Palin: Attacks on Conservatives Over Tucson Massacre Constitute “Blood Libel”

I was struck by today’s response of Sarah Palin to criticism that her rhetoric and “targeting” of Rep. Gifford’s district may have added to the recent massacre in Tucson. In fairness to Palin, the family stated today that Jared Loughner did not watch news or listen to talk radio. However, I was most interested in her claim that the attacks against her and conservative commentators amounted to a “blood libel.”

On her Facebook page, Palin has the following comments:

But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.

Of course, she is not speaking of actual libel. Such criticism of the over-the-top rhetoric of conservative commentators is clearly opinion and not defamation.

“Blood libel” is a term usually associated with religious groups who are accused to killing innocents. Blood libels have a strong anti-Semitic history, such as claims that Jews feed on the flesh or blood of innocent children. For that reason, the Anti-Defamation League has denounced the use of the term — though I do not believe that the simple use of this term is evidence of any anti-semiticism by Palin.

That is a pretty loaded term to use for the criticism over violent terminology and over-heated rhetoric. Indeed, it seems to emphasize a degree of persecution. There is probably some distance between dueling and discourse.

The closest term in torts is “group libel” which (as discussed earlier) is generally difficult to establish.

If either term is relevant, there appears to be an ongoing effort on both sides to tag the other with the massacre. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik stated “The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information. . . [Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences.”

Limbaugh has reportedly fired back by saying that the Democratic Party supports Loughner and is “attempting to find anybody but him to blame.”

In the meantime, members are moving toward a spasm of new laws to criminalize speech.

There is of course another obvious possibility: Loughner is mentally unstable and fully motivated by his own personal demons. Of course, this does not mean that we should not reexamine the rhetoric of our politics.

Frankly, I also share the concern of conservative commentators with politicians like Bernie Sanders (who I agree with on many issues) referring to the massacre in fundraising appeals. This massacre has somehow become about the politicians as opposed to the killer or the victims. That alone says something about the state of our politics.

Jonathan Turley

598 thoughts on “Palin: Attacks on Conservatives Over Tucson Massacre Constitute “Blood Libel””

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  2. From Mother Jones
    Death Threat for a Palin Critic
    In Alaska, an activist seeking access to Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial emails is threatened with assassination.
    — By David Corn (Jan. 24, 2011)

    Responding to criticism she received after the January 8 Tucson shootings, Sarah Palin referred to death threats she and her children have received, suggesting that the Palin clan have been victims of heated political rhetoric. And an aide noted that the Palin team was consulting with security professionals. Andree McLeod, a prominent Palin critic in Alaska, could also use such help, for she has been publicly threatened with assassination—just for requesting, under Alaska’s open records act, the work-related emails Palin sent and received while governor.

    On December 29, the Anchorage Daily News posted an article reporting that four journalists and McLeod, a local citizen activist, were still waiting for the state to release Palin’s emails in response to requests that they had filed two years earlier. (I am one of those journalists.) The Anchorage Daily News noted that the governor’s office had recently asked for and obtained from the state attorney general the 14th delay in processing the request, and it highlighted McLeod’s role in the request. The paper reported:

    McLeod has accused the administrations of Palin and her former lieutenant governor and now successor, Sean Parnell, of abuse of power “with these delay tactics.”

    “Who does Sean Parnell protect and defend by keeping these official e-mail documents secret?” McLeod wrote to Sullivan, objecting to the proposed 14th delay. “Who does he serve? Ex-governor Sarah Palin, or the people of Alaska?”

    Two days later, an anonymous person posted a death threat targeting McLeod in the “Rants & Raves” section of the Anchorage Craigslist. The posting, which echoed an email sent to the Anchorage Daily News, read in full:

    I find it very offensive that Andre Mclead [sic] is asking the state for every e-mail written or received in ANY account maintained by Palin and her husband. Where does this bitch get off thinking the public should shell out for her revenge for the Palin family. I’ve heard enough from this, and I would like to use stronger words to express my feeling for Andre. Well…I think Andre has used up to [sic] much oxygen. So I have my scope cross hair on her head! She better watch out, the request may have been her last!

    I know you won’t publish this. ADN relish in bashing the Palin’s too!

