There's been a lot of ink devoted to analyzing Jared Loughner's motivations in the shooting rampage that left U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) seriously wounded and six others, including a 9-year-old girl, dead. Much of the press attention has focused on the question of whether Loughner was influenced by the inflammatory rhetoric of such right-wing political celebrities as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
I think that questions about Loughner's mindset are legitimate, even if I don't agree with the concurrent calls to regulate political speech. But I also think they obscure a bigger point. What's really scary about Loughner is not that he might have been influenced by conservative politicians or pundits. It's that increasingly powerful conservative extremists -- some of whom occupy the halls of the federal government -- subscribe to the same delusions he does. Consider:
Jared Loughner has some strange ideas...
Almost nothing is known yet about Loughner's personal views on politics and government. But the little that we do know is telling. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center has written a straightforward and informed analysis of Loughner's YouTube ramblings. This stuff would strike most people as incoherent gibberish, but for those with ears to hear, Loughner's online manifesto hits some familiar notes.
Principal among them are his concern about "currency that's not backed by gold and silver," and beliefs that the federal government controls people through the use of grammar. As Potok notes, the former is a boilerplate notion of the radical right, closely linked to conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve being run by shadowy international bankers. The latter is a yet more abstruse conspiracy theory espoused by David Wynn Miller.
Both ideas are cherished by the Patriot movement, a loose grouping of right-wing extremists that trace their roots to the militia activities of the 1990s. As has been well-documented, "Patriot" ideas have been extremely influential in the contemporary right-wing movement known as the Tea Party, and have often been championed by some of the Tea Party's heroes, such as Ron and Rand Paul.
... quite similar to those of Ron Paul.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in particular is well known for his view that American currency is illegal since it is not backed by gold or silver, and makes no bones about his desire to abolish the Federal Reserve. It's worth noting that the Tea Party movement was launched at a Dec. 16, 2007 event
for Paul's presidential campaign; stumping for his dad back then, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), now the Tea Party's poster-boy, argued that secret plans exist to build a NAFTA Superhighway servicing a North American Union of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
If this kind of stuff sounds crazy to you, you're not alone. As The New Yorker reported in an excellent story on the Tea Party's ideological roots, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican who lost his primary re-election to Tea Party favorite Trey Gowdy, was himself alarmed at the sudden popularity of clinically paranoid ideas in American politics:
To his amazement, Inglis was confronted on the campaign trail by voters who were convinced that numbers on their Social Security cards indicated that a secret bank had bought them at birth. "And then, of course," he recalls, "it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff."