Was an apparent “hatred for the liberal movement” responsible for the killings at the UU church?

A very thorough BBC News story on the shotgun deaths in Knoxville, Tennessee quotes the Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen as saying that they had found a letter in Jim Adkisson’s car in which he described his feelings.” While it may be easy to say that his revulsion for “liberals” (whoever they are) was the reason he committed murder, according to the BBC’s coverage, it wasn’t the only reason. Quoting the Beeb:

“It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Chief Owen said.

“It appears that the church had received some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things and that is at least one of the issues we believe caused that church to be selected.”

The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church describes itself on its website as working for social change since the 1950s, including desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women’s rights and gay rights.

So it’s not just that he thought “the liberals” were evil, but actual problems in his life, some of which have been advanced by the neoliberal positions advocated by both former President Clinton and current White House resident George W. Bush. Although Bush has inflicted a unique for of right-wing hegemony upon the world, his trade policies are strictly neoliberal. At risk of becoming too linguistic, I would argue that Bush’s neoliberal globalization policies have more than anything helped place people like accused killer Jim Adkisson in worse conditions in terms of their economic outlook. “Free trade” deals have a lot of strings attached to them, many of them invisible to all but the most highly trained specialists. In short, they send jobs overseas while leaving nothing here but freighterfuls of cheap plastic crap. Note that both former President Clinton and future former President Bush were behind these schemes. It was Clinton who signed NAFTA, and Bush who signed CAFTA. Despite the right’s endless labeling of Clinton as a “liberal,” both Clinton and the right’s main man Rush Limbaugh strongly supported NAFTA. Their support for CAFTA may have been somewhat muted, but that treaty passed with about 80% of the Republicans voting in favor. Whether another layer of our national sovereignty went away with the signing of that bill has yet to be seen.

Getting off of trade for a moment, let us look at what else may have led to Mr. Adkisson’s horrible act. Some of the responsibility for it lay strictly with the right, in particular those who spread the lie that all liberals are atheists and hate the Christian God. Witness Ann Coulter’s “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” There she is on to cover, looking ostensibly sexy and preaching her flavor of truthiness at the same time. Coulter, always the master of generalizations, dismisses “liberalism” as being “a religion, and would like to believe that it reveals “the Left’s attacks on our Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Yet Unitarianism is rooted in the very Judeo-Christian values that Coulter alleges “liberalism” attempts to dispel. I am saying that she is totally incorrect in her assertion that “the Left” or “liberals” seek to remove religion from America. Furthermore, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that screed was one of the things that got Mr. Adkisson so fired with anger and rage up that he took it upon himself to inflict the ultimate punishment the most liberal icon he could find in Knoxville, the Unitarian church.

What is the Right’s answer to this? What do they say their role in it was? Do they (you) see themselves (yourselves) as having one? I believe it is long past time to reexamine the rhetoric from all sides (there’s more than two sides to any story) and advance the discussion on more civilized terms.

Published by Jason Haas

I am a resident of the Bay View neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. That sometimes comes up on here, as it's kind of a small part of my life. No official county business happens here. I'm mostly using this now to give a rough draft account of how we're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. God help us all.

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