How Far Will the Right Go in Blaming the Left for the Alexandria Shootings?

Rush Limbaugh and many other conservative opinion-leaders do not share the “unity” spirit on Capitol Hill. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The bipartisan agreement in Congress to put aside partisan rancor in discussing yesterday’s horrific shooting in Alexandria was observed pretty broadly, with some exceptions. One was Chris Collins of New York:

“I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric,” Collins told WBEN. “The rhetoric has been outrageous … the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters.”
Collins said that it was inevitable someone was going to act based on the “rhetoric” toward President Trump and the GOP.
“You know, some people react to things like that. They get angry as well. And then you fuel the fires,” said Collins, who is among the most vocal Trump backers on Capitol Hill.

Illinois Representative Rodney Davis seemed to agree, saying: “This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack.”

Beyond Capitol Hill, the spirit of at least momentary partisan detente was observed among most conventionally conservative voices. But practically from the moment the shots rang out, some of the louder voices on the right rushed to blame the left.

Perhaps the earliest was from conservative media personality Harlan Hill:

This is an allusion to the recent brouhaha over a production of Julius Caesar in which the assassinated Roman leader is trucked up to look like Donald Trump. Donald Trump, Jr., retweeted Hill’s attack with the endorsement: “This.”

Newt Gingrich trotted out another recent conservative grievance to blame the left for the shooting: the universally denounced video by comedian Kathy Griffin showing her holding up what appears to be the severed head of the president. (National Republican groups have already been using the Griffin video to smear Democratic congressional candidate Jon Ossoff in Georgia).

Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter quickly drew attention on social media to the political background of the shooter as soon as it was revealed. Radio gabber Michael Savage resorted to all caps:

After what might be interpreted as a decent interval, articles have now begun appearing at the websites of such mainstream conservative publications as the Daily Caller, National Review, and City Journal all more or less attributing the shooting to anti-Trump political activity and rhetoric. The front page of Breitbart News this morning is a buffet of efforts to link the atrocity to “the left,” with a particular emphasis on celebrations of the shooting by random people on Twitter.

Sorting through all these reactions, it is clear the more partisan right-wing voices are itching to string together a whole series of left-wing “outrages” — the Griffin video, Julius Caesar, anarchist violence in Berkeley, intolerance of provocative conservative speakers on college campuses, the militant language of Democratic “resistance” to Trump, and investigations of the president that they deem an effort to overturn the 2016 election — as naturally culminating in the shooting of Republican members of Congress.

But two of the most prominent figures in the right-wing media world went a subtle step further than just linking the shooting to a “climate of hate” against Trump or Republicans, suggesting that James Hodgkinson was a normal person “radicalized” by lefty rhetoric, and an all but passive vehicle for a leftist conspiracy. Alex Jones’s site Infowars did not mince words:

We have been warning for months that the mainstream media’s hysterical anti-Trump narrative and the left’s insistence that Trump is illegitimate will radicalize demented social justice warriors and prompt them to lash out with violence… It looks like that’s exactly what happened today. The blood is on their hands.

And Rush Limbaugh was even more lurid, describing the shooter as epitomizing the “deranged base of the Democratic Party,” deliberately pushed by that party’s leaders toward violence:

I could go back and show you tweets, I could read you tweets. I could read you statements made by elected Democrats and others promoting just this kind of behavior, just this kind of behavior. You can find it. If you look at the TV programs and the media personalities that this guy, Hodgkinson, was devoted to, you’ll find out how radicalized he was by left-wing TV and comedy.

The use of the word “radicalized” is revealing, insofar as the term typically arises in discussions of the process whereby previously innocent Muslims are drawn into jihadi terrorist circles.

As the post-shooting unity spirit inevitably wears off in Washington, this sort of talk may well spread into more respectable conservative and Republican venues — especially if, as seems likely, the president becomes ever more embattled on the investigatory front. Indeed, despite the president’s admirable restraint immediately after the Alexandria shooting, it would not be too surprising to hear “blame the left” narratives from the White House. Trump is already treating James Comey’s testimony, Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice inquiry, and the whole subject of his campaign’s complex interactions with Russia as a “WITCH HUNT.” It will be tempting for him to succumb to the same “reasoning” some of his most fervent supporters have already embraced by identifying all his tormentors with the violence against Republican congressmen yesterday.

Let us profoundly hope he does not go there. In the meantime, it would be helpful if conservatives who are legitimately worried about extremism on the left would open a dialogue with left-of-center folk who don’t really think they should be held responsible for random outrages that have little or nothing to do with real-life politics — any more than your average GOP congressman should be held responsible for the ravings of Alex Jones.

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