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Talking Hate

There 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 suspicion.

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 humanists?”

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 pretty mild.

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?

—Jo Page

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