Retrogression at Heart of Tucson Arizona shooting

Dale Parsons

The January 8, 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona was instigated by years of hateful, racist speech and action on the part of the Right, despite denials from the Right and obfuscation in the mainstream media. If the American people respond properly to this outrage, however, it could forestall the rightward trend in the U.S.  – Editors

Denver, Colorado — The shooting in Tucson, Arizona, January 8, 2011 of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), which included 6 dead and 13 wounded, resonated deeply, evoking memories of the Columbine and Oklahoma City Massacres. The mainstream press is already trying to downplay the incident as a “non-political” event, as they did and still do with the 1999 Columbine Massacre and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I wrote an article at the time of Columbine where I critiqued those who tried to “limit the ‘meaning’ of the Columbine High School massacre to “boys’ psychological problems” (Retrogression at Heart of School Massacre,” News & Letters, May 1999).

The political atmosphere for Democrats in the repressive Republican stronghold of Arizona is “ugly”. This is how Rep. Gabrielle Giffords described her last narrowly won campaign against the Tea Party backed candidate, Jesse Kelly. It is a common practice for Tea Party members to harass and intimidate Democratic candidates with ugly, hateful, poisonous rhetoric, continuously throughout their campaigns. This is how Jesse Kelly announced a June 12, 2010 campaign event, “Get on Target for Victory in November, Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” Giffords’s district was littered with signs proclaiming, “Giffords Opposes SB 1070,” referring to her opposition to tough anti-immigration measures. She has been a perennial top target for Arizona Republicans. In March, Giffords spoke out about her district office being vandalized after she voted for the healthcare reform bill: “Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun site over our district and when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.” Friends said she had received several unspecified death threats. Giffords often commiserated with her Democratic colleague, Rep. Raul Grijalva, regarding the violence they both had to endure. Grijalva had a bullet fired through his Yuma, Arizona office and had suspicious white powder packages covered in swastikas sent to him.

This list of hate driven destructive acts goes on and on. When you combine these acts with the ugly, despicable hate driven rhetoric of local and national right wing shock jocks on radio and cable television, it’s no wonder a local psychopath, Jared Lee Loughner, incorporates the cause and carries the venomous vitriol to its logical conclusion, the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the ruthless murder of 6 people and the wounding of 12 others. The dead included the Chief Federal Judge for Arizona, John Roll (who also received death threats in 2009 over a $32 million civil rights suit filed against an Arizona rancher by undocumented immigrants — at the time, Roll and US Marshals attributed the threats to hysteria from talk radio), an aide to Giffords, 3 people in their 70’s, and a 9 year old girl. (How often are children “collateral damage” in the sick, degenerate stage of capitalist existence in which we live?)

I will leave the psychological profile of Jared Lee Loughner to others and not limit the “meaning” of this event. The ramblings of Loughner on various “conspiracy theory websites” appeared incomprehensible when first viewed by mainstream journalists. These same ramblings mean something much more heinous to someone like Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, who has studied the far right wing extremist “Patriot” and “Militia” groupings in this country. Chip Berlet tells us that the reference to a “second United States constitution” or a “second American constitution” on the political Right refers to objections to the Reconstruction Amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments), especially the freeing of slaves and the granting of citizenship rights to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States.” He goes on to say, “This raises the question of a possible racist and anti-immigrant tie to the act of terrorism in a state where the issue of race and immigration has turned nasty.” The concept of a “second American constitution” actually comes from serious writings by Constitutional scholars and has been twisted by White Supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The claim is a core element of White Nationalism, as documented in Leonard Zeskind’s Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. You can find out much more at Chip Berlet’s web site,

There have been hundreds of murders by people with anti-government (rightwing, it is assumed) politics in recent years, which draws a very different picture than that of “unhinged” individuals acting out. Columbine 1999 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 come to mind, in which a combined total of 181 people died. In addition, David Gunn, John Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Barnett Slepian, and George Tiller were women’s health clinic doctors and other workers murdered by anti-abortion zealots from 1993 to 2009.  Finally, Atlantic Monthly contains a chronology of far right attacks and violent rhetoric. It’s couched in terms of gun ownership versus gun control positions, but it reflects both organized and unofficial aggression by the right (Insurrectionist Timeline

