Leader Blues

Saturday, June 13, 2009

EDITORIAL >> The killers among us

Four obscure men whose lives and ideologies could hardly be matched in greater contrast have earned the nation’s horrified attention in a space of weeks by murdering people who had done them no harm and then claiming their deeds as acts of righteousness. Each murder was an individual act, and no fact that has come to light links any two of them in common cause or to any other confederates. They were what the national security services call “lone wolves,” people driven by private demons to settle scores on behalf of good people everywhere.

A young man who grew up in the Baptist faith in Tennessee but who as a restless college student settled on Islam as the true faith shot two young soldiers outside a recruiting office at Little Rock last week, killing one of them and leaving for dead a Jacksonville man who had recently volunteered to serve his country. The killer said he shot the men and planned to kill others because the U. S. government was killing and oppressing Muslims in other lands although neither of the soldiers he picked as victims had ever fired a shot in anger or exhibited even the slightest ethnic or religious antipathy toward people of the Middle East.

In Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, a young man who was obsessed with rumors circulated during the campaign last year that President Obama would some day try to take away people’s guns holed up in his house with an arsenal of weapons and shot three policemen to death and wounded two others in the belief that he was defending the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

In Kansas City, a man who considered abortion to be murder gunned down a doctor who performed late-term abortions as the doctor was ushering Sunday morning at his church. The doctor had often been pilloried as a “baby killer” on network shows. The killer believed he was doing God’s work and his patriotic duty.

Finally, a man who had harbored a hatred of blacks and Jews for a lifetime took up his shotgun at the age of 88 and attacked the security guards at the National Holocaust Museum on the Capitol Mall in Washington, killing one of them.

Each was an independent act of a man who had lost his senses, but could they all be related in some abstruse way, and are we headed for even darker days? A few days before the Pittsburgh killings, an internal analysis for the Department of Homeland Security detected a surge of extremism in the land, the same kind that greeted the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992 and that was followed the next year by the first big terrorist attacks on American soil, the first attack on the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing and smaller violent acts of defiance.

Let us hope that these senseless murders are indeed isolated and their remarkable timing now only coincidence. Our long history is replete with occasional similar martyrs for lost causes. But we confess to some apprehension. There is abroad in the land a growing sense that the troubled times are a nefarious plot by unseen forces — and maybe seen ones as well — and that we have guns not merely for self protection and hunting but as a way to fight off these forces, even if it is our own government. It is the one idea that connects all the acts of this spring.

Our deeply divisive and increasingly desperate politics propels us in that direction. It has become standard rhetoric to accuse the president and his party of secretly speeding the country toward an alien form of governance, which must be stopped at any cost. The “tea parties” organized across the country to raise awareness of the black president’s secret socialist agenda are only one manifestation.

Monday, the organizers will hold a big rally in Little Rock’s River Market. One of the speakers is a firebrand who gained fame on Fox Network commentary. He suggests that the people running the country are traitors and that the “silent majority” must take back their country right away. Then there is the Southern Baptist preacher from Arkansas who has gained a following in California by praying for President Obama’s death. He says God wants the president dead before he can do any further harm and calls for imprecatory prayers for the deed to be quickly accomplished. We know now that there are far too many demented men willing and wanting to be the heroes for the cause of righteousness, whatever it is, and martyred heroes if it comes to that.

What we need are prayers of a different sort, that sanity and the better angels looking over our country will prevail.