Gunshots in Arizona

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

It’s been an eventful couple of months in the United States. The attempted assassination in Tucson, Arizona, of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people, including a nine-year-old child and a Federal Judge, have inevitably forced their way onto the political agenda. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

The specific motives of the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, are unclear, but it seems, even to lay observers, that he has serious mental health issues. Although the bourgeois press hastened to describe this as ‘an isolated incident’, it wasn’t. The Sheriff of Puma County, Clarence Dupnik remarked:

‘We need to do a little soul searching, because the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business...the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry...That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.’

Examples of what the Sheriff was talking about include that right-wing Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin had on her Facebook page a map of the US with ‘political targets’ marked  with crosshairs – swiftly removed after Giffords’ shooting. She tweeted her supporters last March about her ‘Take back the 20’ campaign: ‘Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!’ Giffords was one of the ‘liberals’ Palin listed as a target. Giffords’ opponent, Republican Jesse Kelly, told his supporters in July ‘Get on target for victory in November! Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office! Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly!’ Arizona is also the State that has passed the most vicious legislation directed against undocumented workers.

A vitriolic argument has broken out about whether liberals or conservatives are more vitriolic in their arguments and there have been calls for ‘more restraint’ in political debate.

But the fundamental issue is not the tone of political debate, but what the tone represents. The intensified rhetoric is not the cause of the problem, but a symptom of increased class tensions. The petit-bourgeoisie is like the proverbial canary in the coal-mine: when it becomes more agitated and extreme in its politics, that is a sign of the intensifying contradictions of US capitalism, other examples of which we will return to later.

The US petit-bourgeoisie, whether right or left in political persuasion, is riddled with conspiracy theories: Jews, liberals, the Illuminati, communists, capitalists, aliens and the UN vie with one another for responsibility for the supposed conspiracy. If it is that simple, then all that has to be done is replace the conspirators with the good guys. However, capitalism is not based on a conspiracy, but on the incessant accumulation of capital and exploitation. It can only be overcome by a popular movement, rooted in the working class, through determined struggle.

On the Left, conspiracy theories are a political nuisance; in the brains and hands of the Right, they become a stimulus to terrorism.

There is a significant section of the right-wing which describes itself as the ‘Patriot Movement’. Its groupings and members share a vague anti-government ideology, and may be anti-tax and anti-law activists. They often subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the world is being taken over by the ‘New World Order’, run by a ‘One-World Government’ and policed by the UN in black helicopters.

The ‘Redemption Movement’ has a complex ideology, which blames the US abandonment of the Gold Standard as the root of the nation’s problems. Every ‘sovereign citizen’ supposedly has a $1m bond (used by the US government to back its paper credit money) to which they have first claim and, as US Nationals rather than US Citizens, are supposedly exempt from taxes.

Then there are the white supremacists, including the Aryan Nations, which preach naked racism and have a variety of plans for restoring white supremacy in the US.

Where the petit-bourgeois hysteria ends and individual mental problems begin is impossible to say. What is important is that individuals, mentally unhinged or not, have used such ideologies and movements to justify engaging in terrorist acts against liberal and left-wing targets. Here is an incomplete list of actions perpetrated by such people:

• July 2008: A gunman, agitated at how ‘liberals’ are ‘destroying America,’ walked into a Unitarian Church and opened fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

• October 2008: Two neo-Nazis were arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder 88 black Americans and decapitate 14 more, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

• December 2008: A pair of ‘Patriot Movement’ radicals who wanted ‘to attack the political infrastructure’, threatened a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb went off, killing two police officers. The men eventually were convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

• December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discovered the makings of a nuclear ‘dirty bomb’ in the basement of a white supremacist after he was shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, was reportedly agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

• January 2009: A white supremacist embarked on a killing rampage in Brockton, Massachussetts, raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police on his way to a Jewish community centre.

• February 2009: A Marine, who collected white-supremacist material, was arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama.

• April 2009: A white supremacist opened fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who came to his house on a domestic violence call, killing all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens.

• April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, also fearful of Obama’s purported gun-grabbing plans, killed two deputies when they came to arrest him for domestic violence, then was killed in a shoot-out with police.

• May 2009: A ‘sovereign citizen’ walked into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinated abortion provider Dr George Tiller.

• June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester opened fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

• February 2010: An angry tax protester flew an airplane into the building housing Inland Revenue Service offices in Austin, Texas.

