The truly horrific news in Tuscon today defies any sort of context, but it follows an incident of violence targeted at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords earlier this year.
On March 21, 2010, the night the House of Representatives passed its sweeping health reform law, a window was smashed in Congresswoman Giffords's office in Tuscon, the city she has represented in Congress since 2006, where she was shot today. Her staff stayed late in the office, as the health care vote happened well into the night in Washington, and after everyone had left, someone smashed a window.
The Arizona Daily Star published this story the following day:
The front door was smashed out at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' congressional office last night.
At 2:40 a.m., just a few hours after staff left the building after the late-night vote, the alarm system went off, said spokesman C.J. Karamargin. The panel to the front door and the glass panel alongside it were smashed out. The perpetrator likely had to hop the gated fence to get access to the door, since it's not viewable from the parking lot.
Karamargin said it was unclear if the glass had been shot out with a kind of pellet gun, if it had been kicked or smashed with an object. The door has been covered with plywood.
Giffords's office became one of many stories that week about violence and intimidation aimed at members of Congress surrounding the health care vote. Seven months earlier, tensions over health care and President Obama's stimulus plan had led to violence at lawmakers' town-all meetings, like the one Giffords was hosting today.
As health care was passed, Democratic Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (CA) and Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), who made a last-minute compromise with the Obama administration over abortion language, reportedly received death threats. A gas line was severed at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello's (VA) brother, and the FBI investigated. As lawmakers met on Capitol Hill to consider the health care law the Saturday before the vote, Democratic members of Congress were harassed by angry protesters outside their office buildings.
House Democrats met with Capitol Police to discuss security concerns after this unsettling wave of events, at the request of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
A couple days after Giffords's window was smashed, I talked to CJ Karamargin about it, and, if I recall correctly, CJ still wasn't sure how it had been done. The small hole in the center of the window looked something like a bullet hole, and, as media outlets picked up the story, people referenced the incident as Giffords's office having been "shot."
The national atmosphere that week was surreal, as political tensions once again took on dark, violent tones, not so long after things had turned bad during Congress's August recess just seven months previously. Ever since a protester displayed a hanging effigy of Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in August 2009, Washington was on edge, concerned about the safety of lawmakers and not sure what to make of the violent direction in which politics seemed to be headed. No one could quite determine how serious the threats against lawmakers were.
Giffords, just 10 months ago, was at the center of that concern, but no one could have predicted what happened in Tucson