Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Jan 9th, 2011


Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Critically Wounded

6 Killed, 13 wounded in Tucson shooting rampage

Image: Gabrielle Giffords
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was listed in critical condition. (Photo credit: HO / Reuters)

NBC News, The Associated Press, and Reuters via
Jan. 8, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. — A gunman opened fire as a congresswoman met with constituents outside a grocery store, killing Arizona’s chief federal judge and five others and leaving the lawmaker fighting for her life in an attempted assassination that had Americans questioning whether divisive politics had driven the attack.

The shooting targeted Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, authorities said, and left the three-term congresswoman in critical condition after a bullet passed through her head. A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack “a tragedy for our entire country.”

Giffords, 40, a moderate Democrat, narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate who opposed her support of the health care law. Anger over her position became violent at times, with her Tucson office vandalized a few hours after the House passed the overhaul last March. More recently, at a Giffords event someone dropped a weapon out of their pants.

The Pima County Sheriff’s office listed the dead as:

  • John M. Roll, 63, a federal district court judge.
  • Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, Giffords’ director of community outreach.
  • Dorwin Stoddard, 76, a pastor at Mountain Ave. Church of Christ.
  • Christina Greene, 9, a student at Mesa Verde Elementary.
  • Dorthy Murray, 76.
  • Phyllis Scheck, 79.

Police say the shooter was in custody, and by people familiar with the investigation told NBC News that he was Jared Lee Loughner, 22. …

His motivation was not immediately known, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described him as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice. He said in addition to the six deaths, 13 people were wounded in the melee. Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman. …

A 9mm Glock handgun that had what police described as “an extended clip” was recovered at the scene, The Washington Post reported. …

The sheriff pointed to the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country as he denounced the shooting.

“When you look at unbalanced people, 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,” the sheriff said. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”


Giffords expressed similar concern before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including Sarah Palin’s decision to list Giffords’ seat as one of the top “targets” in the midterm elections.

“For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC. …


Rep. Giffords target of harassment, threats (MSNBC “The Daily Rundown,” March 25, 2010) — Reports of death threats, vandalism, and harassment by Tea Party activists have Democrats on edge as they’re preparing to head home for their spring recess. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., one of the Democratic leaders targeted, discusses, making reference to Sarah Palin’s target list, which has “the crosshairs of a gunsight” over her district. (04:54)

During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event. …

Law enforcement officials said members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Nearly all dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets.

The shooting cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the attack as a horrific. …


House leaders condemn Giffords attacks (MSNBC “Countdown,” Jan. 8, 2011) — The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson talks about the response from House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as well as how Congress should handle threats of violence against members. (17:37)

The suspect’s exact motivation was not clear, but a former classmate described Lougher as a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world.

He tried to enlist in the Army in 2008 but was rejected for service, NBC News reported. Army officials would not discuss details of his December application.

Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that belonged to Loughner and over a YouTube video published weeks ago under an account “Classitup10” and linked to him. The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the gunman being identified by officials, included a mysterious “Goodbye friends” message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to “Please don’t be mad at me.”


Suspect: ‘You could call me a terrorist’ (MSNBC, Jan. 8, 2011) — Investigators have located messages on a social networking website, written by the alleged gunman responsible in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. The 22-year-old suspect was captured in the parking lot of the crime scene. MSNBC’s Pete Williams reports. (05:31)

In one of several YouTube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords’ congressional district in Arizona.

“I know who’s listening: Government Officials, and the People,” Loughner wrote. “Nearly all the people, who don’t know this accurate information of a new currency, aren’t aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn’t have happen” (sic).

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said three Giffords staffers were shot. Two are expected to survive, but Gabe Zimmerman, a former social worker who served as Giffords’ director of community outreach, was killed. …

Image: Gabe Zimmerman
Gabe Zimmerman is seen at an event of the Alliance for Retired Americans in August 2010. (Photo credit: Alliance for Retired Americans)

Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election, and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.

Giffords is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. The two met in China in 2003 while they were serving on a committee there, and were married in January 2007. NBC News reported that Kelly flew to Tucson on a NASA aircraft after the shooting. …

The shooting occurred at a shopping center called La Toscana Village as Giffords met with voters outside a Safeway grocery store.

Giffords, known as “Gabby,” tweeted shortly before the shooting, describing her “Congress on Your Corner” event: “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.” …

Dangerous threats

The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers but nothing that reached the point of actual violence.

A San Francisco man upset with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support of health care reform pleaded guilty to threatening the Democratic congresswoman and her family, calling her directly on March 25 and threatening to destroy her Northern California home if she voted for health care reform.

In July, a California man known for his anger over left-leaning politics engaged in a shootout with highway patrol officers after planning an attack on the ACLU and another nonprofit group. The man said he wanted to “start a revolution” by killing people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation. …


Who is Jared Loughner? (MSNBC “Countdown,” Jan. 8, 2011) — Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center offers a profile of the 22-year-old alleged gunman, currently being held in custody. (06:59)


Related reports on this site

Jared Loughner Ruled Incompetent to Stand Trial (May 25, 2011)

Jared Loughner Mental Exam (March 23, 2011)

Jared Loughner’s Mental State (Jan. 13, 2011)

The Psychological Profile of Giffords Shooter Jared Loughner
(Jan. 10, 2011)

Congresswoman among 12 shot at grocery (Image: CNN)
Click on image for coverage at


