We do not yet know what prompted 22-year-old accused gunman Jared Loughner to allegedly shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others, including a child and federal judge who died from their wounds.
But critics of Sarah Palin have already drawn a link between the shooting and the fact that the former Alaska governor put Giffords on a "target list" of lawmakers Palin wanted to see unseated in the midterm elections.
In March, Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats that used crosshairs images to show their districts. (You can see it here.) Critics suggested at the time that she was inciting violence by using the crosshairs imagery and for later writing on Twitter to her supporters, "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'"
"We're paying particular attention to those House members who voted in favor of Obamacare and represent districts that Senator John McCain and I carried during the 2008 election," Palin wrote when she released the target list.
She specifically cited Giffords and then went to say: "We'll aim for these races and many others."
In response to the news that Giffords had been shot, Palin posted the following on Facebook: "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."
In the comments section below, her critics did not hold back.
"What a hypocrite you are," wrote Kathy Henn. "You targeted this woman - literally with a target on her district - one of your freaky Fox followers hunted her down - and now you try to distance yourself from blame." (There is no evidence at this point that Loughner was a "Fox follower," that he held views in line with Palin, or that he had ever seen the target list.)
"More than condolences, I hope you will think carefully in the future when you call on supporters to 'take aim' at opponents, and refer to elections as 'salvos,'" wrote Kirsten Sherk. "A child was killed today by someone who can't tell the difference between 'inspiring' speech and a call to arms. I was appalled by your violent speech before, I'm horrified now."
Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva, meanwhile, told The Nation in the wake of the shooting that "we're feeding anger, hatred, and division for quite a while. Maybe it is time for elected officials and leaders in this country that have been feeding that disease to realize that there are consequences to it."
Asked if the Tea Party right was to blame, he added: "[When] you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them--you make us expendable you make us part of the cannon fodder. For a while, you've been feeding this hatred, this division...you feed it, you encourage it....Something's going to happen. People are feeding this monster....Some of the extreme right wing has made demonization of elected officials their priority."
Giffords is in the beginning of her third term in office after recently winning a very close election. She is a conservative Democrat in a conservative state, but was the target of heated rhetoric.
Around the time of the Palin post, Giffords's district office was vandalized with a window being shot out. CBS News's Jill Jackson reported at the time that staffers were "kind of shaken up" after receiving numerous threats including "nasty language, foul language."
In August of 2009, someone dropped a handgun at a Giffords town hall meeting, prompting calls to police from Giffords' staff. A spokesman said then that "We have never felt the need before to notify law enforcement when we hold these events."
Asked by the New York Post in the wake of the shooting if Giffords had any enemies, her father responded, "Yeah. The whole Tea Party."
In reacting to today's shooting, Jane Fonda, a well-known liberal, pointed the finger at Palin on Twitter. "Progressive Arizona Rep Gabrielle Giffords is shot. In her ads, Sarah Palin had her targeted in a gun site. Inciting to violence," she said.
The Tea Part Express, meanwhile, said in part: "These heinous crimes have no place in America, and they are especially grievous when committed against our elected officials. Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas. An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process."
John McCain, the man who brought Palin to national attention by tapping her to be his running mate, didn't mention Palin in his response to the shooting in his home state. "Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law," he wrote.
When Palin was being criticized for the target list, McCain came to her defense, saying, "I have seen the rhetoric of targeted districts as long as I've been in politics."
"This is -- any threat of violence is terrible, but to say that there is a targeted district or that we 'reload' or go back in to the fight again, please...Those are fine. They're used all the time," he said, adding: "Those words have been used throughout of my political career. There are targeted districts, and there are areas that we call battleground states, and so please, that rhetoric and kind of language is just part of the political lexicon. There is no place for threats of violence or anything else, but to say that someone is in a battleground state is not originated today."
Responding to Palin's rhetoric last year, Giffords herself told MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, that "the rhetoric is incredibly heated."
Giffords - who is a gun owner and supporter of gun rights - went on to say: "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district, when people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that," she added.
Palin is not the only politician taking heat in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy - critics are also pointing the finger at Giffords' general election opponent, Jesse Kelly. The liberal website firedoglake noted that Kelly held an event on June 12th urging supporters to "Get on Target for Victory in November/Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office/Shoot a fully automatic M15 with Jesse Kelly."
Here's how the Arizona Daily Star described the event at the time:
Jesse Kelly, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be bothered in the least by the Sarah Palin controversy earlier this year, when she released a list of targeted races in crosshairs, urging followers to "reload" and "aim" for Democrats. Critics said she was inciting violence.
He seems to be embracing his fellow tea partier's idea. Kelly's campaign event website has a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon. It includes the headline: "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
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