Church Killer Adkisson’s Reading List: O’Reily, Hannity, Savage

A few more details coming out about what Mr. Adkisson thought he was doing by showing up at a Unitarian church and opening fire with a shotgun.

According to the Knoxville police, Adkisson’s writings expressed that he believed the church was a legitimate target “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.”

The church apparently was once attended by his ex-wife at one point, where she no doubt was thought to have picked up or practiced many of the ideas that Adkisson found so detestable. And the Washington Post’s “On Faith” has more on his obsessions:

Adkisson, who had served in the military, said “that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement he would then target those that had voted them in office,” the search warrant states. Among the items seized from Adkisson’s house were three books: “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television commentator Bill O’Reilly; “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder,” by radio personality Michael Savage; and “Let Freedom Ring,” by political pundit Sean Hannity.

All three of these books are, of course, over-the-top, take-no-prisoners partisan screeds. I don’t want to endorse the idea that these writers caused Adkisson to do what he did. But all three of them are books that a madman who hates liberals would find much resonance and comfort in, and nothing to make him think twice.

They don’t counsel thoughtful realism. They don’t endorse moderation or skepticism in their condemnations. They don’t really even acknowledge that liberals might be sincerely mistaken: they instead paint pictures of near-perfect perfidy, depravity, and treason that are destroying and undermining every principle of good society. If you take everything they say seriously (something I don’t think any of those authors actually do themselves), then it’s not hard to see how one could conclude that the stakes are high, and the enemy unredeemable.

None of them endorse mass murder, of course, and so these authors can legitimately disavow any responsibility for what Adkisson, and Adkisson alone, decided to do. But at least off camera, I hope these authors feel at least a tiny bit of regret for a missed opportunity. At one point, they had his attention, and yet so thoroughly failed to make him think twice about his hatreds.

Instead, they simply gave him a tune to sing along with in his desperation. Nothing but reinforcement in his obsessive belief that all the evils in his life stemmed from a single source. For these authors, the grossly uncharitable and uncompromising rhetoric of political shock-jockery was at least partly just theater. Rants that just sounded too good, and were too effective as political spin, to be slowed down with caveats or compromise.

But, unfortunately, at least one person wasn’t in on the joke.

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21 Responses to Church Killer Adkisson’s Reading List: O’Reily, Hannity, Savage

  1. Grendel The Martyr says:

    For a guy who says he isn’t laying responsibility at conservative opiners’ door…..

    Tomorrow, next week, next year, some nut will shoot up a Southern Baptist church because it infused his ex-wife with conservative notions which everyone knows have ruined the country. When the police search his home they’ll find copies of political books by Al Franken, Keith Olberman, and Al Gore, and we won’t blame them, no, but gosh, they had his attention there for a moment….

    This has zero to do with politics, extreme or otherwise. It’s about a nut with a gun who lost it.

  2. Bad says:

    For a guy who says he isn’t laying responsibility at conservative opiners’ door…..

    I said what I meant. If I found someone had done something horrible with my words of hatred on their lips, I would feel regret, and I would feel a missed opportunity to reach someone who was heading down a dark path, instead of only encouraging them further.

    These guys aren’t just opiners. They re demagogues. They make money off of outrage, without any concern whatsoever that that outrage is socially hurtful. And I’m not talking about this guy: yes he’s an extreme case that no one can be responsible for. I’m talking about making us all a little cruder, a little more paranoid, a little less willing to stop and listen and think and consider our “enemies” as human beings like ourselves.

    I’m not sure Franken, Olberman, or Gore really do come close when it comes to the level of invective and anger that those three trade in. Your scenario sounds implausible precisely because the books by those guys are either far more lighthearted, smaller in their scope, and less willing to indite entire swaths of people as the enemy. They’ve done their job of covering their bases way better than someone like Michael Savage, who exudes loathing from every pore.

    This has zero to do with politics, extreme or otherwise. It’s about a nut with a gun who lost it.

    That’s the simple, dismissive answer that allows people to sleep soundly at night. The reality is that while politics may not explain everything, it was at the very least a failure in this case, never sounding a sour note when this guy decided that “liberals” were to blame for his misfortunes. Honest, balanced political commentary may not have saved this guy from himself. But at least it wouldn’t have cheered on his every hateful thought.

  3. rebeldreams says:

    Interestingly, Bill-O, Hannity and the rest wouldn’t think twice before tarring some “liberal” author’s works with that particular brush if they were found on the reading list of some spree-killer. Anyone remember the “evil, liberal kook” Darwin being read by the Columbine killers? Oooh, it’s a good thing we have god Conservative books to counter such pervasive secular liberalism, eh?

