are often late-comers to church. And especially on mornings
where there is a special children’s program, there are lots
of new faces—relatives or friends of members who have come
to see the children sing and act. And because of that, a grizzled
man carrying a guitar case arriving late at the Knoxville
Unitarian-Universalist Church probably aroused no immediate
But Jim Adkisson hadn’t come to see the children’s program.
And he hadn’t come to worship. He came to kill. And he did.
Not as many as he wanted to—which was all 200 congregants.
Nor did he get the police to kill him.
But he made his statement: liberals have ruined the country.
In his search warrant, Knoxville police officer Steven Still
wrote that Adkisson targeted the church “because of its liberal
teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed
because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that
the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror
and they had ruined every institution in America with the
aid of media outlets.”
And what could Adkisson think he could do about all that?
He could shoot some of the liberals who elected the liberals.
He probably knew enough about Unitarian-Universalism to know
he’d find some liberals there.
Besides, he had other reasons for targeting the UUA church.
His ex-wife, whose head he had threatened to blow off with
his shotgun, used to be a member. And the pastor of the church,
the Rev. Chris Buice, had recently written an article in support
of gay marriage for a Knoxville newspaper.
Friends and neighbors have described him in the usual ways:
“nice and quiet,” say his neighbors, “had a heart of gold,”
“a normal child” says his friends, “my heart breaks for him,”
says his cousin, Dee.
Nevertheless, his fifth wife—as well as his friends—all agree
that he was racist, sexist, bigoted and homophobic. And if
you are a racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe, you can find
no more unwavering support for your views than on Fox and
ClearChannel and the Christian Broadcasting Network—and in
the books written by the program hosts.
Now Adkisson appeared to have a special hatred for Christians
as well as everybody else, so he didn’t seek support for his
views from James Dobson and Pat Robertson and John Hagee and
rest of the those who wrap the Bible around their intolerance
and call that God’s will.
But there are plenty of secular priests of bigotry out there.
And in searching Adkisson’s home, police officers found Let
Freedom Ring by talk-show host Sean Hannity, The O’Reilly
Factor, by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly and
Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by radio talk-show
host Michael Savage.
RJ Eskow, writing in The Huffington Post asks, “Who really
killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred
and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them
instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine
that attacks liberals, calls them ‘traitors’ and suggests
you speak to them ‘with a baseball bat’? The economic system
that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then
tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular
Eskow concludes: “If you ask me, it was all of the above.
You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee.
You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris
and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.”
Those may be strong accusations, but it seems to me they’re
not off the mark at all. And compared to the hate speech so
easily and routinely heard on ClearChannel programs, it’s
It’s not enough to say that Adkisson was a loner who couldn’t
tolerate diversity and one day he just snapped. The issue
is broader and more serious than that. Because loners who
can’t tolerate diversity can find themselves a community of
the like-minded so easily.
Shock-jock talk show hosts explain away their bigotry this
way: It’s just good solid entertainment to malign liberals.
Christian radio talk show hosts explain away their bigotry
somewhat differently: It’s just solid, biblical doctrine to
malign liberals. And it isn’t as if the term ‘liberal’ were
defined in any significant way. ‘Liberal’ is ‘them,’ The other.
Anything that is different. Jews, Muslims, gays, Democrats,
women. The list is long.
Not everybody who thinks the way Jim Adkisson did will open
fire on a group of people whose commitment to reason and social
justice is at the very heart of their faith. But just because
they don’t carry a 12-gauge shotgun in their guitar case doesn’t
mean they aren’t brimming with anger and well-primed to hate.
Rage against ‘liberals’ has become, for too many, a national
past-time and an excuse for reprehensible prejudices masqueraded
as entertainment or the will of God.
What will the right wing talk show hosts and bloggers and
preachers have to say about the Knoxville shootings? They
will pigeon-hole Adkisson as a lunatic—fairly enough. But
will they acknowledge that this lunatic was nourished on their
homegrown culture of hate?