Church Gunman’s Anti-“Liberal” Vendetta Confirmed, Note of Interpretive Caution

It seemed like a strong possibility from the moment the story broke, but apparently the recent gunman who attacked the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist chuch was, in fact, angry with the percieved “liberal” views of the people he gunned down.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, ranted that “liberals and gays” taking jobs had prevented him from finding work. He wrote that he expected to keep shooting parishioners until the police showed up and killed him, Knoxville, Tenn., Police Chief Sterling Owen told a news conference.

I don’t think this sort of political violence is common, conventional, or particularly instructive when it comes to judging the character of any normal person on any side of the “culture wars.”

But it is a sad reminder that for some disturbed individuals, imbibing a sufficient degree of politicized character caricatures can make you lose sight of the real people standing in the way between you and your by-proxy “revenge” on whatever larger forces you’ve come to despise.

We’ll surely learn more about Jim Adkisson as time goes on, but whether his problems are psychological, environmental, or ideological, knowing that screwed-up people like him are out there should give us all pause when we feel the temptation of unequivocal condemnation. The vast majority of us can handle overblown political and cultural rhetoric without succumbing to sociopathy. But a scattered few cannot.

And while we cannot reasonably hold people culpable for “inspiring” the unpredictably extreme acts of maniacs, I’d never want to come home to find that someone has gone on a rampage with my angry words inflaming his twisted heart and pouring out of his lips as he pulls the trigger. Morally responsibile or not, it’s still a chilling possibility that, I hope, makes us all think twice whenever we carelessly abandon rhetorical moderation. Whenever we seek, often for mere short-term political gain, to paint even a loyal and sincere cultural opposition as craven and unequivocally evil.

Not everyone who’s listening is in on the joke.

More on this, I’m sure, to come.

Update: Also sounds like wasn’t so hot on the Bible and Christianity either:

She said she was surprised by his reaction when she told him she was a Christian. “He almost turned angry,” she told the newspaper. “He seemed to get angry at that. He said that everything in the Bible contradicts itself if you read it.” She also said Adkisson spoke frequently about his parents, who “made him go to church all his life. … He acted like he was forced to do that.”

Though if he really had a vendetta against Christianity over the Bible contradicting itself and people being forced to go to church as kids, a UU congregation is just about the last organization any sensible person would want to target.


6 Responses to Church Gunman’s Anti-“Liberal” Vendetta Confirmed, Note of Interpretive Caution

  1. Job says:

    “any sensible person”

    So … people that commit acts of terrorism – and that is what this was, an act of domestic terror that the Patriot Act, the Bush administration, profiling, FISA, etc. failed to protect us from – are known for being sensible? Who knew?

  2. Bad says:

    It is frankly a mistake to think that terrorists are not necessarily sensible. Some may well be entirely deranged, but committing evil acts is not always inconsistent with being able to make reasonable connections. Adkisson may well have fallen outside of the range of “sensible,” I do not know. But if we are imagining that he was sensible enough to pick a church as his target because he despised the Bible being contradictory, then it seems quite strange that he would not understand that UU churches do not in the least hold the Bible to any standard of inerrancy or non-contradiction.

  3. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Clues to his sensibility are found when he is quoted as being motivated by liberals and gays who took jobs he needed and didn’t get. Der huh? What jobs was he seeking that are filled by liberals and gays, but not by conservatives and heterosexuals? This is indicative of his insensibility.

    As for choice of churches to shoot up, for all we know this unemployed and likely financially broke shooter didn’t have enough gas to go to his first choice target church.

    Oh, and there’s the shooting of nine people. That too is a clue as to sensibility.

    I doubt he had a political or religious agenda and I don’t see him as a terrorist. He’s what is called a mass murderer, one whose anger and resentment eventually boils over into an explosive, annihilation event. The target is often a matter of availability rather than any kind of statement. It’s reminiscent of the Luby’s Restaurant massacre in Texas, 1991 or so. A guy loses it, starts shooting.

    When a stated motive (can’t find work) and the target location (a church) and his desired end result (suicide by cop) don’t all match up or make any cohesive sense, he’s probably not sensible.

  4. Terry says:

    It seems it was more about the Unitarian Universalist’s support of homosexuality than about anything else. The choice of church as a target may have arisen out of a dislike for religion or Christianity, but it was really about striking back at “liberals” and “gays”. It could also be that in Knoxville, the UU’s are among the most public institutions of the left.

    I find his actions to have much in common with other people that have shot up various places that contained ideologies they hated. Estrangement from a wider community, a self-declared authority, a sense of cosmic struggle, a symbolic victory against an enemy that can’t be defeated in normal time with normal tactics.

    Mark Jurgensmeyer wrote a pretty good book called “Terror in the Mind of God” which dealt with abortion clinic shootings among other examples of violence committed by individuals and movements. I do have quibbles with the book grouping people under too wide a category (ie. Timothy McVeigh is used as an example of Christian religious violence) but his notions of the “performance terror”, “martyrs and demons”, “cosmic war and apocalypse” definitely provide a workable model for acts of violence without financial or military objective.

  5. Bad says:

    At least abortion clinic shooters have some plausible logic to their targets: a chilling effect against an entire proffession (and a fairly effective one at that). This guy may have hated whatever he thought this church stood for (from Christianity to support of gays), but he had no way of knowing whether the people he aimed at and killed were even anything more than visitors to the building for the play.

    The fact that he used a guitar case to conceal his weapon, though, suggests that he might have known something about what was going on in the church (i.e. a play) and thus what would be a plausible ruse to get inside. There are a lot of details yet to come, I think.

  6. Hmntqfma says:

    8yzw78 comment4 ,

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