    But on the broader point, I agree; it was not in ANY sense Hannity and O’Reilly’s “fault” that he did what he did, any more than it was evolution’s “fault” that Columbine hapened. The disturbed will ALWAYS find some resonance in what they read or see or hear to justify or embolden their actions. There wouldn’t really be much of an “anti-cookbook” outcry if someone read the Rachel Ray Cookbook and then went out and “broke a few eggs” as the Great Ray told them to in her instruction manual…

  4. Terry says:

    > I’m not sure Franken, Olberman, or Gore really do come close when it comes to > the level of invective and anger that those three trade in.

    I’ll agree with Gore not being in the same political style. Olberman and Franken I’m not so sure about (particularly Franken). Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and PZ Meyers all seem to have an O’Rielly personality and rhetoric even more than Olberman and Franken. People who agree with you never seem as offensive.

    Largely, I think I’m in between you and Grendel. I don’t think his taste for vitrolic conservative punditry was helpful, but his scapegoat mentality was primarily exacerbated by dysfunctional family relationships and personal problems. The parallels between this guy and the young man who shot up Ted Haggard’s church are striking.

  5. Bad says:

    Anyone remember the “evil, liberal kook” Darwin being read by the Columbine killers?

    If Darwin’s books preached hatred for schoolchildren, you might have a point there. But they don’t, and you don’t. That’s the key difference. It took a lot of hatred and resentment for this guy to decide that he should go do what he did. Maybe he already had that hatred and just gravitated to the books that confirmed it for him. But the point is that they did nothing but confirm it for him, instead of making him think twice about his highly simplistic view of the world.

    I’d like to think that there really IS a difference between Michael Savage’s brand of hate, and, say, what I write. Your argument basically says that there’s no difference.

    If so, why don’t we all just become like Savage? Are you really sure that that won’t have ANY effects on our society, making people cruder, nastier, and meaner to each other?

  6. rebeldreams says:

    Sorry – should have been a little clearer, I guess; the point is that a lot of conservatives DO equate Darwin to hate-literature; admittedly, that’s another symptom of what you’re writing about, but that’s actually the central point; regardless of the INTENT of the source, those who seek to use that source to “justify” evil acts will find ready ears on either side of any debate.

    Sorry to be the one to say this, but what you write probably IS regarded as vitriolically and darkly as more “liberal” minds view Hannity/Bill-O/Savage/Coulter… and that is another point; your intent is to show the blinkered view of certain groups (eg theists, ultra-conservatives, etc), but the topics you write on are naturally controversial (hence the large audience) and almost certainly (actually, from the comments I’ve seen on some posts, *certainly*) do attract that sort of reaction.

    Again, you DO present a much more balanced view than any of the writers you name, but the viewpoint will engender reaction (and may well “confirm a worldview” every bit as much as Savage etc…) eqivalent to the one you set yourself against. It’s unavoidable; once something’s written, it’s out there, and even the most reasoned argument ends up being broken into soundbites and “Reader’s Digest” versions of what you intend.

  7. rebeldreams says:

    And to clarify again – Yes, the writers mentioned in your post do little to present counterargument, and thus have perhaps more liability than, say, you might if the role were reversed, but the central argument still stands.

    Nuts will use ANYTHING to justify their actions, regardless of how well thought-out and “fair” it might seem to be which was my whole point.

  8. Ebonmuse says:

    Grendel, there’s one problem with your position: You speak of the entirely hypothetical scenario of someone shooting up a conservative church because he read Al Franken or Al Gore, and treat that as if it were on a par with the actual, real case of a man who loves right-wing hate literature going on a shooting spree.

    When the scenario you describe actually happens, then I think it will be entirely proper to talk about a moral equivalence. But none of the authors you mention, though they express their political opinions with fervor and passion, ever stereotype all outsiders as the evil, treasonous Other the way many popular conservative commentators do on a regular basis.

    Inciting that anger and hate is the stock in trade of the conservative movement, not the progressive movement. What are the conservative positions, really? Stopping gays from getting married; kicking out illegal immigrants; bombing Muslim countries – is there any conservative position that isn’t based on enmity towards someone? It’s much too simplistic to say that these commentators, just because they don’t directly urge violence, don’t bear any responsibility for the actions of deranged individuals who take their words to heart.

  9. Bad says:

    rebel, I’m just not so convinced that causality only runs one way. If it did, that would make the world a lot easier to deal with. But I think it’s a useful fiction.

    People that preach hate engender hate.

    Sorry to be the one to say this, but what you write probably IS regarded as vitriolically and darkly as more “liberal” minds view Hannity/Bill-O/Savage/Coulter…

    I just don’t buy it. These guys are on 24/7 spin spew for a living. You don’t need to do a reader’s digest version of them or misrepresent them to get bad stuff out of it. It isn’t a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of their rhetoric.

