Duke: Lousiest Shot South of Mason-Dixon


Despair propelled Clay Duke, the gunman who went on a shooting rampage in Panama City, Florida. In his last act of hopelessness at the Bay County School Board Meeting, Duke fatally shot himself after exchanging gunfire with the district’s security chief Mike Jones.

School Superintendent Bill Husfelt believes it’s a miracle no one else was killed. “It could have been a monumental tragedy,” Husfelt told reporters. “God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that.”

Perhaps he’s right; Duke shot Husfelt at point blank range and never hit him. In fact, it seems he never hit anyone, depite firing off numerous rounds at close range. Early reports indicate that Duke had come prepared to kill. The date was circled on his calendar and he had more than enough ammunition to kill every person in the room – if that had been his intent. Either way, it’s still a tragedy – a man is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot – shouldn’t that give us pause?

Apparently Duke was the lousiest shot south of the Mason-Dixon line. Maybe he was nearly blind. Or, like Husfelt claimed, perhaps God had indeed sent an army of angels to protect everyone in the room except for Duke: Why else would he be the only one who ended up dead?  Or maybe, just maybe, when it came right down to it, Duke was too good of a man to actually take another person’s life.

We don’t typically think of gunmen as good people. We think of them as evildoers. Demons disguised as humans. Or monsters, as Duke himself suggested on his Facebook page. Surely, Duke knew that the words he used would make the headlines after his shooting spree, so he left us a message: “Some people (the government-sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster…no…I was just born poor in a country where the wealthy manipulate, use, abuse and economically enslave 95 percent of the population. Rich Republicans. Rich Democrats … same-same…rich…they take turns fleecing us… our few dollars pyramiding the wealth for themselves.”

It makes one question how much Duke listened to the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and others who market hate talk as an acceptable form of civil discourse. There is no question, however, that Duke’s words are both heartbreaking and haunting: I was just born poor in a country where the wealthy reign.

Economists and sociologists have been warning us for years now of the coming apocalypse that will result as we evolve more and more into a nation of haves and have nots. Personal income continues to fall for all except the wealthiest as unemployment rates remain high for America’s working class. Some cities are seeing unemployment rates soar at 27 percent. Only New York and D.C. seem to be immune. Meanwhile, big business continues to pull in record profits while the American worker is forced to work longer and harder for less and less.  What the boss doesn’t swipe the government taxes.

Duke had a point. It was one the writer Lorraine Hansberry made years ago in her classic tale of class and race warfare, “A Raisin in the Sun”:

Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally…People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get “tooken.” And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ‘round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ‘bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking.

Greed has become a national pandemic here in the land of the Red, White and Blood. Like a cancer left untreated, it’s killing us from the inside out. Consider the tragic death of Bernie Madoff’s son Mark – at what price does money lose its value? The hubris with which Bernie Madoff destroyed so many lives – including those in his own family — is now nothing but a bitter bile. One can only hope that he finally understands that some things are far more precious than all the world’s glitter and gold.

Perhaps Clay Duke understood what Bernie Madoff did not. Maybe that’s why the only person who ended up dead in that Bay County board room was Clay Duke. Duke was no monster. He was simply a man broken by a system that’s failing far too many of us.

Perhaps he was a prophet sent by God to warn us all, the way Jesus did all those years ago when he stood before the people and declared: “Watch Out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

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  • David Johnson


    Thanks for your thoughtful writing that relentlessly refuses to simplify very complex situations. We are blessed.

  • Nice post, Karen. I watched an interview with his wife. She said he was a military man and definitely could have shot every one of those people if he really wanted to or intended to do that. When you watch the video and Ginger sneaks up and tries to wallop him with her purse and falls to the floor, it’s obvious he could have shot her right then, but still let her leave. I think he just seriously couldn’t kill those people when came right down to it. That was certainly the work of God. It’s just a sad situation all around. I wrote a post last week as well.

  • It’s difficult for me to think of him as a prophet sent by God instead of a delusional man with a gun.

    • Scott Eaton

      Karen, you make some excellent points here. But I think I’m inclined to agree with Tony. Comparing him to Jesus seems…well…wrong.

      I saw a news report that said Husfelt was not killed because the bullet hit a very thick, three-ringed binder that Husfelt had grabbed. They showed the bullet acutally lodged in the notebook.

      I think you are right about the takers and the “tooken.” I’m just not sure Mr. Duke should be the spokesperson on behalf of the poor.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Tony & Scott: I don’t really think that he was a prophet either. That was meant as an example of how we make up myths about people to suit our purposes…

        • Steve Taylor

          “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Luke 6:24-25

          And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”
          The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
          Luke 23:35-38

          Funny thing about prophets. The good, cleaned-up folk often don’t acknowledge them as such. Instead the cleaned-up folk often either ignore them, call them crazy or perhaps name them a “communist”, or actively crush them. Given a few years, there is always the hope that the message can be cleaned up so that it goes down a bit better for us who know our wealth is God’s blessing. We like our prophets best when they don’t offend too deeply.

  • And isn’t it interesting that the operative myth has been that government is on some kind of crusade to redsitribute wealth to the have-nots, when all the while the wealth has been like water running uphill at a torrential rate? We hope for some magical economic growth to bail us out of the trajectory of the past three decades while simultaneously stripping way from people the very means by which some sort of growth could be initiated at the grass roots/household level. We all need to sit down with an index card and write the answer to this question: What will things be like five years from now? If we don’t have an answer, then we need to answer the question on the back: Why not?

  • John

    Perhaps one could be led to wonder if he was influenced by the hate-filled rants spewed by the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schulz, for example. Just in the interest of equal time.