Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Pittsburgh Police Murders

A troubled young man named Richard Poplawski murdered three Pittsburgh police officers with an AK-47 assault rifle when they arrived at his home on a domestic disturbance call last Saturday morning. Poplawski is a neo-Nazi skinhead who frequented and posted on White supremest websites and feared that a violent societal upheaval was imminent, chiefly caused by a Jewish media and economic conspiracy and the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States.

Shortly after the slayings, many left-wing blogs were reporting (correctly) that Poplawski is a far-right conservative and that one of the triggers that set him off was the meme circulating in the right-wing blogosphere and media that President Obama was going to do everything in his power to take lawfully owned guns away from Poplawski and other Americans like himself. These rumors are of course completely false but this incident demonstrates the danger that callously fanning the flames of this kind of paranoia can produce.

Many have stated that Poplawski is not representative of the right in this country, and they're correct; he no more represents the average conservative than does William Ayers and the Weather Underground represent the average liberal. The vast majority of Americans on either side of the current political divide in this country are good people who want nothing more than to peacefully live out their lives and take care of the ones they love. Troubled men like Poplawski are exceptions to this rule and one would be correct to relegate him and others with similar beliefs to the fringes of society, but sometimes all it takes for these dangerous individuals to act out their paranoid fears and fantasies is an ideological push in the wrong direction and unfortunately it has been quite easy for these people to find that message in the mainstream political media.

Now obviously Poplawski is the only person responsible for the deaths of these three men; they died by his hand and his alone. But let's be honest here: this young man did not create these paranoid delusions or plan these violent acts in a vacuum. The steady drumbeat of right-wing talk radio, bloggers and other media about Obama taking away our guns, about re-education camps and civil indoctrination squads, about the supposed descent of this country into socialist/Marxist chaos, about capitulation to our enemies and secret Muslim conspiracies has had a definite effect on the mentally deficient and morally weak amongst us, and for those who have been spewing this garbage to now throw their hands up as if they were not at least tangentially culpable for creating the atmosphere that helped lead to this tragedy is an act of outright dishonesty and rank cowardice.

Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished and safe-guarded rights as American citizens and I would never suggest that this right be curtailed for any reason. Fascism lies down that road and like so many other rights and privileges in a free society, once the individual relinquishes them to the state it is almost impossible to reattain them. But with all rights and privileges also comes the responsibility to not abuse them or use them to harm other individuals or society as a whole, and the political right in this country has utterly failed on this count. The recent atmosphere of malice and paranoia being cultivated against President Obama and the political left for power/ratings/whatever is only hurting us as a society and denigrating us as a people, and until we recognize that fact and take appropriate steps to alleviate these intolerable levels of hatred we will fail to advance our civilization and more innocent people will almost assuredly die tragically as a result.


Anonymous said...

How dare his guns be taken away. He never planned on shooting a human being...oh wait

JBW said...

Exactly, Vanessa. An AK-47 is used only to shoot humans. I'm not big on gun control but there needs to be some kind of line drawn.

Anonymous said...

Nice essay, JBW. I hadn't seen the information you cited. But then, I hadn't looked. One just assumes these things at some point.

In northern NY, where I grew up, everyone owned guns and hunted. Of course, these were guns like the 306, the 22 and the 12 or 16 gauge. I assume it was likewise in TX. There do have to be some rational limits on firepower.

As to free speech, it would be interesting if the family of a victim filed suit for incitement, under the old "shouting fire in a crowded theater" angle. I hate to see limits on speech, but they already exist as to slander, libel, etc. It's a tough issue, not really a fan of the Fairness Doctrine idea.

JBW said...

Thanks, DLB. As I've said before I'm no fan of the Fairness Doctrine nor draconian limits on speech, gun ownership or even drug use. All of these things are harmless until they're abused by irresponsible individuals, and even then it should be those individuals who are punished rather than gun manufactures or drug dealers.

The right screams about personal responsibility and eschews the nanny state except when they feel the need to protect us from ourselves by curtailing our rights through their own version of societal engineering. The left does this too of course but I think that they're at least a bit more self-aware.

Van Zan said...

