Last week, James Adkisson was sentenced to life in prison. Adkisson was the right-wing terrorist who went on an armed rampage against the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville last July, killing two parishioners, Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger. He had intended to kill many more, but the people of the congregation, showing uncommon courage and heroism, swiftly subdued and disarmed him and held him until the police arrived.
Adkisson’s manifesto has just been released (HT: Orcinus), a four-page handwritten document which he had intended to be a suicide note. His plan was to murder as many people as possible, then wait to be killed by arriving police. Thanks to the bravery of the UU congregation, he’ll instead be spending the rest of his life in prison – a far more appropriate fate, in my opinion, and one that will force him to come to terms with what he did rather than taking the coward’s exit of suicide.
In his manifesto, Adkisson explains why he committed these murders. The document is a glimpse into the deepest, darkest fringes of the right-wing mind, a worldview consumed by unrelenting hatred and a desire to inflict as much pain as possible on those he views as his enemies:
The worst problem America faces today is liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the military, from education to religion… Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.
…It takes a warped mind to hate America. It makes me so angry! I can’t live with it anymore!
…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.
This murderous mentality is an outgrowth of everything that the American right, as a movement, has spent the past several decades cultivating. One can draw a straight line from political operatives like Lee Atwater and his racist “Southern Strategy” or Newt Gingrich’s 1996 memo urging Republicans to use words like “corrupt”, “sick”, “radical” and “traitor” to describe their political opponents, to popular conservative pundits who write books with titles like Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Ann Coulter), Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), and The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military (Michael Savage), to internet columnists who proclaim in absolute seriousness that one-half of the American population is composed of traitors and subversives. And from there, all this accumulated anger and hate trickles down into the right-wing sewers. It was such a sewer that birthed James Adkisson and filled his mind with the venom that motivated his deeds.
This hatred is not an aberration, but the stock in trade of the American right wing, which has become obsessed with the personal destruction of its enemies. The hate isn’t confined to a few fringe cranks and lunatics, but is spewed out daily from their most popular and influential think tanks, spokespeople, and political leaders. And when their violent, eliminationist rhetoric becomes so pervasive – even when conservative leaders accompany it with wink-and-nudge disclaimers that they don’t really mean for anyone to commit violent acts, of course not – a few unstable people are bound to be tipped over the edge into murderous insanity, and rampages like Adkisson’s are the inevitable, foreseeable result. In a very real sense, the leaders of the conservative movement bear partial responsibility for this horror, and the blood of the dead is on their hands.
In a rational world, this event should have been the catalyst for the right-wing movement to realize what they have created and step back from the abyss. But if the past eight years have shown anything, it’s that introspection is not their strong suit. Many sane conservatives have already fled; as for the rest, they may be too deeply invested in their hate to give it up now. Worse, now that the Republicans are out of power, the rage and frustration among their supporters will only increase. Though I very much hope I’m wrong, I would not be surprised if, over the next few years, the killing in Knoxville turns out to be only the first.