During 2010, former US Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, via her Political Action Committee, went after several Democrat Representatives over their advocacy for Barack Obama’s health care reforms. To promote this campaign, SarahPAC put out a graphic, telling “20 House Democrats from districts we carried in 2008 voted for the Health Care Bill … IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND”. The “targets” were picked out with gunsight crosshairs.
One of those targeted was Gabrielle Giffords, then representing Arizona’s 8th District. A week into her third term, while she was hosting a “Congress on your corner” event - a constituency surgery - at a Safeway supermarket near Tucson, she was shot by Jared Lee Loughner. Several others were killed; many more were wounded. The Palin PAC took down its graphic. But it was too late. The incendiary rhetoric had a body count.
The lessons of the Giffords shooting have, sadly, gone unheeded, and not just in the USA. Here in the UK, during the febrile atmosphere of the 2016 EU referendum campaign, we had our own Gabby Giffords moment as Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered outside her constituency surgery by far-right activist Thomas Mair.
After the shooting: Gabby Giffords and Barack Obama
The consequences of dialling up the rhetoric, along with aggressive propagandising, are all too clear - but not to the convocation of inconsiderate bigotry otherwise known as Leave EU, where the kind of campaigning that led to the Giffords shooting is in full swing. The only difference is that, as we have strict gun control laws, gunsight crosshairs are out. Instead, Leave EU have used crude crosses. In red. In the shape of a crucifix.
You think I jest? Here’s the offending Tweet, telling “Our deselection campaign to boot the worst Tory Remoaners had a big victory last night against ringleader Dominic Grieve - and we're just getting started. Let's save Brexit!” and showing those crucifix-styled crosses over the heads of Anna Souby, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston (all of whom have resigned from the Tory Party), as well as Nick Boles and Dominic Grieve.
The latter two MPs have lost confidence votes held by their local Conservative associations. Next on the Leave EU list is Oliver Letwin, and after him comes Antoinette Sandbach, who represents the Cheshire constituency of Eddisbury. With Leave EU howling after them “Tory Remainers are terrified of their grassroots members rising up and deselecting them after our successful campaigns against Dominic Grieve, Nick Boles, and Sarah Wollaston. Betraying the will of the people has consequences!”
Betrayal. Targeting. Blood-red crucifix-style crosses. The memory of what happened outside a Safeway supermarket in 2011. The memory of what happened outside Birstall library in 2016. And there go Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore, Richard Tice and their chums ratcheting up the hatred just for laughs.
If it’s time for anything right now, it’s time not for aggressive and hateful propagandising - it’s time to put the rhetoric away. Before the next Jared Lee Loughner or Thomas Mair crawls out of the woodwork intent on striking a blow for history.
Leave EU is a stain on grown-up politics. It’s time to reach for the disinfectant.
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