  10. Terry says:

    Left wing commentators don’t call their opponents evil, Ebonmuse? Horrible people? Liars? Opportunists and oppressors? Whatever. Franken has a book entitled “Lies and Lying Liars who Tell Them” for pete’s sake. Plus of course, the progressive movement has by necessity the idea that their ideas are at the forefront of mankind’s social evolution to the better. That tends to create some strong rhetoric against those that don’t want to go along with the plan for mankind’s utopian destiny.

    If you want equivalent versions of left wing violence against institutions and people that they consider “reactionary” there is no shortage of examples.

    I’ll now address the “People that preach hate engender hate” argument. I definitely think it has some merit, but I live in Canada where we have the Human Rights Commissions. They have basically set themselves up (despite being just a bunch of political activist hacks, and only a few have legal training) to police speech and media. All the matters for someone to bring a claim against you is if the plaintiff feels offended. Not even truth is a defence.

  11. rebeldreams says:

    Bad – very true; having seen Hannity and Co. in action, their bile is obvious and deeply unleasant and offensive, I disagree with everything they say in every way. I guess I just really wanted to point out that disturbed people like Adkisson and the Columbine murderers will find *anything* to support their views, regardless of its content. Yes, the books he read made that job easier for him, in that there was no balance to it in any way whatsoever, but the fact remains that the Columbine “boys” espoused a half-assed “Darwinism” that fit nicely into the hard-right’s pre-existing narrative that “Darwinism=secular humanism=communism=EEEEVILLLL”.

    That Adkisson was a right-wing nut-job is obvious; that he read Hannity and Bill-O and Savage is of absolutely no surprise to me, but I do think that the hope that they feel a twinge of responsibility for doing nothing but preach their hatred and distorted views is a hollow one. They do not say “go out and kill liberals” any more than Darwin says “people should pick off the ‘weakest’ to make the Human Race strong” (the traditional cry of the anti-evolutionist rabid conservative. YES there is not balance, yes, there is no redeeming content, but their “intended audience” is no more likely to go out and kill liberals than Darwin’s audience is likely to go out and kill “the weak”.

    Hate does engender hate, but it doesn’t necessarily then engender murder. As Terry says, left wing commentators often use rhetoric as fiery as any conservative in their assaults against their perceived “enemy”. If the essence of your post was to mention that Adkisson read right-wing “hate-lit” and got ihs justification for his actions from that, then fine, true and point well-accepted; but if you wanted to make the distinction then that the writers of that hatred must kick themselves for not balancing their views or toning it down a little, then I must repectfully disagree.

  12. I am a first-time visitor to this interesting blog; I found the site by way of a Google search.

    As a Unitarian Universalist, I am especially disturbed by this hate crime in Tennessee. Our local UU church will be holding a memorial service for the victims this Sunday.

    Many are asking themselves, “How could this happen?”

    When Ronald Reagan trashed the “Fairness Doctrine”, many folks supported that move, as a victory for “free speech”.

    The truth is, striking down the Fairness Doctrine opened the door to media-based demagoguery on a grand scale.

    It is true that people are free to change the channel and listen to opposing views, but in reality, most talk-show listeners only tune in to what they want to hear; it’s human nature, I suppose.

    The decades since Reagan’s bold move to eliminate fairness in media reporting has seen a commensurate increase in political polarization and national divisiveness. I believe that these two phenomena are not unrelated.

    Of the three right-wing authors cited in this article, Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage, Michael Savage represents the most serious threat, in my opinion. Savage routinely ostracizes liberals as being weak, emasculated idiots. And for those libs that dare to question the US/Israeli nexus, Savage reserves a special kind of hate.

    Savage is a de facto Israeli agent posing as an American super-patriot. Those who disagree with Mike Savage are lumped together as “holocaust deniers”, “terrorist sympathizers”, “anti-Semites”, Arab-lovers” and, of course, “nazis”.

    The War Lobby consists of the Defense, Israel and Energy lobbies collectively (DIE). Peace activists should target all three forces equally. Sadly, most Americans have been led to believe that Israel and the Israelis are innocent victims of hate and are engaging in legitimate “self-defense”.

    Most liberals will speak out against the Defense and Energy Lobbies but are reluctant to criticize the Israel Lobby, out of fear of being smeared as an anti-Semite etc.

    The US needs to place its national interests above those of a theocratic state in Palestine. Zionists and their useful idiots, the Born-Agains, have hijacked the American mission statement.

    Obama pledged fealty to AIPAC, the most powerful special interest group in Washington, on the day after he clinched the Democratic nomination. John McCain did the same thing 48 hours before Obama did. It would appear that our Israeli overlords are in full control of US foreign policy.

