September 27th, 2009

Although right-wing bloggers are vociferously trying to denounce any specific interpretation of the killing of a census worker in Kentucky, the details that are emerging seem to be pointing away from most of the non-political interpretations that the conservatives are hoping will be the case. There has been a lot of discussion on this murder, and despite the right-wing complaints, the left-wing blogs are showing a lot more restraint in making definitive claims than right-wingers usually do when the circumstances are reversed.

However, the murder, whether it was in fact politically motivated or not, brings up the very serious point that anti-government right-wing rhetoric has reached dangerous levels. The over-the-top hysteria about killing or imprisoning people, deranged claims of conspiracies involving the census which smack of fascist jack-booted thugs in silent black helicopters coming to take away your guns, and the general paranoid rantings from even mainstream right-wing sources today will, eventually, lead to violence. If it did not lead to this particular murder, it very well could have. This is clear from a lot of the right-wing denials out there, which tellingly do not claim that such a connection is impossible, but simply that the facts are not known yet.

In the case of the murder of Bill Sparkman, although the police are being extremely cautious in what they announce publicly, facts have emerged which cannot be easily dismissed. Sparkman had left to do census work when he was killed, and the state of his body (unclothed except for socks, strung up against a tree with duct tape liberally applied, a red cloth stuffed into his mouth) when he was found made it clear that he was murdered. The most noted detail is the word “FED” scrawled across his chest. Although he was found with his feet touching the ground, he reportedly died by asphyxiation; he could have been hanged and then lowered before being abandoned.

The most common alternate theory regarding his death is that he ran into drug dealers; reportedly, there are a good number of meth labs and marijuana fields in that area which are run by very dangerous people, and who take even less kindly to federal workers than they do to any other people they see as trespassers. Such people may have killed him for non-political reasons, and still could have focused on his occupation as a reason for killing him–or they might have faked the reason for his death so as to throw police off the scent.

However, that does not necessarily add up. Such people do not like to draw attention to themselves; the manner in which the man was killed seems like an unlikely way for such people to dispose of a body. Some of the smaller attributes of the crime scene, such as the fact that his ID tag showing he was a government worker being duct-taped to his shoulder, show attention to detail which is more in line with someone trying to make a political point. This is not to say that it could not have been part of a deception, but it would require a thoughtful approach. If it was a drug dealer doing all of this, it seems to demonstrate stupidity, not cleverness. In addition, Sparkman was going door-to-door to collect census data; it is not extremely likely that he was snooping in such a fashion that would have led him to stumble upon meth labs or marijuana fields in such a way that would lead to such people murdering him. Again, not that it was impossible, but it does come across as less likely.

As I stated previously, however, the point can be made that when political rhetoric reaches a hysterical enough level, it can and does lead to acts of violence, even it that were not the case here. The murder of George Tiller is an excellent example. Had Tiller not been singled out for vicious public attacks by Randall Terry, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and others, he would probably not have been murdered by a pro-life fanatic. Public free speech is one thing; incitement to violence crosses a very real line. Hiding behind the defense that murder was no specifically called for is a weak, cowardly excuse, not a defense.

Part of the reason why right-wingers are so vehemently attacking the idea that Sparkman was murdered for political reasons has to do with their desire to continue their paranoid levels of fear-mongering. They want to be able to whip up the gullible into frothing, seething masses of hateful mobs without facing the responsibility that they are creating an atmosphere of potential violence that can lead to tragic consequences.

Whether or not the Sparkman case was political as people fear, the time has long passed where the conservatives must dial back their outrageous, vile, hate-filled rhetoric. Disagree of course, but show at least the barest sliver of responsibility instead of going off half-cocked making berserk, paranoid claims of census data being used to put political opponents in concentration camps, or death panels being planned to urge seniors to kill themselves, or jack-booted thugs coming to take your guns.

Words can kill. They have, and they will. And claiming you didn’t mean it that way, or denying that A led to B doesn’t change that fact.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by
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