectrum come forward to condemn his actions, some have begun to wonder if the tragedy in Tucson can help shed light on solutions to curb violent actions from disillusioned individuals.

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), believes that Loughner's actions were not caused by an affiliation with any political party, but were those of a disturbed mind nonetheless influenced by the heated partisan atmosphere.

"We're not suggesting that he is an exponent of the right or that he was somehow created by the Republican party," Potok said. "This is a person who is clearly mentally ill but who has absorbed political rhetoric ... the issue is what is poisoning us more than any other single thing is the use of falsehoods and propaganda aimed at particular groups of people."

Potok believes the biggest danger in the dehumanization of political opponents is the type of audience receiving those messages. "It's not merely vehemence. It's that they are lying and defaming large groups of people and setting them up as targets. Mentally ill or unstable people are the very first to pick up on this kind of white-hot rhetoric," Potok said.

SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote in a blog post this morning, "We should expect sharp elbows and a healthy degree of ridicule to be thrown around by those in the political arena. The problem is the incendiary rhetoric, with its violence-laced metaphors and the spinning of paranoid fantasies. The problem is the non-stop demonization one hears from political opportunists trolling for votes and their media allies trolling for ratings."

One example Cohen points out is the "cross-hairs map" distributed by Sarah Palin's political action committee in early 2010 depicting gun sights over the Congressional districts of Democrats who voted in favor of health care reform, including that of Giffords.

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