Thursday, July 31, 2008
On Sunday, July 27, 200 people were attending the Sunday worship service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. Twenty-five children were performing “Annie, Jr.” for the congregation. A man named Jim Adkinsson, who was carrying a guitar case walked in to the church. Once inside he opened the case, pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun and started shooting. The first person he shot was Greg McKendry, a big guy who members of the congregation say stood in front of the gunman to protect them. He killed McKendry, and wounded seven more parishioners. Members of the congregation tackled Adkinsson, and subdued him until the police arrived. Later, Linda Krager, who had been critically injured, died at the hospital.
Churches are sanctuaries - places of peace and worship. Churches are often meeting places for communities, and traditionally places where good works are done for the less fortunate. Stories of violence in churches are made even more horrifying because no matter how we feel about religion, we think of churches as safe places.
As the story from Knoxville unfolded, we learned that Jim Adkinsson is 58 years old, unemployed and having a hard time finding work. He had planned this in advance, and intended it to be a suicide mission. He wanted to be killed by the police responding to the shooting at the church. We also learned that he had written a 4-page letter, explaining that he hated liberals, and blamed them for his failure to find work. According to one of the investigators, Adkinsson targeted the UU church because of “its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country.”
Jim Adkinsson was out of work for a long time. He was about to lose his food stamps. He’d had two DUI’s in the past, and in 2000, his wife took out a restraining order against him. Apparently their marriage ended because of his drinking, and the fact that he put a loaded gun to her head and threatened to kill her. His ex-wife was once a member of the TVUU congregation, but hadn’t attended the church in years.
Adkinsson left his house unlocked, so that the police would be able to enter without difficulty. That may seem odd, but remember, he wanted to be killed by the police. In addition to the 4-page letter, the police also found a stack of books. The books were: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly, and Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity. His reading list certainly is likely to have shored up his prejudices against liberals – may even have created them.
In 1987 the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. In 1988 Rush Limbaugh began his national radio show. That show was the beginning of the tide of hatred that is constantly spewed on our airwaves by conservative talk radio hosts. The decades of bile spewing and casual talk of killing liberals has taken a toll on the nation. The divisiveness of our political and social discourse can be traced back to its beginnings in the Reagan era.
Today, Savage, Hannity, and O’Reilly are three of the most popular voices of the right. Both Hannity and O’Reilly are part of the Fox News network, which claims to be fair and balanced. I’ve had occasion to watch a lot of Fox lately, and I can attest that they are neither. O’Reilly and Hannity both present a very narrow viewpoint, and are not concerned with anything as gauche as the truth. O’Reilly has stated repeatedly that Vermont is a haven for sex offenders who are moving there in droves. There is no factual basis for his claims. Hannity, during his constant anti-Obama tirades on energy, says over and over that Obama is anti-nuke. That’s a lie. Obama is in favor of nuclear power. I heard him say so, last summer in Conway. It’s also easily documented. In the ongoing quest of the right to keep the faithful angry and engaged, the truth is a liability.
Some quotes from the people Jim Adkinsson was influenced by:
“I’ll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo: every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress.” - Sean Hannity
“I was so angry and appalled, and the far left has made this guy into a hero, this Glick guy. And, it was just revolting. And if I could have whacked him, I would have.” - Bill O’Reilly (Jeremy Glick’s father died at the World Trade Center on 9/11)
“If I ran this country, I’d hang the lawyer. I would try her for aiding and abetting terrorism — I’d hang her and I’d hang every lawyer who went down to Guantánamo to defend those murderers.” - Michael Savage
The shootings in Knoxville were discussed at length at the far right website freerepublic.com. A participant identifying as “antiunion person” said,” My best guess is the shooter was probably a diaper wearing Islamic fanatic.” Another forum participant identifying as CharlesWayneCT said, “Its a little surprising to find a UU church had anyone attending who would stand up to a gunman.” He followed that up with disparaging comments about UU theology. There was also a long discussion about how the liberal Knoxville sheriff was probably covering the fact that the shooter was actually a liberal disguised as a conservative to give conservatives a bad name. In other places around the Internet, folks were offering up sympathy and prayers for the UU’s of Knoxville.
There will be those who write in crying that I’m blaming conservatives and advocating censorship. Sadly, there is nothing I can do for those who either can’t comprehend what they read, or are determined not to. I do think that decades of hateful conservative speech, speech that sometimes condones violence against liberals is having an affect on our country. I think that an already unbalanced individual like Jim Adkinsson could be influenced by that kind of violent speech. It’s a conversation that we all should be having, with the folks we usually talk to – and then we should try branching out to talk to the folks we don’t agree with. Don’t let the professional haters continue to divide us.
“A tragedy such as this makes us acutely conscious of the beauty and fragility of our lives and those of our loved ones. I am especially saddened by this intrusion of violence into a worship service involving children and youth.I know that many people, both in Knoxville and around the country, are struggling with shock and grief right now. I pray that those so affected will find strength and comfort.” Reverend William Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association
messages of support for TVUU
Knoxville Relief Fund
Posted by susanthe at 3:10 PM