WASHINGTON—Despite speculation, the motive of the Arizona shooter remains unclear and has not been confirmed by police. This fact runs counter to the sentiment being expressed across the nation—that an inflammatory and vitriolic political and media environment led to the violent rampage.
Jared Lee Loughner killed six people and wounded 13 others in a Jan. 8 shooting in Tuscon, Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was among the wounded.
Bill Straus, Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a phone interview that too much misinformation is being propagated by the media.
While not denying the existence of powerful rhetoric, he said that “there is very little substantive evidence to indicate any kind of motive, other than the act of an unbalanced individual.”
The police have not been able to confirm any evidence to suggest that 22-year-old Loughner was linked to any particular hate group or movement.
What is known is that Loughner appears to have planned the shootings. According to court documents, an envelope found by police in a safe at his parents’ home had the words “I planned ahead” and “my assassination” written on it, along with Giffords’ name.
Federal authorities filed charges based on this evidence Sunday, but people in Arizona and across the nation are straining for more of an explanation.
Loughner appears to have a history of mental instability. His online ramblings, posted on Internet sites like YouTube, contained cryptic writings involving weird syllogisms, references to the Constitution, and an obsession with grammar and numbers. Some of the mashup appears to indicate that Loughner was paranoid about the U.S. government.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate-related activity in America, has published statements suggesting that Loughner’s online cache reveals clues that he may have been influenced by anti-government propaganda.
Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Arizona’s Pima County, which is near Tucson where the attack took place, has drawn national attention by speaking out about the polarized politics that have come to characterize the state.
”I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people—how they are, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government—the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” Dupnik said at a press conference after the crime.
Relaxed gun laws, differences of opinion on health care and the stimulus, as well as a recent clamp-down on immigration, turned up the volume just before the recent election campaigns.
Giffords narrowly edged out Republican challenger Jesse Kelly in a particularly vitriolic environment of November 2010 elections to win her third term in Congress.
At one point, Kelly published campaign contribution ads featuring himself in an Army T-shirt and khaki combat-style pants and brandishing a semi-automatic weapon.
“Send a warrior to Congress,” said one of his ads.
Another ad, published on the Pima County Republican website, said: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”
Giffords has a history of holding her own in her district, speaking against the incitement or threat of violence on a number of occasions.
Last spring, when a county sheriff was shot in the desert during border patrol, she asked: “What will it take? Who else will be shot? How much more violence must we endure?”
Giffords served on the Arizona regional board of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a human rights organization that aims to stop the defamation of Jewish people and secure justice and equal treatment for everyone under the law.
Straus says Gifford spoke out against violence because she really embraced the mission of ADL. Speaking out is important and must be protected, he noted.
Straus recommends that people “examine their own behavior.”
“That includes all of us,” he said.
President Barack Obama held a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn with Congressional members and staff on Monday to honor the victims of the shooting.
Following about two minutes of silence, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said: “Help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine and hope. … More than anything, God, we ask that you help keep our hearts pure.”
Legislative business has been canceled for the week—calming, at least for the time being, renewal of the health care debate after Republicans’ promise to repeal recent reform.