Jesse Kelly, a former Marine, Iraq war veteran and Gabrielle Giffords' Republican opponent in last November's election, ran a campaign that used gun imagery as its main eye-catching visual. Several of Kelly's campaign ads show him brandishing an M-16 automatic rifle with the slogan, "Send a Warrior to Congress." A print ad for one of his fundraising events reads, "Sat., 6/12/10, 10:00 AM - Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly." Kelly's spokesman, John Ellinwood, naivley claims he doesn't see any connection between promoting fundraisers featuring weapons and the public shootings in Tucson.
Kelly's campaign took place amid a wave of overheated gun rhetoric that swept the country last spring and summer, before the November election. Tea Partiers held signs at public rallies saying "We came unarmed (this time)." Participants at presidential and anti-health reform rallies openly toted firearms. Nevada Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle suggested that people who are dissatisfied with Congress might resort to using "second amendment remedies." Last April 19, 75 men and women wearing camouflage clothing and ammunition vests and carrying AK-47s gathered at Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria, Virginia to advocate violent overthrow of the government. The rally's leader, Mike Vanderboegh, urged his followers to "break the windows of hundreds, thousands of Democrat Party headquarters." After the health reform bill passed, at least ten House Democrats, including Rep. Giffords, had their campaign office windows smashed or reported receiving death threats.
Moreover, unbalanced people circulate freely among us. One participant at the Virginia rally who flew in from another state carried two pistols and a rifle and, according to the Washington Post, "plenty of ammunition." He told another demonstrator that he believed President Obama was the antichrist, a belief that a March, 2010 Harris poll revealed is held by about 24 percent of Republicans.
Jesse Kelly participated in that wave of overheated campaign rhetoric with his eye-catching machine gun ads and invitations to shoot loaded guns as a way to help remove an incumbent from office. Today on his web site, though, Kelly has backpedaled from the violent tone of his campaign ads. Of the shootings in Tucson, he writes in part that "Senseless acts of violence such as this have absolutely no place in American politics." He is right. But something is missing from his statement, and in the statements of other conservatives who have contributed to our volatile cultural atmosphere by using "Armageddon"-style, fear-inducing and violent-toned rhetoric. They should accept some responsibility. Kelly, like other conservatives who use incendiary rhetoric and imagery as attention-getting devices, shows no contrition for his part in contributing to a climate where, for people with unbalanced minds, violent acting-out is the only next logical step.
If nothing else, some good may come out of the terrible tragedy in Arizona if -- and only if --it makes politicians, legislators and "celebriticians" think twice about their public rhetoric and adjust it accordingly before turning it loose on the public.