In January 2011, Senator Bernie Sanders decided to capitalize on the shooting of Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords by sending out a fundraising email citing the tragedy.
Sanders wrote: “This horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate. Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred,” adding, “Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?”
Sanders cited Sarah Palin’s “crosshairs” map as well as Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly’s invitation to go shooting as a fundraiser as alleged examples of the political Right stirring up violence.
The relevant part of the email appears below:
Given the recent tragedy in Arizona, as well as the start of the new Congress, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few words with political friends in Vermont and throughout the country. I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign at www.bernie.org. There is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me. Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated. Also, please do not hesitate to convey to me any ideas that you may have with regard to how we can best go forward in terms of public policy, as well as politically. While I cannot respond personally to every comment, I will read them all.
ARIZONA: What occurred this weekend in Tucson was tragic, and I join my congressional colleagues and the entire nation in sending my condolences to the victims of this horrible attack. In terms of this savage shooting rampage, several points need to be made. First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate. Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred. After all, last year, after her vote in support of health care reform, Rep. Giffords' district office was attacked and her front window was shot out. In 2009, at an open constituent town meeting in a shopping center similar to the one in which she was gunned down, a pistol fell to the ground from the pocket of a protester attending the event. During her last campaign her opponent, Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly, invited his supporters to an event at which they could fire live ammunition from an M-16 rifle as a fundraising device in his effort to help remove Rep. Giffords from office. Congresswoman Giffords publicly expressed concerns when Sarah Palin, on her website, placed her district in the cross-hairs of a rifle – and identified her by name below the image – as an encouragement to Palin supporters to eliminate her from Congress. Interviewed on MSNBC at the time when the cross-hairs were posted on the web, Giffords said; “When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.” What should be understood is that the violence, and threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona, was not limited to Gabrielle Giffords. Raul Grijalva, an old friend of mine and one of the most progressive members in the House, was forced to close his district office this summer when someone shot a bullet through his office window. Another Democratic elected official in Arizona, recently defeated Congressman Harry Mitchell, suspended town meetings in his district because of the threatening phone calls that he received (Mitchell was also in the cross-hairs on the Palin map). And Judge John Roll, who was shot to death at the Giffords event, had received numerous threatening calls and death threats in 2009. In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process? Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions? My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack. I commend him for that. But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more. As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.