Tragic Attack Once Again a Political Football

John Bedell opens fire on two Pentagon cops, finger-pointing follows

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The cycle is becoming familiar. An act of violence by a crazed attacker is briefly mourned before commentators, hunting out any possible political motivation in the attack, use it a rhetorical bludgeon. Liberals claim the attacker is a radical conservative and conservatives claim he is a radical liberal, as happened almost immediately following Joseph Stack's suicide flight into an IRS office. Any political affiliations or loyalties that can be tied to the attacker are questioned as potential threats. After the IRS attack, "Patriot" groups came under fire. After the November shootings at Fort Hood, Muslim-Americans in the military and Muslim-Americans in general were treated with fear and suspicion. Pundits often couch these political charges in arguments about whether or not an act constitutes "terrorism." Liberals, for example, were quick to declare the Fort Hood shooter nothing more than a crazed loner, and then labeled the IRS pilot a right-wing terrorist.

This pattern of violence followed by politicization has occurred many times. In June, a gunman fired at the Washington Holocaust Museum, raising liberal accusations of widespread conservative anti-Semitism. The May killing of an abortion doctor who had been frequently attacked by conservatives launched a ferocious debate. Liberals accused conservatives of inciting violence, while conservatives accused liberals of demagoguery and smothering free speech.

The same story is playing out again today, after John Patrick Bedell opened fire on two security guards at the Pentagon. Officials quickly attempted to play down any indication of terrorism or political motivation. He "had issues" and "there is no indication at this point that there is any domestic or international terrorist nexus," police said. But that hasn't stopped pundits from using Bedell, who died following the firefight, as a tool to advance political aims.

Bedell Is Conservative

  • 'Did Right-Wing Extremism Lead To Shooting?'  That's the headline on The Christian Science Monitor's news article by Peter Grier. It opens, "John Patrick Bedell, whom authorities identified as the gunman in the Pentagon shooting on Thursday, appears to have been a right-wing extremist with virulent antigovernment feelings."
  • 'Right-Wing Terrorist'  Think Progress's Alex Seitz-Wald calls the shooter a "Right-Wing, Anti-Government Terrorist," writing, "In podcasts, Bedell propagated his conspiracy theories, which eerily reflect fringe right-wing rhetoric."
  • Extreme Conservative  Blogger Charles Johnson writes, "The latest talking point making the rounds of the wingnut echo chamber is that since Bedell was a 9/11 Truther, that 'proves' he was a 'left winger.' Perhaps those who promote this diversionary tactic can explain why people like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, both of whom promote 9/11 Trutherism, are welcomed on the modern right wing with open arms."

Bedell Is Libertarian or a Tea Partier

  • 'Boilerplate Libertarian'  Gawker's Adrian Chen writes, "Almost every trace Bedell left on the Internet from that point on displays an obsession with information—storing, retrieving, and revealing it—coupled with boilerplate Libertarian and 9/11 conspiracy theory bullshit." However, "if any motivation is to be applied to his actions outside of pure insanity, simply writing him off as a brain-washed Glenn Beck zombie 'teabagger' or an imbecile anti-government activist can't capture the incomprehensible complexity of his ideas and the singular weirdness going on in his brain."
  • He's a Tea Party Member  Liberal blogger Steve Huff asks, "Crazier than Crazy Teabag Offshoot?" He writes, "If the same Bedell was a committed libertarian devoted in part to legalizing marijuana and in full to reducing government control over our lives, he might be a 'teabagger' ideologically-speaking, for the Tea Party movement has sought to bring both libertarians and extremely conservative Republicans into the fold."

Bedell Is Liberal

  • 'Registered Democrat'  Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is triumphant. "Guess which party he registered under in 2005 and was actively registered under as of 2008? DEMOCRAT." She concludes, "Stop playing games, MSM," convinced that the media is ignoring the truth about Bedell.
  • 'Berkeley Lib?'  Conservative blogger Dan Riehl sees little difference between the Pentagon shooter and the 35,000 students of the University of California at Berkeley.
  • He's a Democrat  RedState's Moe Lane scoffs at claims that the shooter is conservative. He says the shooter's 9/11 "truther" beliefs, "anti-Bush" conspiracy theories, and record of growing marijuana "do not precisely fit the narrative. And by 'do not precisely fit' I mean 'contradict.' That first opinion alone is shared by how much of the Democratic party, again?"
  • 'Anti-Bush'  Conservative blogger Patterico insists, "Internet research shows that the guy was a 9/11 Truther and an anti-Bush nut case."
  • 'Blame Keith Olbermann'  It's unclear to what extent conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds is serious. "YES. I BLAME KEITH OLBERMANN. Anti-Bush Truther shoots up Pentagon; Should we play the political blame game?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.