    As America is slowly dragged into another war, this time with Iran, we should credit hate-mongers, like Michael Savage, with stirring up the masses and inciting more Holy War.

    Holy Wars Suck.

  13. Bad says:

    Most of these guys are on cable and writing books instead of just on the airwaves, so the fairness doctrine wouldn’t really have any relevance to their ability to get their message out. Even so, I don’t think it’s the right way to solve the problem. Speech we don’t like has an antidote: more speech, and a market of ideas in which we lobby consumers of ideas to turn their back on lousy ones.

  14. Thanks for the response, Bad, I invite you and your readers to visit my blog and comment, I linked my latest journal entry to this page.

    The FCC not only regulates the airwaves, radio and TV, but it also regulates the cable TV industry. The FCC’s cable television rules and regulations are contained in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 76.

    I’m not calling for a return of the Fairness Doctrine, I am simply saying that when the policy was terminated, the slide into pervasive media-based demagoguery began. I think that a certain cause and effect relationship exists here, but certainly there other factors in play.

    The concept of a free and open “market of ideas” sounds great, but we all like to tune in to programming that reinforces our existing beliefs and prejudices, it’s human nature, I suppose.

    “Free speech” isn’t free, it comes with a price. Unbalanced individuals may be motivated by hate speech to commit unspeakable acts of violence, such as what occurred in Knoxville. In our imperfect world, it’s a price that we must be willing to pay, if we wish to preserve our endagered freedoms.

  15. Bad says:

    I’m not calling for a return of the Fairness Doctrine, I am simply saying that when the policy was terminated, the slide into pervasive media-based demagoguery began.

    But people only watch that stuff because they want to. No one forces them.

    The concept of a free and open “market of ideas” sounds great, but we all like to tune in to programming that reinforces our existing beliefs and prejudices, it’s human nature, I suppose.

    And, I would argue, a basic right. I agree with you, thought, that it is a right that is not without costs and dangers that we agree to bear. But there are ways to beat down the influence of demagogues without legislating against their views specifically.

  16. Don’t play his game. Use the name that he has, rather than the name that he wants to have. It’s not Michael Savage. it’s Michael Weiner. By the same token, “Vox Day” is really Theodore Beale, and “Jon Stewart” is Jonathan Leibowitz (which is still a good name for comedy, IMO).


    Also, there is still Fairness Doctrine, but it only comes up in stories about evolution. That’s why after actual scientists dig up a missing link, they’ll interview some kook from ICR who tells us that there are no intermediate fossils. Fair, eh?

  17. Sharon Campbell says:

    I like O’Reilly and Hannity. Michael Savage gets on my nerves. Linda disagreed with all 3 of them. Her killer obviously agreed with them. That didn’t cause him to kill Linda. He was self centered and mean. His ex-wife had a restraining order against him because he’d threatened to kill her and commit suicide. He was too cowardly for that. He thought he could force the police to do it for him. Surprise. They didn’t. Now he has to stand trial.

  18. Sharon Campbell says:

    In response to the message below, someone already did shoot up a Southern Baptist church in 1999. I had an appointment there, yesterday, with a survivor of that shooting. He was shot and survived. 7 died, mostly children. After it happened, conservatives blamed liberals and people who were anti-Christian. Liberals weren’t to blame. It was one man and he also happened to be a sick and hateful man who couldn’t get a job.

    <<>>>>>

  19. Eric Foster says:

    Very interesting blog, very interesting discourse. I just have to ask though, does it really matter what political leaning he had, what pundit’s books he owned? It seems to me as useful as analyzing his cd collection, or checking out his NetFlix queue. After the Columbine school shootings, there was serious discussion and analysis in the mainstream media, of how video games and “goth metal” music may have played a hand in the massacre. Mental instability and severe maladjustment to life’s problems, are far more likely to blame than musical taste, pastimes, or political alignment. Maybe this is a stretch, but associating the Knoxville murders with the culture of FoxNews or AM neo-con radio, seems to me like a case of partisan “moral panic.”

  20. Bad says:

    There’s a big difference between fantasy and the explicit endorsement of uncompromising hatred. Truly crazy people sometimes do have a hard time separating fantasy from reality. But even normal people, stoked on a diet of spite, become a little more coarse, and a little harder for anyone to reach.

    I agree that it’s hard to trace people’s personalities and choices back to this or that. But I also think it’s just too easy (and often too convenient) to simply claim that bad people and bad acts are just sort of out of blue, and that no other causal factor could possibly have played a role (a standard we never seem to apply in any other situation except one in which moral responsibility is an issue). People who feed on partisan conspiracy on both sides of the spectrum make money out of making people less understanding and more nasty to their neighbors. It’s no surprise that there are people on the margins of those audiences for whom that’s just one more thing to help them over the edge.

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