I’ll never forget that inspiring scene – Congresswoman Gabby Giffords arriving at the House of Congress to cast her vote on the debt ceiling bill. It seemed that every member of the House, right and left, rose to their feet to applaud and cheer. Teary-eyed members were hugging Gabby and shaking her hand. Just beautiful. But when the moment passed, I was reminded of the events, manufactured by right-wing radicals, that spiraled out of control and led to that tragic shooting in Tucson. Events that the same radicals now deny, even in the face of widespread documentation throughout the internet.
Starting with the fight over health care reform in the summer of 2009, when the faux grassroots Tea Party and the shady groups that funded their events (Freedom Works, the Koch brothers, insurance lobbyists) distributed instructions to their paid protesters and tea party activists on how to disrupt town hall meetings. Their plan was to create an atmosphere of fear and confusion, leading the public to believe they were losing something that didn’t exist – affordable health care in America. For the most part, their plan worked.
In August of 2009, a protester who showed up to meet Congresswoman Giffords at a supermarket event was removed by police when the pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell and bounced on the floor.
The day the Health Care reform act was passed in March of 2010, Congressional Democrats had to walk a gauntlet of screaming radical thugs, who spit and shouted racial slurs at black Democrats, shouted homophobic slurs at gay Democrats, and shouted sexist insults at female Democrats. GOP House members unfurled the “don’t tread on me” flag co-opted by the Tea Party from upper windows and shouted from bullhorns to egg-on the protesters (where were the capitol police?).
After the vote, threats to Democrats continued.
Louise Slaughter, a Democrat who chairs the House Rules Committee, said a caller to her office last week vowed to send snipers to “kill the children of the members who voted yes.” Her office reported the call to police, who were dispatched to provide protection for Slaughter’s grandchildren. She has also been in touch with the FBI and U.S. Postal Service inspectors, who intercepted a letter en route to her home in upstate New York.
Stupak, the Michigan Democrat whose last-minute compromise on abortion guaranteed passage of the bill Sunday, said callers have left messages for him saying, “You’re dead; we know where you live; we’ll get you.”
The authorities here confirmed Thursday that a gas line had been deliberately cut at the home of a brother of a Democratic congressman who voted for the health care bill, making it potentially the most dangerous of many acts of violence and threats against supporters of the bill in the last week.
Pictures of nooses were faxed to the offices of at least two Democratic congressmen, Bart Stupak of Michigan, and James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.
…the New York City police investigated a white powder that was sent to the office of Representative Anthony Weiner, along with a threatening letter that the police said referred to the health care bill…
While Boehner and Cantor falsely asserted that GOP House members were not inciting violence, they were doing just that.
As the November election approached, the violent rhetoric was kicked-up a notch. Sharron Angle spoke of “Second Amendment remedies” and revolution as guns and ammo sales soared. Sarah Palin’s SarahPAC.com put up a map of Democrats to target because of their vote on Health Care. She used images of rifle cross-hairs to identify the men and women of Congress she wanted taken out. And with her usual gun-toting bravado, she Tweeted the battle cry “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!”.
In this interview with MSNBC, Congresswoman Giffords spoke those prophetic words of “consequences” for actions like Palin’s use of “cross-hairs” on her “targeted list”. In a shameful attempt at “fair and balanced ” journalism, Chuck Todd mocked Giffords and defended Palin.
Then on January 8, 2011, the radical right’s toxic rhetoric reached its boiling point. A deranged man used his Arizona “right to carry” a concealed handgun practically anywhere, with his high capacity clips fully loaded, to do the unthinkable. He walked into congresswoman Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event and shot her, point blank, in the head. He then turned to the other Democrats in the room and shot and killed 5 more and wounded 12. Democrats across the country were horrified, but not surprised. We heard the crazy rhetoric for months, saw the beginnings of low-level, scary acts of vandalism and personal attacks. We were appalled by Tea Party comments from Angle and Palin. But the only voices pleading for reason and civility were Democrats. We knew that it would come, and it did.
Immediately following the shooting, SarahPAC took down the map with the cross-hairs. Palin’s Rep made a desperate attempt at explaining-away the cross-hairs as “surveyors marks”. Palin complained that the media and Democrats were picking on her and they had a “blood libel” against her. Democrats were shot dead, but Palin felt victimized. The public outrage over her remarks forced her underground for a while.
The radical right pushed out misinformation to distract the public – the shooter was a “liberal lunatic“, they claimed. There was no reason to believe the shooter ever saw Palin’s cross-hairs over congresswoman Giffords’ location. It had to be coincidence. The fact that he targeted Democrats, another coincidence. All of the other claims of vandalism and threats against Democrats? Fabrications.
Weeks passed as we listened for updates on Giffords’ recovery.
A few months later, when things had calmed down, Palin bought a bus and toured the East Coast. Not as a candidate – as a celebrity. And the radical right welcomed her with open arms. After weeks of the media following her around and reporting on her every utterance, the Palin show finally went home. But when too much of the focus went to the GOP presidential candidates, we were again subjected to Palin’s inarticulate nonsense, this time on Faux News.
The strange release of her self promoting movie, “Undefeated”, flopped at the box office. I suppose she can legitimately claim she’s “undefeated”. She quit the office of Alaska’s governor, so no one had the chance to defeat her.
During the final weeks of the debt ceiling fight, we started to hear the heated right wing rhetoric again, their broken record of vitriol, their childish walkouts and fictional press conferences. Finally, it all ended with a vote that no Democrat could stomach, but with no option Obama was willing to fight for. Nothing to do but wait for the massive spending cuts to cause a sharp downturn in the economy and great pain for the poor and middle-class.
But then it happened. Congresswoman Giffords appeared on the house floor to cast her vote, looking great, healthy and smiling. The heated rhetoric from the radical right continues, but the tragedy in Tucson has finally come full circle.
The woman in the cross-hairs has triumphed over evil.
As for Palin, this banner has been created to let her know that Democrats have not forgotten what happened in Tucson on January 8, 2011. We have not forgotten her targeted list, her use of cross-hairs, her “reload” slogan, and her radical pals and their attacks against our democratically elected officials. Self-promotional bus tours and paid speeches for rabid crowds will not distract us. Memories will not fade with time. We will never forget what she’s done.