• March 2010: Seven militiamen in Michigan and Ohio were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

• March 2010: An anti-government extremist walked into the Pentagon and opened fire, wounding two officers before he was shot dead.

• May 2010: A ‘sovereign citizen’ from Georgia was arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

• May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walked into a Jacksonville, Florida, mosque and set it on fire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

• May 2010: Two ‘sovereign citizens’ gunned down two police officers who pulled them over for a traffic violation, and then wounded two more officers in a shoot-out in which both of them were eventually killed.

• July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict loaded up on weapons to ‘start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the [liberal] Tides Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union’. He was intercepted by the California Highway Patrol and engaged them in a shoot-out.

• September 2010: A man who described himself as the ‘Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden’ was arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic.

• January 2011: a backpack bomb containing shrapnel, left by an unknown person, clearly intended for a Martin Luther King Day parade, was discovered and defused in Spokane, Washington.

Virtually ignored by the bourgeois media, one can only imagine how these would have been reported had the perpetrators had some connection with Islam!

In addition, there are numerous non-violent incidents (attempted citizens’ arrest of government officials etc) and non-indictable incidents (parading with guns openly outside an Obama rally). Clearly it is only a matter of time before another extremely serious ‘isolated incident’ happens. I have listed recent incidents in some detail so that FRFI readers, at least, will not be surprised.

Quietening political rhetoric is not the answer, nor is it going to happen – rather the opposite as tensions mount. Nor is the liberal answer – gun control – sensible: with between 200 million and 350 million guns in private hands, gun control plays into the hands of the Right, disarming progressives. It is a too-little known, but incontestable, fact that during the Civil Rights struggle, Freedom Riders known to be carrying guns were left alone by the Klan. Sooner or later the situation is going to demand a people’s democratic militia – perfectly legal under the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment – to defend democratic rights from these attacks.

Less dramatically, the new Republican Congress, dominated by Teabaggers, has taken its seats. The important issue which will be the focus of US politics in the coming period will be deficit reduction. Total Federal Debt is $14 trillion; State and Local Government debt is about $2.4 trillion, plus State pension liabilities of $3.2 trillion. The debt-to-tax ratio is a rough measure of how able the country is to service its public sector debt from the taxes it raises. For the United States, when Federal Debt is added to State and Local Government debt, the total debt comes to 129% of GDP with a debt-to-tax ratio of 4.61:1, comparable to countries like Greece and Iceland.[1] So Federal, State and Local Government budgets are under assault.

Some Teabaggers have called for cuts of one-third in Federal spending, supposedly including cuts in ‘defence’ spending. But the main attacks are targeted on Social Security – the US equivalent of a state old-age pension, on Medicare – the Federal healthcare programme for seniors, and on Medicaid – the healthcare programme for the very poor.

Obama has entered the auction by proposing a different set of cuts in his State of the Union Speech: a five-year freeze in domestic spending, elimination of tax breaks, unspecified reform of Social Security and, illogically, a cut in the corporate tax rate.

At the State level, the recession has dramatically reduced tax revenues and many States are facing huge budget deficits. Budget shortfalls totalled $110bn in 2009, $191bn in 2010 and are estimated at $130bn in 2011 and $125bn in 2012.[2] For 2012 (financial year begins mid-2011), California has a projected shortfall of $25.4bn, Illinois $15bn, Texas $13.4bn. Extensive cuts are proposed. Public sector workers are under attack as ‘overpaid bureaucrats’, whose greedy grasping unions are holding the States to ransom. Workers have had pay frozen and, in some States, are on regular unpaid leave. In addition many State pension funds are underfunded, having been raided by the States for revenue in previous years. Forget contractual obligations – private employees no longer have pension plans, so why should state workers receive them? Some Republicans are even proposing that States be allowed to declare bankruptcy, which would allow them to repudiate pension agreements and raid the remaining pension funds in their entirety. This extreme measure seems unlikely to succeed, since it would wipe out hundreds of billions of dollars of municipal bonds – too many insurance companies and banks hold ‘Munis’ for them to allow their puppets in Congress to pass such a measure, which would precipitate another financial crisis. The one sure thing is that a major struggle has to develop to defend State workers and to stop cuts in State services, which will impact the poorest and most vulnerable worst of all.

1 Sources: Heritage Foundation; CIA World Factbook.

2 States continue to feel recession’s impact, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 21 January 2011.


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