Arizona's Eighth District Epitomized Over-The-Top Demonization Of Liberals

January 10, 2011 1:38 pm ET

While it is critical to understand that Jared Loughner's terrorist attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and dozens of her constituents over the weekend was not directly caused by the words of her political opponents, the tragedy in Arizona presents an opportunity to examine the nature of our political discourse. Giffords' district, the Arizona Eighth, is a prime example of overheated rhetoric.

Her 2010 campaign was plagued by vandalism and death threats from anonymous citizens, as well as hyperbolic claims from political opponents. In speeches and advertisements, conservatives portrayed Giffords as a member of a liberal horde bent on "ripping this nation apart," in the words of her opponent Jesse Kelly. Again, it is vital to point out that neither Kelly nor his campaign are at fault for the actions of would-be assassin Jared Loughner. But the Kelly campaign repeatedly demonized Giffords, and liberals in general, as authoritarian "tyrants" who "spit in your face every day" and try to "tell you how much salt to eat." In one interview, Kelly told conservative radio host Mark Levin that "It's time for them to be afraid of us," and "It's time to engage the enemy." Radio and television ads from an outside group portrayed Giffords' opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law as proof that she didn't "want us to protect ourselves" from Mexican "thugs" along the border. In the Eighth Congressional District of Arizona, conservatives sought to convince voters that they were choosing not between two different well-intentioned candidates, but between American prosperity and a woman determined to destroy their country.

Giffords' Office Was Vandalized After Health Care Vote

Rep. Giffords' District Office Was Vandalized Hours After The Health Care Vote. According to USA Today: "In Arizona early Monday morning - shortly after the health care bill passed the House - vandals smashed the glass door at the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., her office said. Giffords' spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said a security guard reported the incident hours after he and others had left the office after watching the health care vote on television. Giffords voted for the legislation." [USA Today, 3/25/10]

Giffords Spokesman Said After Post-Health Care Vote Vandalism, "We Feel Lucky No One Was Injured." According to USA Today: "'That was the frightening thing, that people were here just before this happened,' Karamargin said in a telephone interview from the Tucson office. 'We feel lucky no one was injured.' He said the office had received many phone calls with 'nasty and rude and hateful comments' from opponents of the health care bill." [USA Today, 3/25/10]

Giffords Received Threats, Warned Of Violent Rhetoric

Giffords Warned Of Heated Rhetoric After Threats And Vandalism. According to Reuters: "Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the lawmaker shot by a gunman in her Arizona district on Saturday, had previously warned that overheated political rhetoric had prompted violent threats against her and vandalism at her office. 'It's important for all leaders ... to say, 'Look, we can't stand for this,'' Giffords told MSNBC last March, when a window in her Tucson office was smashed after Congress passed President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare overhaul." [Reuters, 1/8/11]

Giffords Said Tea Party Members Congregated At Her Office: 'The Rhetoric Is Really Heated.' According to Reuters:  "Giffords said she faced a deluge of threats for her support of the healthcare bill. 'We've had hundreds and hundreds of protesters over the course of the last couple of months,' Giffords told MSNBC. 'Our office corner has really become an area where the Tea Party movement congregates and the rhetoric is really heated. Not just the calls but the e-mails, the slurs.'" [Reuters, 1/8/11]

Tea Party Frequently Protested Giffords' Office With Signs Saying Things Like, "It's Time To Reload." According to the New York Times: "'On a typical Saturday this corner is filled with Tea Party protesters,' said Brenda Tyler, who was with her husband, Lyndon. 'I've seen signs saying things like 'It's time to reload' and 'One way or another, you're gone.'" [New York Times, 1/9/11]

Giffords Called On Political Leaders To Denounce Violent Rhetoric: "Look, We Can't Stand For This." According  to the Arizona Daily Star: "In a March 25 interview with MSNBC after Palin's posting, Giffords said political leaders should be cautious about how they reach out to supporters. She said political leaders need to get together and say 'look, we can't stand for this.' 'We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list,' she said at the time. 'But the way she has it depicted she has the cross hairs of a gun site over our district.' She warned: 'When people do that, they got to realize there are consequences to that action.'"[Arizona Daily Star, 1/8/11]

Previous Gun Incident At Giffords Event

Giffords Aids "Concerned For Her Safety" When Visitor Dropped Gun At 2009 Event. According to the Arizona Daily Star: "One visitor dropped a gun at the meet 'n' greet held in a Douglas Safeway, her staff says. That has aides, who called police to the event, concerned for her safety. 'We have never felt the need before to notify law enforcement when we hold these events,' said spokesman C.J. Karamargin." [Arizona Daily Star via Nexis, 8/9/09]

Giffords Did Not Raise Concern Over Gun Incident: "Nothing's A Surprise." As reported by the New York Times: "[Giffords] was not actually holding a town hall when her gun incident occurred. She was conducting a 'Congress on Your Corner' at the Douglas Safeway - a simple event where people line up to get help with things like Social Security or documentation. But the health care protests have spread way beyond actual meetings about health care, and a handful of irritated conservatives have been following Giffords around almost everywhere. 'When you represent a district - the home of the O.K. Corral and Tombstone, the town too tough to die, nothing's a surprise,' she told a reporter later, showing a commendable ability to respond to any crisis by throwing in a plug for local tourist attractions." [New York Times, 8/12/09]

