Pinning Violence on the Tea Party: Why It’s Okay to Blame the Victim

Left and right, the consensus on Brian Ross seems to be that the ABC anchor was far, far out of line when he confused the alleged Aurora, Colorado shooter with a Tea Party activist with a similar name. The Tea Party was certainly quick to play the victim card, with the right-leaning media running interference, and the remainder sheepishly apologizing. We should all be familiar with this dance by now:

  1. Violence occurs;
  2. Someone manages to link it, with a degree of plausibility that varies by incident, to a right-leaning organization;
  3. The right leaning organization cries foul, whimpering about “politicization,” and;
  4. Center and left promptly apologize.

I’ve had enough of this dialogue — especially its tendency to drag down legitimate discussions, like gun control, as equally “politicized.” It’s time to acknowledge why we ever get to step 2: because the Tea Party brings it on themselves.

The Tea Party is a violent group. Maybe not in deeds, but certainly in words. Remember, this is a group whose members quote Thomas Jefferson’s famous line about the “blood of patriots” as if it somehow justifies armed revolt against a representative government (it doesn’t), tote assault rifle at presidential speeches, and whose leading supporter in Congress treats all Islamic public officers like terrorists, with the predictable result that one such official, the wife of an ex-congressman, now receives death threats and requires ’round-the-clock security. These aren’t isolated incidents: they define the movement. For context, consider the Arizona Tea Party leader who threatened to give Senator McCain his “final dirt nap,” just because the Senator choose to speak against this particular witch-hunt.

Further, this is a group that treats every mundane incident of government regulation as something slightly worse than the Boston Massacre:

And whose rhetoric, in the run-up to the passage of Obamacare, led to physical threats and vandalism against elected officials. The Tea Party has specifically rejected any notion of proportionality in politics: nothing is up for debate. Either you’re with them, or you’re a communist fascist (??) bent on destroying the nation.

A credible threat? Either way, this is not acceptable.

Historically, words motivate deeds. The 1990s saw an upswing in extremist right-wing rhetoric, culminating in actual acts of violence and foiled plots (pdf), and the past decade four years have seen their share of actual, politically-motivated violence. Though we’ve been spared the worst, it’s reasonable to as for how long that peace will remain.

The Tea Party wasn’t to blame for this particular killing, and Brian Ross was irresponsible to suggest that they were. But for more than two years now, Tea Party “patriots” have walked a dangerous path, striving to create a climate where the threat of violence is a legitimate expression of political belief. Ross, and the rest of us, can be forgiven for taking them at their word; especially because that road all too often ends in blood.



  1. I think that you have some valid points, except perhaps for the assumption that violence as an expression of political beliefs is ‘new’ (you can define ‘new’ however you want). As your ‘blood of patriots’ Jefferson quote so nicely sums up, violence has been a large part of political expression in the United States. Acknowledging that doesn’t make violence right, and certainly is not a reason to lessen the guilt of the perpetrators. But it exists. The U.S’s history is, to quote a movie line, a history of violence. We have had assasinations galore. Not only the alphabet soup of the 60s (JFK, RFK, MLK) but also several attempts like that on George Wallace. McKlinley and Garfield shouldn’t be forgotten. In total there have been twenty serious attempts to kill a sitting or President-elect: ranging from Puerto Rican nationalists to leftwing anarchists. Presidents themselves have been known to be dangerous and violent creatures. Andrew Jackson lead a semi-legal invasion of Flordia before he was elected President and shot (as well as recieved) several bullets. He nearly bludgeoned to death one of his would-be assassins with his cane. Alexander Burr and Aaron Burr’s duel recently had its yearly anniversary. Likewise, the United States army recently ‘celebrated’ Wilkinson’s untimely departure from the service. There have almost been as many assasinations and attempted assasinations of congressional members as there are members currently. We certainly can’t forget “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” and ect. Bleeding Kansas, the entire Civil War (especially the draft riots in northern cities) up until the disputed election of 1876 is one long litany of lynchings, beatings, shootings and abuses by both Republicans and Democrats. The years between 1864-76 could be considered more of a knifefight between Republicans and Democrats than anything approaching decency. Congress has seen fist fights, canings (I’m looking at you Charles Sumner), a few pistol exchanges and enough blood for anyone’s appetite. Filibusters, like William Walker and Narcisco Lopez, could certainly be classified as violent non-state actors inspired by political reasons (as well as, admittedly, economic ones). Think of Harper’s Ferry, it’s not everyday a citizen leads a private army to secure a national guard armory. Or perhaps John Quitman: you don’t see governors of state handing out state arsenals anymore.

