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Why Was Giffords Targeted?

Alleged shooter may have been driven in part by anti-Semitism

Marc Tracy
January 10, 2011
Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.(Reuters/NYT)
Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.(Reuters/NYT)

Leaving aside whether broader currents in American political discourse influenced Jared Lee Loughner’s attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s life, what exactly were the direct, proximate motivations behind Loughton’s decision to shoot Giffords in the head and then open fire on the crowd at her “Congress on Your Corner” event Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, killing six and wounding nearly two dozen? More specifically: Was Giffords’s Jewishness—her father is Jewish, her mother Christian Scientist, and she identifies as Jewish; she even served on the Anti-Defamation League’s regional board—at all relevant?

It seems very clear that, primarily, Loughner was deeply disturbed and very likely mentally ill, and had been obsessed with Giffords for several years. “Loughner’s behavior grew so troubling that he was told he could no longer attend the school,” the New York Times reports, referring to an Arizona community college, “and he appeared, given his various Internet postings, to find a sense of community in some of the more paranoid corners of the Internet.”

The Department of Homeland Security suggested, in a memo distributed to law enforcement, that Loughner may have had links to American Renaissance, a racist publication (which denies both the link and its racism and condemned the attack), whose ideology, according to DHS, is “anti government, anti immigration, anti ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti Semitic” [sic]. And then there is one report stating that Loughner’s mother is, yes, Jewish. (Incidentally, President Obama has called for a moment of silence at 11 am.)

Loughner’s ideology—which is actually an overstatement for what seems to be cobbled-together rants united most of all by simple paranoia and lunacy—draws several of its strands from the far-right fringe. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center has done the yeoman’s work here (his blog is dedicated to “Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right”). Loughner’s disdain for currency not backed by gold or silver is, according to Potok, a tenet associated with the right-wing, anti-government “Patriot” movement; it is “linked to the core Patriot theory that the Federal Reserve is actually a private corporation run for the benefit of unnamed international bankers.” (Hrmm.) In one of Loughner’s videos, an American flag is burned—a symbol most obviously associated with the far-left but actually, says Potok, at least as logically indicative of far-right leanings. Even Loughner’s bizarre obsession with grammar and language links him to the Patriot movement: It echoes the writings of a conspiracy theorist who “claims that the government uses grammar to ‘enslave’ Americans and offers up his truly weird ‘Truth-language’ as an antidote.”

Giffords, Potok notes, “was the nearest and most obvious representative of ‘the government’ that Loughner could find.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.