Giffords On Gun At 2009 Event: "At No Point Did I Ever Feel In Danger." According to Fox News: "Giffords herself never felt there was any danger. Giffords stated: 'The other case was a dropped gun at a political event in Arizona with Congresswoman Gabreille Gifford (D-Ariz.)...A lot of people carry firearms here... at no point did I ever feel in danger and at no point did I ever feel there was a problem.' [Fox News, 8/20/09]

2010 Campaign Rhetoric: "It's Time To Engage The Enemy" Because Liberals Are "Ripping This Nation Apart"

Jesse Kelly Campaign

Jesse Kelly Ran Against Giffords As Tea Party Candidate. In a an article titled "Top 10 'Tea Party' Candidates To Watch," Politico reported: "Jesse Kelly is a towering former Marine - he's 6 feet, 8 inches tall - who is so conservative that he's slammed Palin for endorsing candidates who are too moderate. He soundly beat state Sen. Jonathan Paton, the National Republican Congressional Committee's preferred candidate, in the August primary and will face Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords this fall. Kelly is a competitive candidate, but Paton was a highly touted national recruit, and his defeat left many Republicans with diminished hopes that they can knock off Giffords." [Politico via, 9/21/10]

Kelly On Mark Levin's Radio Show: "It's Time To Engage The Enemy....It's Time For Them To Be Afraid Of Us." In a July 30, 2010, interview with conservative radio host Mark Levin, Jesse Kelly said: "This country is in trouble and liberalism is ripping this nation apart, and I'm tired of Republicans playing namby-pamby politics with it. It's time to engage the enemy. We have lost ground for so long, we're done losing ground in this nation. We're about to start taking ground, and we're done being afraid of this government. It's time for them to be afraid of us."

[Mark Levin Show via YouTube, 7/30/10]

Kelly: "Liberalism Is An Infectious Disease And Conservatism Is The Cure." In a campaign appearance on July 21, 2010, Jesse Kelly said: "Barack Obama and the liberals have ripped this country apart. It's taken over 200 years of freedom and liberty to give us a standard of living that is the envy of the world, and in a year-and-a-half liberalism is trying to rip it apart, and we need not take it anymore. My name is Jesse Kelly and I am not a career politician. I am a conservative. I'm a USMC combat veteran. I led a squad of infantry marines during the Iraq invasion. I'm a businessman, I manage construction projects for a family business here in town. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I have a 20-month-old boy, and another boy on the way, and those children will not live under tyranny. They will not live under debt. They will not live under a government that is grown completely out of control. They think they can tell you what kind of lightbulbs and windows and toilets to keep in your house. They think they can tell you how much salt to eat. They're monitoring obesity rates. This is the United States of America, and we'll be as fat as we wanna be in this country."

[Kelly Campaign Remarks via YouTube, 7/21/10]

Kelly To Tea Party Rally: "Aren't You Sick Of Having People Spit In Your Face Every Day?" In a speech to a Tea Party rally on October 9, 2010, Jesse Kelly said:

Isn't this the greatest country in the history of the world? The liberals in Washington don't seem to think so, so we're done playing politics with 'em. It's time to take some names and kick some rear ends and we're about to do that on November 2nd. [...]These people that think they're better than us, that look down on us every single day, tell us what kind of health care to buy, they take over industries, and if you dare to stand up to the government, they call us the mob? We're about to show 'em what a mob looks like on November 2nd.  [...]

We are finished compromising on that. We're done being half-liberal, half-this, half-that, not pale pastels but bold colors, like Ronald Reagan talked about. We still have an economy that's three times the size of China, it's just the liberals have it flat on its back right now. We're gonna kick this government out of the way and get the American people back to work again. [...]

And then she takes her husband on a trip to Copenhagen, first class travel, five-star accomodations, and when asked to reimburse the taxpayer, she writes a check for just over $400. Aren't you sick of having people spit in your face every day? You know what we do to people who spit in our face? We make 'em unemployed on November 2nd. So I ask you this. I know it stinks right now, I know every single time you turn on the news they're taking away another freedom, raising another tax, spending another trillion dollars. Understand that we are gonna celebrate in November. That for once we're gonna feel good about something. We're gonna watch the news and we're gonna cry tears of joy seeing that the tyrants have been thrown out and once again, the American people, we had another revolution in this country. It's comin'. It's comin'.