As a foreigner in a country with low rates of gun ownership and strict controls, the gun culture is one of the most difficult things for me to understand about America.
The very phrase "take away our guns" implies resonances equivalent to "take away our children".
Intellectually I get the historical underpinnings of it, but the 2nd amendment was for when you had muskets, not automatic weapons.
If you need a licence to drive a car or undertake certain professions, where is the problem in asking that people be required to have a licence to own a firearm??
When the Amish schoolgirls were killed a year or two back, some suggested that they be armed so as to defend themselves in case some psycho happens to come to shoot them. I mean...WTF???
The fear of losing firearms access and the - pardon me - infantile attachment to guns that the Right keeps instilling in the uneducated and the stupid comes from a myth of self that must someday be confronted by Americans if the absurd rates of gun violence are ever going to be dealt with.
The "nanny state" thing is another myth. I am not pining for a nanny state when I feel that I should be free to drop my kids off at kindergarten without fearing that any whacko can get a gun and take them hostage... or worse. There is nothing morally wrong with me when I feel that I have the right to live without constant fear of being shot.
I personally am quite capable of defending myself against a casual untrained attacker, prossibly even someone with a knife (although I wouldn't like to test it)... but nothing can protect me from someone armed with an AK-47 and, NO, me owning one myself will NOT make me safer either.
If people want to go shoot guns for sport, then fine... but do it with the same restrictions that any other hazardous activity requires: Get a licence. Accept that you can't own any kind of gun you want. And they should not be available at K-Mart.
Oh... and whether you own a gun or not has ZERO implications for your relationship with your government.

Tim said...

JBW: There is a certain amount of blood on the hands of the right-wing blogosphere, and the over the air RushHannitySavage types who foment this stuff. It's the Timothy McVeigh's all over again. It's a sad price for the freedom of speech.

We are dealing with nutcases who seek to divide and conquer our own country. The irony? They call themselves patriots.

I have other words for them, but this is a family blog, right?

JBW said...

VZ, guns permeate the American culture to an alarming degree so I can see why it would be hard for someone like yourself to grasp. And yes, most of these right-wingers who are screaming about their guns being taken away are much more paranoid than your average American.

Having said that though I do have to repeat that I am no fan of gun control. As I said to DLB, it is irresponsible use rather than ownership that I object to.

Full disclosure: yes, I grew up in Texas but I do not own any guns. In fact, one of the first posts I ever wrote for this site was about my changing attitude about the subject after a trip to a firing range.

I don't think that it's uniquely American to have a healthy distrust of your government and I certainly do (along with a general anathema for authority figures) so I can understand and even agree with the less crazy concerns of gun owners.

The majority of the paranoia surrounding this issue comes not from gun ownership per se but rather from the general persecution complex conservatives in this country like to build up around themselves. In their minds they're always fighting a media, culture and government that they see as trying to take away their rights, change the country and make them think in a different way.

That's why they're floundering around in the wilderness right now, because most Americans have tired of this schtick and are not buying it anymore. When and if they do again will decide how long their exile lasts.

JBW said...

Tim, if by "blood" you are referring to metaphorical responsibility for encouraging hateful acts I completely agree with you. If however you are implying that they should be at all legally liable for violent acts like Poplawski's I have to disagree with you wholeheartedly.

This is indeed a sad price to pay for freedom of speech but as I said I consider it to be one of the most important rights we possess and I am willing to risk a degree of safety to keep that right intact. It's only by allowing these nutcases to air their disturbed views that we can convince others that they're wrong. Obviously they're trying to divide the country but I feel that our country is stronger than they are.

As far as unleashing your vitriol, this is a family blog so far as some of my family members and other friends who I consider family read it but I think I've made it fairly clear that they should not let their children do the same. I'm an adult and I speak like one, and I encourage everyone here to do the same. If you think Limbaugh/Hannity/Savage is a hateful bastard by all means say so.

Tim said...

I am speaking metaphorically of course.

They are big stupidheads if you ask me.

Or, uncensored: stupid fucks.

I have no problems with opposition viewpoints. I do have issues with the way they put their warped viewpoints across. It's all about language. I also have issue with those on the left who tread the same path. Intelligent debate I get, fomenting hatred I do not.