    Before I get too carried away, I think the main point I’m trying to make is that regardless of whether the Tea Party is violent or not they do not change the political dynamic of the U.S. at all. If they are violent, okay. Interesting. Who cares? We like to pretend that the Home of the Brave, and certainly the Land of the Free, don’t do messy things like kill people we disagree with. We do.

    Most importantly, if put in perspective even the most hyperbolic portrayals of the Tea Party, if they are to be believed, still put the organization (at best) near the bottom of political organizations that utilize violence (assuming, for a moment, that there can exist a political organization that can go without violence). Perhaps one should consider that in spite of being a relatively benign group of people they have recieved quite a lot of coverage on their ‘violent’ aspects. Aspects that, in the grand scheme of things, are about as violent as a particularly malevolent piece of cottage cheese.

  2. If they are violent, okay. Interesting. Who cares?

    Stipulated: Jackson was a monster. That said, the question should not be “Who cares?” but rather “Who should care?” And the answer to the latter question is something like “Everybody”.

    No, violence is not a new political tool. Shocking, I know. That it is not new does not make it a particularly good idea. It’s certainly a compelling argument — sometimes literally — but saying “I have a gun, therefore you should believe my claims” is not among the best of ways to convince an audience. Of course, as I’ve said before, most people are happily ignorant morons who couldn’t political their way out of a wet paper sack…

    Perhaps one should consider that in spite of being a relatively benign group of people

    I’m glad that I’m currently drinking generic soda, because that makes the nasal discharge significantly less expensive. (Yes, I just said that, and no, I’m not particularly happy about it.) The “Tea Party” is comprised of terrified assholes whose understanding of economics is comparable to that of children with significant learning disabilities, and whose understanding of ethics is … well, Randian in its, um, majesty. And by “majesty” I mean “Idiocy”, if that wasn’t clear.

    Seriously, a bunch of old people on Rascals does not a revolution make, unless they’ve managed to adapt Madame Guillotine in some powered-chair portable way, in which case: Yikes.

    are about as violent as a particularly malevolent piece of cottage cheese.

    I don’t know what kind of cottage cheese you’re getting, though I have a pretty good recipe if you’re interested. That said, I think Gabby Giffords would probably disagree; I have not yet met a cottage cheese which was capable of shooting, and this is just off the top of my head, anybody in the face. Again, you may be confusing cottage cheese with something else.


  3. I suppose I should apologize for the nasal distress before I too am branded a dangerous and violent political force. Or maybe I just like living dangerously. I happily look forward to the day when I will be branded as a violent political force that ejects generic soda out of the nostrils of precocious bloggers. Problematically, I’m certain that an equally adamant blogger will condemn me for violence that “everybody” should know, prompting another reply that shoots more generic soda out of another nostril and continuing the cycle. Oh cruel world.

    I think the problem I have is that I just don’t see a particularly violent strain in a bunch of scared, overweight white people that have a fascination with ‘the’ Constitution. If you want to put the near death of Gabby Giffords on them, sure. I think she’s just glad you could further the argument on the seat of her pants or, in this case, brain matter. Keep staying classy. But however you want to look at the situation it puts them level with a particularly vivacious piece of spoiled meat. With a nod in Zach’ Taylor’s direction they are well below the political damage inflicted by a bowl of cheeries and a glass of milk.

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