Before the shooting last Saturday in Tucson, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been one of a number of Democrats who had received threats in the recent year. During the contentious debates over Health Care Reform and Cap and Trade legislation that saw angry, confrontational protests in town hall meetings and surrounding the offices of House and Senate members, many Democrats had been the target of threatening letters, internet, and phone messages.
As a crowd of Health Care reform protestors descended upon the Capital building in Washington, it is reported that angry Tea Party members had shouted the word "nigger" at the Democratic Congressman from Georgia and 'hero of the civil rights movement,' John Lewis; while Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts faced protesters who shouted "faggot," and Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri was spat on.
Last March, it had been reported that just hours after the vote on Health Care Reform the glass front door and side windows of Rep. Giffords congressional office in Arizona had been either smashed or shot out. The next day, Rep. Giffords was listed as one of twenty Democrats posted on Tea Party Republican Sarah Palin's Facebook page in a picture depicting crosshairs over a map of the U.S. targeting Democratic controlled districts with the words, "IT'S TIME TO TAKE A STAND."
Sarah Palin, the resigned Alaskan Governor and former Vice-Presidential running mate of Arizona Senator John McCain, is a known hunter who has often used gun terminology in her speeches to fire up her pro-gun followers. In directing her Twitter followers to her Facebook page, former Governor Palin announced "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'"
While this may not be a direct call to violence, Joan Walsh of Salon.com said it best: "[I]n a country where angry right-wingers carry guns to see the president speak, and spit on African-American congressmen, I thought it was a chilling statement."
Rep. Giffords went on MSNBC later that month to discuss the vitriol and threats. "We can't stand for this, she said. "We need to realize that the rhetoric, and the firing people up and ... for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we're in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize that there are consequences to that action."
In August, police were called after a gun was dropped at an event where Rep. Giffords was speaking. It was later reported that the owner of that gun had dropped it accidentally as he carried it; which in Arizona it is legal to carry a concealed gun without a permit, and no charges were filed.
Undeterred by the protests and threats from the Tea Party and others in the right-wing, the Congresswoman continued to meet with those in her district and take strong, though not always popular stands on legislation in Washington.
After the shooting, as Congresswoman Giffords was rushed to the Hospital, the New York Post asked her father, Spencer Giffords, if his daughter had any enemies. Jumping to the same conclusion as most who pay attention to politics he said, "Yeah, the whole Tea Party."
(Read Part 3 here)