    Let’s clean up the political garbage.

    On January 10, McLeod learned about the Cragislist post and contacted the Anchorage police. According to a police report obtained by Mother Jones, a sergeant named Michael Couturier, who is assigned to the cyber crimes beat, contacted Craigslist and asked the service to take down the posting and for information on the person who had posted the threat. The threat was subsequently removed, and the police report notes that the suspect used an AOL email address associated with an Anchorage woman. (The report names the woman, but Mother Jones is not identifying her at this point.)

    “I have my scope cross hair on her head! She better watch out, the request may have been her last!”

    After gathering emails that this woman—or someone using that email account—had exchanged with a reporter at the Anchorage Daily News, Couturier forwarded all the “pertinent information” to assistant attorney general Marika Athens, according to the police report. Athens, the report notes, “responded that there was nothing [Anchorage Police Department] could do at this point unless [the Anchorage woman], or whoever sent the email, took some act of furtherance toward Ms. McLeod.” Athens, according to the report, told the police that “law enforcement contacting this person might even spiral the situation up rather than make things better.” Athens suggested that the police inform McLeod that she had the option of applying for “a restraining order if she was in fear of [the Anchorage woman].”

    The police suspended the case.

    Mother Jones sent a request for comment to the email address listed in the police report for this Anchorage woman. We received no reply.

    This 50-something Anchorage woman does maintain a MySpace page. On the site, she lists her interests as camping, hunting, and praising the Lord. The page is full of references to Jesus. One graphic on the page cites Jesus as her “anti-drug.” She mentions that she has two children with military experience.

    After suspending the case, the police department sent McLeod an email noting that the emails the suspect had exchanged with the Anchorage Daily News “would lead a person to believe that the poster” was this Anchorage woman, but that “just because we think we know who owns the IP we have not verified who was actually sitting at the computer at that IP address and posted this threatening communication.” The police also informed McLeod that the attorney general’s office had concluded that there was not “probable cause for a search warrant without some act of furtherance,” such as the suspect trying to contact McLeod.

    In other words, case closed—totally. The police, according to the police report, had not attempted to verify whether the Anchorage woman was indeed the person who had posted the threat. McLeod says she found this curious.

  3. @Chan: And I think you are totally wrong.

    Five years ago, my neighbor Ron wanted to replace the 25-year old fence between our yards. He owns an accounting firm. He came and told me a few quotes he had gotten, and I said, “Screw that. Let’s do it ourselves; it will take us three Saturdays, we’ll split the materials, and save thousands of dollars.”

    We did. It took three long Saturdays, we really did save thousands of dollars, we split the labor evenly, and it was satisfying doing it. Ron the accountant is smart and hilarious. The fence is still standing, and the posts are still strong.

    We cooperated and split the costs for a mutual benefit. Neither of us earned a profit on the fence, yet a good strong fence was built. Ron and I teamed up on a socialist enterprise, but we were not forced to pool all of our lifelong assets in order to cooperate on this fence.

    It is possible to engage in cooperative efforts that benefit a larger number of people than two. We can get together and run an operation at cost, without anybody getting rich or earning a profit, and we do not have to run everything the same way.

    Ron’s business is a free market enterprise, he earns a profit there. Ron engaged in a commercial venture on Friday doing books for a local car dealership, and a socialist venture on Saturday building a fence, and his head did not explode.

  4. Tony C.:

    I think you are totally wrong. It does come down to either or/black and white.

    The two systems are not compatible. Enough, either become fully free market or fully socialist and drop the pretense.

  5. @Chan: It is the problem with the entire right/left rift. The left thinks society is the more important concept while most people on the right think the individual is more important.

    I do not believe this is true, in fact I hear it as a veiled accusation of communism against the left, which is not what we believe in.

    I hail from the far left, and I do not think anything is more important than maximizing the individual freedom and happiness of people. I don’t care about society; if they are happy as artists earning $100 a month, that is fine by me.

    My definition of the left is to prevent exploitation and extortion and inequality of freedom. Communism and/or complete Socialism tries to avoid inequality of outcomes, that is not something I think is either possible or even an ideal aspiration.

