Knoxville Church Shooter's Manifesto Leaves No Doubt: Murders Were Political Terror Against Liberals

July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

[I'm cross-posting this from Orcinus, where Sara Robinson, my longtime cohort, put this up. See dday for more.]

-- by Sara

Progressives around the country can breathe a little easier today: James Adkisson has been sentenced to life behind bars for the deaths of Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger, the Unitarian Universalist martyrs who died during his assault on their church in Knoxville, TN last July.

Many of us intuited at the time that Adkisson's rampage was exactly the kind of rancid fruit that would inevitably take root in an American countryside thickly composted with two decades of hate radio bullshit, freshly turned and watered with growing middle-class frustration over the failing economy. That suspicion that was verified in the days that followed, when police searched Adkisson's apartment and found it filled with books and newsletters penned by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and other right-wing hate talkers.

But Monday, Adkisson told us himself -- in his own words -- just how central right-wing eliminationism was in driving him to his shooting spree. Shortly after he was sentenced Monday, he released a four-page handwritten "manifesto" -- which he'd intended to be his suicide note -- to the Knoxville News (the full .pdf can be downloaded here). In it, he unleashes the full measure of his hatred for liberals -- and encourages other would-be right-wing warriors to take up arms and follow him into battle.

Some choice excerpts:

"Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy in this country & these liberals are working together to attack every decent & honorable institution in the nation, trying to turn this country into a communist state. Shame on them....

"This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence."

"I thought I'd do something good for this Country Kill Democrats til the cops kill me....Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just kill yourself. do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals.

No doubt this manifesto is being blogged, mailed, twittered, and otherwise littered across the far-right infosphere today, and Adkisson will likely emerge from this as a new hero of the extreme right wing. (He's obviously articulate and literate, which means we may expect more of these bilious rants coming out of his cell in the years ahead.) It also seems likely that, probably sooner rather than later, other victims of our curdled economy will accept his charge, pick up their guns, and attempt to follow him into battle.

Nicely done, Messrs. Hannity, Goldberg, Limbaugh, Savage and O'Reilly -- and all your lesser brethren who keep the hate speech spewing 24/7/365 across every field and into every shop in the country. There is no more debate to be had, no more doubt about it: What you did in the name of "entertainment," and for the sake of the almighty ratings, raised and animated a monster like Jim Adkisson, gave him a list of targets ("the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book"), and was directly responsible for the deaths of two brave and decent people. Adkisson was clearly angry and crazy -- but his "manifesto" draws the clearest, brightest line possible between the media he consumed and his actions that terrible Sunday morning.

Progressives should take three lessons away from Knoxville:

One: we are no longer safe, not even in our own houses of worship. It's ironic that progressives -- the subgroup of Americans who were most determined not to abandon reason and succumb to overblown fears of Islamic terrorism in the wake of 9/11 -- now have good, serious reasons to fear real domestic terrorism against themselves.

Two: A significant part of this country's media infrastructure is thoroughly devoted to inciting people to commit horrific acts of violence against us -- and now, we know for a fact that people are acting on those incitements. It's time to start taking this far more seriously. What goes out across our airwaves these days isn't all that different from what went out over Radio Rwanda a decade ago, spurring that country to genocide. At this point, it's only a difference of degree.

Three: The right wing has, as usual, grossly underestimated our courage and our commitment. The members of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist quickly and effectively disarmed and captured this man within seconds after he opened fire. Adkisson expected fear; what we got was determined resistance. It's why he's still alive today, and why more UUs aren't dead by his hand. The TVUUA congregation should be our enduring example of liberal grace under fire.

Adkisson's "manifesto" should end any doubts we ever had about how virulent and dangerous hate talk is, or whether or not that talk will eventually translate into action.

Update: My friend Ogre pointed out something that gave me a "D'oh!" moment. Among Adkisson's ranting was a clear statement: "This was an act of political protest." Which means that it was, by definition and his own admission, an act of domestic terrorism.

Our radio hate talkers incited a man to commit an act of terrorism. Just sit a minute and take that in. And the next time you hear them foaming on about how liberals are "soft on terrorism," reflect on the fact that they'd better hope to hell we don't get any more serious about it -- because if we do, their asses are going to be the first ones in the dockets.

[Closing note from Dave: My forthcoming book -- The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right -- discusses this wellsprings of this phenomenon in depth. It's due out in May.]

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