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You Cannot Be Free If You're Afraid

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011 7:21 AM

We do not yet know the motivations of Jared Loughner, the 22 year-old man behind this weekend's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others at a public forum.

And yet, Senators John McCain and Lamar Alexander have made statements discounting the impact/role of the hate-filled, inflammatory rhetoric favored by the right, especially amongst the 'Tea Party' politicial movement.

Rebecca Mansour, a spokeswoman for Sarah Palin, claims the 'Take Back the 20' map, which not only listed Giffords' name, but identified each politician/district with a crosshair, has offered an equally lame excuse, that this is like any other map. Except maps - Google Maps, Mapquest, various traffic and GPS applications - rarely use crosshairs.

We have an established connection between hateful rhetoric and violent action, yet we are still denying that the two are connected. Richard Poplawski engaged police officers out of the fear that they were coming to take his guns. Scott Roeder targeted Dr. George Tiller, who had been repeatedly criticized by Bill O'Reilly. The Hutaree Militia, another product of the end-of-times mindset. Byron Williams, arrested en route to assault the offices of the ACLU and the Tides Foundation, acknowledged FOX News' Glenn Beck as a teacher and a visionary.

As fast food inevitably contributes to various health issues, one's mental diet is no less important when measuring your health and well-being. Choose a diet of vitriol and fear, and it damages you.

We are now at a crossroads, faced with the choice of acknowledging our folly in letting hate go unanswered and uncriticized out of some notion that it is entitled to equivalence or consideration as a rational and acceptable difference of opinion.

Legislation to limit such speech might afford us some benefit, but it will not address the root cause, nor truly address the problem. We, as a society and as a free nation, must consciously choose to set aside such language and behavior.

Yet we're already seeing the parade of denial, from media figures who profit directly and indirectly from catering to this kind of nonsense; from politicians who have courted the votes of people who believe we are under siege from socialism, fascism, illegal immigration, rampant Islamic fundamentalism hiding within our communities, and illegal presidents; and from networks whose entire existence is predicated on division.

For a moment, then, let us consider Loughner to be a lone wolf, an isolated case, entirely self-contained, self-inspired, and fully autonomous. What, then, does it say about others whose language and behavior in the media and political arena so closely mirror the reasoning of a mentally-disturbed gunman?

We either choose rational thought and civility, or we embrace fear and continue on this dark road.

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