Shortly after the shooting of Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and three others in Alexandria Wednesday morning, Capitol Hill came together in a rare show of solidarity. “We are united in our anguish,” Speaker Paul Ryan said on the House floor. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
“You're going to hear me say something you've never heard me say before: I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker,” his rival Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added after Ryan’s speech. “They are beautiful remarks, Mr. Speaker, thank you so much.”
But it didn’t take long for an angrier narrative to take hold on right-wing news outlets. Upon learning that the shooter was reportedly a Bernie Sanders supporter, conservative pundits immediately pointed fingers at liberals for promoting a “culture of violence.”
The Daily Caller described the attack as “just the latest in an escalating pattern of violence and intimidation against Republicans,” complaining that politicians on the right were victims of “an increasingly hostile political climate where left-wingers portrayed them as ‘fascists.’”
According to LifeZette, the website of conservative provocateur Laura Ingraham, Wednesday’s shooting “quickly drew attention to the American Left’s escalating anti-Republican rhetoric, which demonizes and dehumanizes conservatives and their beliefs.”
Predictably, the shrillest denunciations came from the right-wing conspiracy website Infowars. “We have been warning for months that the mainstream media’s hysterical anti-Trump narrative … will radicalize demented social justice warriors and prompt them to lash out with violence,” alt-right pundit Paul Joseph Watson wrote. “It looks like that’s exactly what happened today. The blood is on their hands.”
Kathy Griffin, the comedian who recently came under fire for a picture of her holding a bloodied model of Donald Trump’s head, was frequently brought up as an example of intolerable liberal rhetoric. So was the New York Public Theater’s controversial production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which portrays the murdered Caesar as a Trump-like figure with a red tie and golden hair.
“Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President,” conservative pundit Harlan Hill said in a tweet that was highlighted by Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.
LifeZette complained that Democrats and the mainstream media had taken it too far with their claims that Republicans’ Obamacare replacement would kill people (it probably would). “Trump's most controversial comments pale in comparison to the sort of hyperbole that liberals regularly employ to describe Republicans and their policies,” LifeZette’s Edmund Kozak scolded.
The shooter, whom police have identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Illinois, had criticized President Donald Trump and the GOP on social media. But there was no evidence that he was incited to violence by the left’s rhetoric.
And that was what cooler heads on the right emphasized on Wednesday afternoon. “I don't want to blame people on the left for what this person did today,” said Republican Rep. Pete King of New York to Fox News. “He was acting on his own. I’ve been around long enough to know we have these types on both sides.”
When Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head by anti-government conspiracy theorist Jared Loughner in 2011, people on the left were making mirror-opposite complaints about the right’s “climate of hate.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blasted conservative pundits such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly for making violent jokes — sometimes referencing gun violence — about the left:
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.
Since the election, there have been plenty of examples of apparent hate crimes, including the murder of two men in Portland who had stood up to a white supremacist, and the shooting of two Indian-American engineers in Kansas.
But there is a simmering belief among parts of the right that the mainstream media unfairly highlights violence perpetrated by Trump supporters. On Wednesday, for instance, some politicians took the shooting as an opportunity to complain about the increasingly rowdy participants at their town halls.
"I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric," said New York Rep. Chris Collins to local radio station WBEN. “The rhetoric has been outrageous. The finger pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters. ... Some people react to things like that. They get angry as well. And then you fuel the fires."
Collins told WBEN that he would start carrying a pistol “in my pocket from this day forward.”