Of course, the right wing ideologues scoff at any attempted linkage to the Tucson, AZ shooting. Bill Kristol goes so far as to call us “McCarthyite,” despite the fact that one of the reasons Newt Gingrich couldn’t win against Clinton despite the 1994 election was the reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing. The Right fully understands that there will be a big backlash against them if people see the shooting for what it is–a logical conclusion of their totalitarian effort to control US society and eliminate anyone in their path. Hence, they of all people, alongside all the pundits for the system, have suddenly become expert psychologists from a distance who try to turn this despicable crime into a “non-political” event. It doesn’t help that the liberal Democrats bemoan the “deteriorating climate of discussion on both sides” of the political aisle; the Right does not deserve any more free passes and is too arrogant to appreciate overtures toward peaceful co-existence, e.g. Obama’s televised speech calling on the nation to “heal together.” Since when has anyone on the Left issued the kind of physical threats like those on the Right (e.g. Second Amendment solutions)?  The Right has produced volumes of such threats in recent years. If the American people respond to this despicable act properly, they will impede the full-scale march to the Right.

The Right’s position on labeling right wing terrorist assassins with “penetrating” psychological profiles might seem less incredible if they hadn’t, beginning with Ronald Reagan through today, almost completely gutted mental health programs. Many individuals who once populated mental health facilities now are either homeless or populate our prisons. The kind of support the Right gives the mentally impaired is the kind of support a rope gives a hanging man.

The Right hasn’t any choice anymore but to pursue its “disciplining” of us. Since the welfare state has been almost entirely eliminated, the Right can’t lay low as in the past and let things cool off; when the movement from below pushes back, they have to keep the pressure on. The representative of capital’s job (Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, etc., etc.) is to attack the working class. They are gradually replacing the labor bureaucracy as capital’s weapon against the workers and the workers’ attempts to attain their own cooperative society.

As Peter Hudis wrote recently in “Dialectics of Economic Turbulence” (, “Today we face a very perilous situation. The profits of speculative capital are largely invisible to the average person—whereas the rising levels of state and federal debt, and the cutbacks that come with it, are all too visible. This serves as a perfect ideological screen to convince people to become accomplices in their own oppression by making them believe that the reason for their declining living conditions is that the government is spending too much of their money. The rise of the Tea Party movement is only one expression of this. By getting people to agree to cutbacks in government spending and social programs on the grounds that debt levels threaten their economic well being, the system manages to redistribute value from labor to capital while deflecting attention from capital’s structural contradictions. The more people buy into this—and many in the U.S. are doing so—the more prone they also become to accepting all sorts of racist imagery that blames the economic morass on factors such as ‘illegal immigration’—as the controversy over Arizona’s anti-immigrant law clearly shows”.

The Right is currently winning the battle of ideas and there is currently no clear mass movement for freedom in sight. This is fertile ground for retrogressive acts of violence. If these are unchecked we could end up with absolutism. We need to take responsibility for creating a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism and creating a new society based on fundamentally new human relationships.


Dale Parsons works in construction in the Denver area.


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1 Comment

  1. Marilyn Nissim-Sabat

    Dale Parsons’ article on the recent events in Tuscon is a superb attack on those who want to make us believe that there was no relation between Loeghner’s attack and the right wing attempt to impose totalitarianism on the US. There is however one point in Parsons’ article that it seems to me needs further development in order to provide gravitas to his stance. He writes that “he will leave the psychological profile of Loughner to others…” Of course I understand that Parsons’ may feel that he does not have enough background or training to weigh in on Loughner’s probable psychosis. Nevertheless, however, it is imiportant for us, those who are committed to total transformation of society to enable new human relaltions, to see that social formations are imbricated in the depth dimension of human psychosocial development. That is to say, the defense of the inalienable humanity of human individuals must be a defense of that humanity as Marx and others envision it: if mutilated by an anti-human, oppressive environment including both familial and broader social conditions, human beings will believe consciously or unconsciously or both that survival requires them to identify with the aggressor and become aggressors. Thus, Loughner’s inalienable humanity and inherent freedom were mutilated by a course of psychosocial devleopment that was a manifestation of a total environment hostile to the free develoopment of individuals in a society in which that is the condition for the free development of all. It seems to me that we must stand for and show the dialectic of human creativity flowing from emancipated individuals and the lifeworld of our necessary existence in communities. Thus, in not adressing Loughner’s psychological profile we miss the opportunity to stand for his humanity and in so doing for our’s. Loughner was, as Parsons says, a “local psychopath” and that is precisely the point: his humanity was already mutilated by the inhumanity fostered by a society, including society as reflected in his psychosocial developement from birth on, in which capitalism has always already poisoned all human relations. Isnt’ this the reason why we need a total transformation of society?