The surest way to become a folk hero on the Hard Left is to kill a human being.
As Mumia Abu-Jamal, Joe Hill and Huey Newton could have attested, murder trumps even treason for establishing radical credentials. You certainly don’t get invitations to deliver commencement addresses, become the subject of folk songs, or hang with the likes of Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda by protesting a traffic ticket. Taking the life of another person elevates a radical to cause celebre status like nothing else can.
So why all the carping about “violent rhetoric” from people wearing “Che” T-shirts and imploring us to “Free Leonard Peltier”?
“Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from?” Paul Krugman asks in the New York Times. “Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the Right.” Michael Tomasky writes in the Manchester Guardian that violent rhetoric is “too encoded in conservative DNA” and “central to Republican electoral strategy” to go away. Tomasky posits a connection between “violent rhetoric that emanates from the Right wing of American society” and “what happened in Arizona on Saturday.”
What constitutes violent political rhetoric is subjective; what constitutes political violence is more clear-cut. One can debate whether the American Right currently has the market cornered on the former, as Krugman and Tomasky suggest. But the latter, at least as assaults upon high-profile American politicians are concerned, overwhelmingly stems from the Left. And let’s face it: Violence, not “violent rhetoric,” kills people.
Four men have murdered U.S. presidents. Three of them have been communists.
Charles Guiteau, the troubled Bible Communist who lived for more than five years in John Humphrey Noyes’ Oneida Community, murdered President James Garfield. Leon Czolgosz, an anarcho-communist follower of Emma Goldman, murdered President William McKinley. Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marxist enthusiast of Fidel Castro who lived briefly in the Soviet Union, murdered President John F. Kennedy.
Rather than confront this troubled history, Leftists downplay the radicalism of these assassins or invent wild conspiracy theories to cast blame on political enemies rather than the politically inconvenient villain.
Even most of the failed presidential assassins have cited Left-wing motivations. Giuseppe Zangara, would-be murderer of Franklin D, Roosevelt, confessed: “I kill kings and presidents first, and next all capitalists.” Manson follower Squeaky Fromme claimed her desire “to be a voice for the Earth” sparked her decision to approach President Gerald Ford with a loaded gun. She maintained that “before class and race and gender, the Earth needs to be seen and heard and fought for.” Sarah Jane Moore, who worked for the Symbionese Liberation Army-inspired People In Need, tried to kill the 38th president 17 days later. “The government had declared war on the Left,” she later explained of her motives. “Nixon’s appointment of Ford as vice president and his resignation making Ford president seemed to be a continuing assault on America.”
It’s important to note that for several of the gunmen — cultists Charles Guiteau and Squeaky Fromme, to name two — their political views were incidental; their mental instability, crucial. This seems the case with Jared Lee Loughner, which makes the effort to score political points off the tragedy he induced so puzzling. This puzzlement increases after learning that the killer’s political disposition doesn’t resemble any of the talk-show hosts or politicians lambasted for allegedly contributing to a climate that gave rise to Saturday’s tragedy.
Loughner, a registered independent, didn’t even vote in November. Rather than spurred to violence by the Tea Parties, the killer became obsessed with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords back in 2007 — two years before the first Tea Party rally.
One classmate described him as “Left-wing, quite liberal,” while another remembered him being frustrated by George W. Bush. His favorite books prove especially instructive, as he listed offerings by Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, and Ayn Rand. Jared Lee Loughner was all over the place.
There is a tradition of political violence on the Right as there is on the Left. The anarchist bomber Timothy McVeigh, and anti-abortion bomber Eric Richard Rudolph, certainly can be said to vaguely share views with parts of the American Right. Both sides have their share of violent extremists. But both sides differ greatly in how they treat such violent extremists.
Weathermen get tenure. The Unabomber gets offered a book deal. John Brown gets a hagiographic song. Right-wing terrorists get ostracized. There’s no romanticism of political violence on the Right as there is on the Left. Where is the Right’s Sacco and Vanzetti, Tom Mooney, or H. Rap Brown?
The Left lionize their murderers. The Right runs from theirs.
These very different reactions to political violence, and the very different histories of political violence (that leaves a preponderance of killing on one side), do much to explain the Hard Left’s desperate attempt to blame Saturday’s tragedy upon its political adversaries.