Lone Wolves Don’t Appear Out of Nowhere

In this weekend’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, columnist Sally Kalson examined the “lone wolves” who have killed six people in the past 66 days in the United States: Richard Poplawski, who killed three Pittsburgh police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call at his mother’s house; Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas; Abdulhakim Muhammed, who killed a soldier outside of a military recruitment center; and James von Brunn, who killed a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even though each man supposedly acted on his own, Kalson documents the fact that they had plenty of support, either direct or indirect:

But of course they weren’t really alone — not in the social, psychological and ideological sense. They had a World-Wide Web teeming with like-minded compatriots feeding their paranoia, egging them on with crackpot theories, baseless slander, twisted theology and wild-eyed hatred.

They also had plenty of indirect support in more “mainstream” circles, from talk show headache Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly likened Dr. Tiller to a Nazi, and other conservative pundits who denounced and ridiculed a recent Department of Homeland Security report warning of an increased domestic threat from right-wing groups.

Nor can we overlook the baseless fear-mongering by various talking heads on hot-button issues, guns in particular. Or the bizarre rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor Barack Obama severed ties with after his infamous “God-damn America” sermon went viral. On the same day as the Holocaust museum attack, an audio tape emerged of Rev. Wright accusing “them Jews” of keeping him away from the president (like he’s not already radioactive enough), then sought to smooth things over by blaming “Zionists” instead.

It’s doubtful that the racist von Brunn would have been influenced by a black preacher even if he had heard him, but it goes to the point that toxic words are not limited to the netherworld of cyberspace. Increasingly, they are filtering into public discourse that no longer seems to demand any responsibility.

And so, Newt Gingrich calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor “racist,” then takes it back after the damage is done. Barack Obama is called a “left-wing Socialist” during the campaign, a label the voters rejected but some conservatives still cling to. Doctors providing safe, legal abortions are called “baby killers,” their faces, names and home addresses widely distributed among the faithful.

Add hard economic times, which always exacerbate people’s problems and expose the underbelly of “civilized” society, and here we are.

Definitely read the entire thing. Ms. Kalson is doing a public service in making the connections between these acts of violence and the attitudes that enable and empower these men to commit them.

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