Topical reports on this site


Hate and violence has to stop (MSNBC “The Ed Show,” March 26, 2010) — Ed Schultz is joined by a political panel to discuss how to end the hate campaign following the passage of health care reform and suggests Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are “fanning the flames of extremism.” (12:24)

Extremism Rises in America (June 16, 2010)


Discussing “Rise of the New Right” (MSNBC, June 16, 2010) — Joan Walsh of and Ohio gubernatorial candidate John Kasich discuss the Tea Party, Birthers, and other conservative developments on Hardball. (10:37)

Tea Party Fomenting Rebellion? (April 5, 2010)

Walter Maciel, center, of Tewskbury, Mass., at the Tea Party rally Wednesday, April 14, 2010 on Boston Common. (Photo credit: Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times)

Sovereign Citizen Ultimatum to Governors (April 3, 2010)


Governors threatened (Associated Press, April 2, 2010) — The FBI is warning police across the country that an anti-government group’s effort to remove governors from office could provoke violence. The group, Guardians of the Free Republics has sent menacing letters to some 30 governors. (01:08)

Christian Militia Terror Plot (March 29, 2010)


Analyst: Militias are ideologically diverse (MSNBC, March 29, 2010) — Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who has written extensively about rightwing populism, militias, and the patriot movement, discusses with Rachel Maddow. (06:52)

Bachmann and Violent Extremism (March 25, 2010)


U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “House Call” protest against health care reform at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 5, 2009. (Video by Graham Moomaw / The Washington Independent)

Slide Show

Photos by Graham Moomaw / The Washington Independent

Extremism Explodes in America (March 3, 2010)

The number of extremist groups in the United States exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.


Number of hate groups reach record level (The Dylan Ratigan Show, MSNBC, March 2, 2010) — According to a new report, militias and other extremist groups increasing 244 percent in 2009. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and radio host Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express discuss. (08:33)

Bachmann Conspiracy Nation (Feb. 20, 2010)

Town Hall Face (Photos: Landov, AP, Getty Images / Newsweek)

Condemning Beck and Bachmann (Nov. 19, 2009)

Michele Bachmann is the modern face of an emerging brand of American protofascism being spawned by the “perfect storm” of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the election of America’s first African-American president.

A year of growing animosity (Anti-Defamation League, Nov. 2009) — Since the election of Barack Obama as president, a current of anti-government hostility has swept across the United States, creating a climate of fervor and activism with manifestations ranging from incivility in public forums to acts of intimidation and violence.

Hate groups including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan have grown since Barack Obama was elected president. (Image: NBC News)

Bachmann Rebuked for Nazi Image (Nov. 12, 2009)

Sign displayed at U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “House Call on Congress” anti-health care reform rally in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5, 2009. The sign reads, “National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany — 1945.” (Photo credit: Lee Fang / ThinkProgress)

Anger in America (Oct. 31, 2009)

Bachmann Heads Teabaggers (Sept. 13, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)
Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud, Minn., after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)

Invitation to Tea Party headlined by Michele Bachmann

Bachmann: “Slit Our Wrists” (Sept. 2, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks to a luncheon crowd at the Denver Athletic Club, Aug. 31, 2009 (Photo credit: Jason Kosena / The Colorado Statesman)

In a speech filled with urgent and violent rhetoric, Bachmann … drew a clear line on health care reform.

“You’re either for us or against us on this issue,” she said. …

At times, Bachmann’s legislative briefing sounded more like the plot of a slasher movie.

“Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom,” she said. “And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.”

While Bachmann didn’t ask this audience to “rise up against President Barack Obama’s tyrannical rule,” they stood anyway and applauded when she announced she was No. 1 on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s list of “top targets.” …

Economy and Obama Volatile Mix (April 16, 2009)

An April 2009 Homeland Security intelligence estimate warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country’s first black president to recruit new members and incite anti-government violence.

Bachmann Call for Armed Revolt? (March 24, 2009)

On March 21, 2009 Rep. Michele Bachmann said that she wants people in Minnesota “armed and dangerous” on the issue of an energy tax, “because we need to fight back” and “having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.”

Obama, Economy Fuel Hate Groups (Feb. 28, 2009)

A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008.
A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008. (Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center / CNN)

Obama Racist Backlash (Nov. 16, 2008)

Racial incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama, including schoolchildren chanting “assassinate Obama,” racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars, and Black figures hung from nooses, are shattering the post-election illusion of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America. There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 9, 2010

Uncertain Ally Against al-Qaida

One year ago today, I reported that the Yemeni government, while ramping up the fight against al-Qaida with U.S. help, has also escalated its own internal conflicts with Shi’ite rebels in the north and Sunni secessionists in the south, threatening to throw the fractured country into greater chaos and nourish the growth of al-Qaida.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 9, 2009

Muqtada al-Sadr Urges ‘Revenge Operations’

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr emerge from their meeting in Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, in this October 2006 file photograph. Muqtada al-Sadr, a key Shiite leader whose support for al-Maliki has recently waned, took the lead in assailing the government over the bombing of Askariya shrine in Samarra and ordering his 30-lawmaker bloc to boycott the parliament to protest its failure to protect the shrine. (Photo: Alaa al-Marjani / AP)
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr emerge from a meeting in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, in this October 2006 file photograph. (Photo credit: Alaa Al-Marjani / AP)

Two years ago today, on Jan. 9, 2009, I reported that anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had called on the Iraqi resistance to stage “revenge operations” against American forces to protest Israel’s Gaza offensive.

5 Responses to “Giffords Assassination Attempt”
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