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On the Air, Nothing Has Changed

As the nation reflected on the tragedy in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday, everyday politics remained frozen for official Washington. But on the airwaves and among left- and right-leaning activists, there was no cease-fire.

Liberals who immediately condemned hate speech and harsh anti-government rhetoric as contributing factors in the shooting that killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), came under heavy criticism from conservatives. Talk-show hosts charged Democrats with trying to exploit a national tragedy.

Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that it’s Democrats and media outlets who are looking to politicize the violence. The conservative talk radio icon, whom many Republicans have looked to for political cues over the years, said Monday that his party does not “look to these events to move our political agenda forward.”

The Democratic Party, Limbaugh said, is “a party that seeks to profit out of murder.” He added that the political left “openly wishes for such disaster in order to profit from it.”

“The desperate hope that the losers in November of 2010 had was that they could revitalize their political fortunes because of this unfortunate shooting of a Congresswoman in Arizona,” Limbaugh said. “But the left is depraved, empty and without any political substance whatsoever.”

His nationally syndicated radio program, as aired on the Tucson station 790 KNST, included multiple spots for local gun stores. One, Black Weapons Armory, touted its line of “sound suppressors.”

The Tea Party Express began a fundraising effort Monday to ask supporters to help them fight against “liberals” who are attempting to link their movement to the events in Arizona. “Tea Party Won’t Be Silenced After Shooting,” read the fundraising e-mail issued Monday. 

Other tea partyers were baffled when asked whether any of their political activity would be temporarily suspended, just as national campaign committees postponed ad campaigns and the official party structures took a breather from sending their usual barrage of e-mails.

“Everything continues on the course that it’s always been on,” Tea Party Patriots spokesman Randy Lewis told Roll Call.

Lewis said members have been offering prayers and well wishes to the victims following the shooting.

The Tea Party Patriots next month will hold a first-ever policy conference in Phoenix, and there has been no discussion about delaying the event. Lewis said it was always planned as a conference without rallies, an event helping the group transition from electoral politics into developing public policy for 2011.

Tea party groups and conservatives have rejected arguments that their revolutionary rhetoric of recent years, which has sometimes implied violent means for political ends, was in any way responsible for the shooting.

But many Democrats remain steadfast in the charge. One former Democratic Member blamed conservative news outlets such as Fox News and politicians such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) for inciting fear that Democrats are not merely wrong on policy but are trying to “undo America.”

“When you hear Glenn Beck say you’re subverting the will of the people, it’s hard to understand why you wouldn’t take up arms,” the former lawmaker told Roll Call.

The Democrat said such threats were “simmering” for months, but this is “the one that went fatal.”

Media Matters for America in a letter Monday challenged News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to “rein in Fox News personalities Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, both of whom frequently use violent and revolutionary rhetoric.” The far-left-leaning group said Beck and Palin in particular stoke fear and “are two of Fox’s most recognizable figures.”

“[I]n the wake of the killings, your network must take a stand,” Media Matters founder David Brock wrote.

Indeed, Palin bore the brunt of the criticism over the weekend largely because of her web page, since taken down, that listed Democrats she hoped to see defeated in 2010 and identified their districts using rifle-scope crosshairs. Giffords’ district was among those listed, and Palin had urged her supporters on by saying, “Don’t retreat, instead — RELOAD.” 

The backlash against Palin prompted Beck to read radio listeners a personal e-mail exchange with the former Alaska governor. Beck wrote to Palin that she must be feeling the “same heat, if not much more on this.”  

“Please look into protection for your family. An attempt on you could bring the republic down,” Beck told Palin in the e-mail.

He continued reading from his message: “There are nut jobs on all sides. … Terror is terror. I don’t care if it’s for Allah or your party. You are not a freedom fighter, but a killer. … It’s time for politics to stop and sanity to begin.”

According to Beck, Palin responded to him: “I hate violence. I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence. Thanks for all you do to send the message of truth and love.”

Limbaugh and other conservatives seized on statements from Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a Democrat who linked the attack to extreme political rhetoric in the media.

On Sunday, Dupnik called Arizona the “tombstone of the United States” for its lax gun laws and blasted “the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates.”

“To try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with,” Dupnik said, without targeting any specific political ideologies or media outlets.

Limbaugh laughed as he told listeners about Dupnik’s party registration. “He wants to tell people he’s nonpartisan,” he said.

For his part, Beck said he wasn’t interested in partisan bickering.

“I’m not playing defense, oh no. This is offense,” Beck said. “I’m going to issue a challenge. … It is time to stand up for the republic, stand for peace, stand for principles, or you can keep adding to the problem by playing a game,” Beck said. “Knock it off.”