Editor’s Note: During Campaign 2008, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin became a right-wing rock star with her incendiary remarks, such as accusing Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” and her fondness for weapons metaphors.

However, to some Americans, her behavior was like a child playing with matches, a thoughtless invitation to political violence that could contribute to tragedies like the ones that snuffed out the lives of great American leaders. But Palin saw her style as a route to political and monetary riches, at least until Saturday, as Dennis Bernstein reflects in this guest essay:

“My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona,” wrote Palin. “On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.”

Maybe Palin also prays that not too many people remember that she literally put Giffords in the crosshairs – on a political map of the United States, using the image of a rifle scope on Giffords' district for Palin’s TAKEBACKTHE20.com Web site.

Giffords was one of 20 House representatives targeted for defeat by Palin, who has made a fetish out of her supposed love of guns. She even used a high-powered rifle to down a helpless caribou on her reality TV show.

Palin’s version of “peace and justice,” I assume, doesn’t protect caribou from being slaughtered for the pleasure of Palin’s TV audience. Nor has Palin shown much remorse until now over her penchant for punchy -- and often violence-laced -- rhetoric about her political enemies.

But Rep. Giffords, who lies in an ICU unit fighting for her life, was aware of the growing danger from this infusion of violent imagery in American politics. Last March 25, Giffords told MSNBC that she was concerned about the possible “consequences” of Palin’s decision to literally put her in the crosshairs.

"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district, and when people do that, they've gotta realize there are consequences to that action."

Consequences? Who would have guessed?

The shooting of Giffords, which also killed six bystanders including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, cannot be blamed directly on Palin, but it was no coincidence that Palin's political crosshairs map was yanked off the Web soon after the shootings Saturday in Tucson.

Palin clearly feared that it would turn out that one of her anti-immigrant, anti-Obama-care supporters had taken to heart the crosshairs metaphor as an inspiration to take matters – and a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock 19 – into his own hands.

U.S. District Judge John Roll, who was killed in the bloody assault, also was on a lot of rhetorical hit lists this past year. Last February, Roll gave the go-ahead to a $32 million civil rights lawsuit against an Arizona rancher for assaulting 16 Mexicans as they crossed his land.

According to the Arizona Republic, after the judge gave the green light for the case to proceed, Roll was inundated with verbal attacks and death threats.

U.S. Marshall David Gonzales told the Republic that Roll received hundreds of phone calls threatening him and his family and that personal information about the judge was posted online.

"They said, 'we should kill him. He should be dead,’” Gonzales said, adding that the threats were considered serious enough for Roll and his wife to need protection from the Marshall Service.

It is not yet known whether the alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, was sympathetic to the death threats against Roll or was even aware that the judge would be at the scene of Giffords’s outreach meeting with constituents outside a supermarket on Saturday.

Authorities have said evidence uncovered at Loughner’s home indicated that Giffords was his target.

Local law enforcement officials have said Giffords had faced other threats to her safety, including a man showing up with a gun at a prior event and an attempted break-in at her office.

But such concerns did not weigh heavily on Palin who blithely put Giffords in the crosshairs.

Amid last year’s health-reform debate, the ex-Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee also tweeted to her Tea Party followers: “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!”

Dennis Bernstein is the host of "Flashpoints" on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

To comment at Consortiumblog, click here. (To make a blog comment about this or other stories, you can use your normal e-mail address and password. Ignore the prompt for a Google account.) To comment to us by e-mail, click here. To donate so we can continue reporting and publishing stories like the one you just read, click here.

Back to Home Page