    What I want, from the left, is for all laws to apply exactly equally to the richest, the poorest, the cops, the judges, the celebrities and the politicians.

    What I want, from the left, is an end to the practice of sacrificing the futures of children because their parents do not have enough money to educate them or care for them. I don’t want to sacrifice people, human beings, over a dollar.

    Society is a side effect of caring about the potential of my fellow citizens. I don’t want them to die for lack of earning power, or be denied an education (if they want it). I don’t want them to have any less access or protection by the cops and courts than the rich get. I don’t want their schools to be less, their nutrition to be less, or their health care to be less because they lack a dollar.

    I think that is the distinction between the left and the right. I cannot speak for anybody but myself, but I believe the “individualism” of the right amounts to selfish sacrifice of the lives of others. That is where I see the division, from my perspective: I, on the left, believe I have a responsibility to the “welfare” of my fellow citizens. (I put that in quotes to connote the literal meaning, not the political program of Welfare.)

    I believe that those on the right subscribe to Adam Smith’s imaginary and invisible hand documented by mespo, above, and I believe the right thinks this justifies a right to be completely selfish with every minute of their lives, which I do not believe exists. I do not believe the opposite either: No person (at least no non-criminal) has an obligation to spend their life in service to others, either. But these two black and white extremes, total selfishness or total selflessness, are not the only options on the table.

    To requote Mespo’s quote of Smith: In spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity […] they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements.

    No, they do not. The selfish and rapacious rich will not “divide with the poor” unless forced to at gunpoint. If you cannot afford your drugs, which are 90% profit after all costs are counted, they will let you die. If you cannot afford a transplant in Arizona, they will let you die. That is the nature of selfish rapaciousness, a complete disregard for the suffering of others.

  6. Chan L:

    The administration of the great system of the universe … the care of the universal happiness of all rational and sensible beings, is the business of God and not of man. To man is allotted a much humbler department, but one much more suitable to the weakness of his powers, and to the narrowness of his comprehension: the care of his own happiness, of that of his family, his friends, his country…. But though we are … endowed with a very strong desire of those ends, it has been entrusted to the slow and uncertain determinations of our reason to find out the proper means of bringing them about. Nature has directed us to the greater part of these by original and immediate instincts. Hunger, thirst, the passion which unites the two sexes, and the dread of pain, prompt us to apply those means for their own sakes, and without any consideration of their tendency to those beneficent ends which the great Director of nature intended to produce by them.


    … In spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose … be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society.

    Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

    Sounds pretty conservative to me but with some sense to it. Note the “Invisible Hand” appears in the TMS first.

    Read more of Smith. He’ll surprise you.

  7. Mespo727272:

    I have read a little bit of it. I am not a big fan of Adam Smith because he looks at the benefit to society as a whole while I think the individual [that which makes up society] the more important.

    I would only embrace welfare as a way of protecting free markets. I think Adam Smith embraces free markets as a way of protecting welfare.

    It is the problem with the entire right/left rift. The left thinks society is the more important concept while most people on the right think the individual is more important. There are some contradictions but generally it seems to fall in those 2 camps.

  8. Chan L:

    “I have long thought that welfare and capitalism are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”


    Then you are in good company. As we’ve discussed many times, Adam Smith, the great capitalist himself, felt the same way. Take a stroll through The Theory of Moral Sentiments which Smith considered his seminal work.

  9. Thus once again showing your complete misunderstanding of both propaganda and anti-propaganda, Bob.

  10. Well, seeing I find the idea of making claims without reason (i.e. non-arguments) behavior fitting a street urchin; guess I’ll start with arguments and work my way down from there.

  11. Bob,

    Wrong article there.

    “An argument is the a method by which we analyze and reveal said propaganda as being the load of shit that it is.”

    Argument is not the only method.

  12. Buddha,

    An argument is the method by which we analyze and reveal said propaganda as being the load of shit that it is.

  13. Chan L.,

    My problem is with the extremes on either side of the aisle; since both want far more than I’m willing to give and neither are willing to compromise.

  14. Bob,

    Like I said, disagree with a tactic all you like.

    And who said propaganda or anti-propaganda is an argument?

    Listen closely: this is NOT COURT.

    Get it yet?

Comments are closed.