[Jesse Kelly Campaign Remarks via YouTube, accessed 1/9/11]

Kelly Campaign Charged $50 Per Ticket For Machine Gun Shoot To "Help Remove Gabrielle Giffords From Office." According to the Arizona Daily Star: "GOP candidates are outdoing themselves trying to woo the gun lobby these days, particularly over in Congressional District 8. Republican hopefuls Andy Goss and Brian Miller have raffled off weapons to raise money. Jonathan Paton is boasting the support of Tucson attorney and gun-rights activist Sandy Froman. District 26 House candidate Terri Proud posed with a group of women holding firearms. Jesse Kelly, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be bothered in the least by the Sarah Palin controversy earlier this year, when she released a list of targeted races in crosshairs, urging followers to "reload" and "aim" for Democrats. Critics said she was inciting violence. He seems to be embracing his fellow tea partier's idea. Kelly's campaign event website has a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon. It includes the headline: 'Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.' The event costs $50." [Arizona Daily Star, 6/9/10, emphasis added]

David Safier of captured a screenshot of the "Get On Target For Victory" event as advertised on the Pima Co. GOP website:


Outside Group: "Conservatives For Congress Committee"

C4CC Ad On SB 1070: "Gabby And Raul Don't Want Us To Protect Ourselves." Conservatives For Congress Committee posted the following ad to their website: "Several months ago, there was a shameful moment in America. At the invitation of the Dem leadership, Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed our Congress and trashed our state. Most Republicans and some Democrats chose not to attend that speech, but southern Arizona's two representatives - Gabby Giffords and Raul Grijalva - did. Both oppose SB 1070. Both worked to halt construction of the border fence. While Congress was applauding Calderone, signs were going up in southern Arizona warning Americans to stay out of parts of our own country. Government officials admit, thugs control many border areas. They can't control their drug gangs. The feds won't control them here. And Gabby and Raul don't want us to protect ourselves. The Border Patrol can't even patrol some federal land for environmental reasons, while illegal traffic destroys our environment. We deserve better. It's time to boycott Grijalva and Giffords. Paid for by Conservatives for Congress. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

[Conservatives For Congress Committee Radio Ad via, accessed 1/8/11]

C4CC Ad: Giffords Is A Pelosi Puppet, Not An Arizona Representative. Conservatives For Congress Committee posted the following ad to their website:

[Pelosi:] Gabby dear, I need your vote on government-run health care.

[Giffords Puppet:] Whatever you say, Momma Nancy.

[Pelosi:] Gabby honey, you know I'm counting on you for cap-and-trade.

[Giffords Puppet:] Whatever you say, Momma Nancy.

[Pelosi:] Gabby, I want to thank you for all your votes with a free trip for you and your husband to the Copenhagen climate summit.

[Giffords Puppet:] How can I say no?

[Narrator:] She can't. And doesn't. Gabby Giffords votes virtually 100 percent of the time the way Nancy Pelosi tells her to. And like that trip, every vote costs you money.

[Giffords Puppet:] Momma Nancy, some mean people are saying just because my husband's an astronaut, I shouldn't sit on the House Space Subcommittee and vote on funding for NASA.

[Pelosi:] Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, what's a little conflict of interest among friends and family.

[Giffords Puppet:] [kissing noises] Thank you, Momma Nancy.

[Narrator:] Remember, there are strings attached if you support Gabby Giffords. Paid for by Conservatives for Congress. Not authorized by any candidate or committee."

[Conservatives For Congress Committee Radio Ad via, accessed 1/8/11]

C4CC Radio Ad: Giffords Is Lying About Who She Is. Conservatives For Congress Committee posted the following ad to their website:

[Woman 1:] Y'know, I don't wanna sound too much like a political commercial, but how much do you really know about Gabby Giffords?

[Woman 2:] Hey, as a woman, I appreciate that she ran a successful business.

[Woman 1:]  Mmm, that's just not true. Gabby inherited what was a thriving family business, El Campo Tire, and ran it into the ground in just two years.

[Woman 2:] Oh, that's awful. Well I don't wanna sound naïve, but I'm sure she's for a strong border.

[Woman 1:]  No she isn't. Giffords asked Homeland Security to stop the fence. And she's also against SB 1070.

[Woman 2:]Now I'm starting to feel sick. But hey, I absolutely, positively know that Giffords lives here.

[Woman 1:] Mmm, well, kind of. But not really. Giffords has a house here for political reasons, but her real family home is in Houston, with her husband.

[Woman 2:] How could I have voted for her before?

[Woman 1:]  Well lots of us are asking that. She's a risk we can't keep taking.

[Man:] Gabby Giffords isn't who she wants you to think she is. Learn the truth at Paid for by Conservatives For Congress, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

[Conservatives For Congress Committee Radio Ad via, accessed 1/8/11]

C4CC Ad: In Afghanistan, Giffords More Interested In Solar Powered Street Lights Than "Sav[ing] American Lives." Conservatives For Congress Committee posted the following ad to their website: "General David Petraeus was recently asked to brief Congress about the war in Afghanistan. When it was Gabby Giffords' turn to ask questions, instead of wondering what could be done to save American lives, she talked about 'solar powered streetlights.' And then she asked 'and wouldn't that also reduce our need for fuel?' Which left General Petraeus almost speechless. 'I, I pause—' Shouldn't you also pause before supporting Gabby Giffords for Congress? Paid for by Conservatives for Congress, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

[Conservatives For Congress Committee Ad, accessed 1/8/11 via]

Conservatives For Congress Committee Ran "" Until Shooting homepage prior to shooting: after shooting: