Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arizona Shooting Reflects Racist, Anti-Immigrant Terror

By Paul Teitelbaum
Tucson, Ariz.
Published Jan 12, 2011 3:50 PM

The Jan. 8 shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson was a planned political assassination attempt. The murder attempt and massacre that followed took the lives of six people, including a 9-year-old child, and wounded at least 12 others. This slaughter takes place within the political climate of extreme racism, anti-immigrant terror and fear-mongering that the right wing, their politicians and pundits have been stoking for more than a decade.

The infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, racist legislation such as anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and anti-ethnic studies law HB 2281, coupled with escalating militarization of the border, increased presence of Border Patrol Agents in local communities and the escalating powers of local police departments — these are what created the basis for the events of Jan. 8.

“Hate radio” talk-show hosts, like Tucson’s Jon Justice, along with nationally known bigots like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck, in their on-air rants are continually using language encouraging violent acts. Often, as in Sarah Palin’s now infamous “target poster,” these bigots name individuals who should be “hit” or “removed.”

This right-wing rhetoric, which fans the flames of racism and blames all of society’s ills on immigrants, Black people, Muslims and other people of color, continues to become more venomous as the capitalist economic crisis deepens. Its purpose is to sow division and divert people’s attention from the real problems at hand: unemployment, deepening cuts to education and social services, attacks on public service workers and unions, continuing foreclosures and evictions, cruel and dehumanizing prisons filled to the brim, trillions spent on unnecessary wars abroad and hundreds of billions handed out to the big privately owned banks in so-called “bailouts.”

This divide-and-conquer technique protects the real culprits behind the deepening economic catastrophe and budget cuts facing the workers and the poor: Wall Street, the Pentagon and Washington.

Right wing puts Giffords in cross-hairs

When the Barack Obama administration introduced the health care reform bill in 2009, the political climate became particularly vicious. The billionaire-funded Tea Party emerged on the scene, disrupting health care town halls, threatening any candidate that supported the Obama plan and depicting Obama in the likeness of Adolph Hitler. Every movement of the Tea Party was given extensive media coverage. That emboldened members of the Tea Party to spit upon members of the Black Congressional Caucus as they entered the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on their way to vote for the bill.

At a health care town hall meeting in Phoenix on Aug. 17, 2009, attended by President Obama, about a dozen people armed with guns gathered outside the event. A Giffords health care town hall meeting was disrupted by Tea Party bigots; a weapon dropped out of one man’s pants. The night after the health care vote in Congress, Giffords’ office was vandalized by kicking and shooting out a glass door and window.

Giffords retained her seat last November by a narrow margin in a campaign against Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly. Fundraising events were held by Kelly where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. He was pictured on his web site in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.

Right-wingers plastered anti-Giffords signs throughout Tucson with demagogic slogans like “Gabby stole your health care” and other personal attacks. The most right-wing of potential Republican presidential candidates, Sarah Palin, listed Giffords among the 20 candidates targeted for removal in the last election. Palin depicted these targets on her website by placing the crosshairs of a gun sight over the congressional district of each target. She underscored the message with the words: “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!”

Arizona’s Latino Congressman, Raul Grijalva, who also survived a campaign against a Tea Party candidate, had the windows to his office shot out and received numerous death threats after announcing his support for the Boycott Arizona campaign in the wake of the SB 1070 signing.

Shooter was encouraged to commit this act

Jared Loughner, arrested for the shooting, is described as a loner — a 22-year-old psychiatrically unstable youth who had a fascination with right-wing rhetoric. Posts on Loughner’s web site used language and terminology found on the web sites of fascist groups. Federal investigators say they found a note inside his home where Loughner stated his intention to assassinate Giffords.

No information has been published indicating that Loughner acted in collusion with anyone else or with an organization. Nevertheless, right-wing forces in Arizona and throughout the U.S. have given the signal that these kinds of violent and deadly attacks are needed and they have pointed to targets. The political environment in which Loughner lived encouraged him to act as he did.

The military buildup along the border and the state condoning racist Minutemen border patrols all convey the same bigoted message. The state has also done nothing to stop North American Nazi J. T. Ready, who organizes “Mexican Hunting” trips — that is, excursions to hunt down immigrants trying to cross the border areas of Pinal County. The fascist Ready has even produced a video in which he says, “We will kill them.” (

The assassination attempt is directly related to the policy of border militarization. “These senseless deaths are the result of a border policy that has been building since 1994,” Isabel Garcia told Workers World. Garcia is an immigrant rights activist and community leader with CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos in Tucson. “This has propelled the growth of fear, hate and violence. Over 5,000 migrant deaths, shootings and continuing violence are a direct result of this policy.” Racist, anti-immigrant forces have been steadily escalating their war against the immigrant and Latino/a communities in Arizona, while the banks, private prison companies and military contractors are raking in millions.

Pima County sheriff attacked for comments

Arizona has been the epicenter of this racist, right-wing reaction. When he first addressed the media in his Jan. 8 press conference, even the sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, said that Arizona had become a magnet for bigotry and hate and that some “people in the radio business and some people in the TV business” are responsible for fomenting the divisive political climate in Arizona. (, Jan. 8)

On Jan. 9 Arizona’s racist and militarist Sen. Jon Kyl said on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” that Dupnick’s remarks had no place in a law enforcement briefing. Tucson’s right-wing radio station KQTH-FM called for Dupnick’s resignation. Dupnick has also faced an inquisition from various FOX News pundits about his comments.

Tucson prepares to fight back

On Jan. 11 several Tucson groups, including the CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos, the International Action Center of Tucson, the Alliance for Global Justice and the Student Justice Education Project, held a press conference to denounce the racist political climate in Arizona. The event was originally called when the state legislature was about to convene and representatives planned to attack the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The organizers planned to condemn this racist attack, which is an attempt to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. who have undocumented parents.

But then the press conference was also able to address the Jan. 8 shootings. Speakers laid the blame squarely on the racist, anti-immigrant forces and the millionaires and billionaires who finance them.

James Jordan of the Alliance for Global Justice summed up the press conference by saying, “We live in a war zone. It is a war against both U.S. and Mexican workers and farmers. It’s a war of economic policies, and it’s a war for cheap labor just like the first U.S.-Mexican War was about extending slave territory.

“Because of NAFTA,” Jordan continued, “hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost on both sides of the border, and millions of rural Mexicans lost their farms and saw their communities destroyed. Because of border militarization, thousands of undocumented migrants have perished crossing the desert looking for work in the U.S. Those who survive become criminalized or demonized as super-exploited workers paid low wages, with no rights. But we can end this war. We can end it by tearing down the border wall, repealing NAFTA and adopting real immigration reform that doesn’t act as a cover for more militarization and criminalization.”

The groups that participated in the press conference are working to build a broad coalition in Tucson and to extend it throughout the state and the country. They want to mobilize the forces needed to stop this right-wing reaction. They can be turned back. Now is the time.

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