Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot today in an assassination attempt during a public outreach event in Tucson. She was prematurely reported killed by CNN and NPR, but her status is listed as critical, and she is said to be “responding to commands”. The bullet reportedly “passed through her brain”. At least 9 other people were brought in for emergency treatment of wounds suffered. One 9-year-old child, a 63-year-old federal judge, and at least three others have reportedly died.
Sarah Palin had placed Rep. Giffords literally “in the crosshairs” as part of a campaign to “take out” members of Congress that supported Democratic reform policies. When asked to renounce violence and tone down her rhetoric, she refused, saying she wanted supporters not to repress their anger but to “reload”. The website where her PAC posted the infamous hit-list map was taken down today amid the firestorm of criticism.
The motive for the shooting is unclear, but major, local and web media, are speculating the attack was driven by the shooter’s opposition to Rep. Giffords’ political views. Supporters are asking conservative opponents of Rep. Giffords to denounce the violent act and demand full investigation of the political climate that led to this violent act. Gun control organizations are asking Arizona authorities to temporarily crack down on the sale of firearms in the state.
Federal Judge John Roll was killed in the attack. According to The Hill newspaper’s Blog Briefing Room:
The judge, U.S. District Judge John Roll, was appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by George H. W. Bush.
Roll had been put under federal protection last year after he made a ruling in a civil rights lawsuit.
In 2009 Roll ruled on a $32 million civil-rights case between illegal immigrants and an Arizona rancher in 2009 according to the Arizona Republic. Roll ruled that the case could go forward. After the ruling Roll was put under the protection of U.S. Marshalls after he [received] threats including over 200 [threatening] phone calls in one afternoon.
As of 4:20 pm EST, CNN is reporting that a handgun was recovered at the scene of the assassination attempt, and that a suspect is reported to be in custody. CNN has also been reporting on hospital reports that the bullet would was “through and through” and that the Congresswoman was “responding to commands”.
According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a CNN contributor, the impact, the bullet, internal trauma and the exit wound trauma could all contribute to swelling, and Rep. Giffords’ prognosis will depend largely on what kind of brain trauma and what kind of swelling in and around the brain, result from her injuries. Surgeons, speaking after an initial operation, said they are “optimistic” that she will recover, but could not
Capitol Police have released a notice to all members of Congress, saying they are working directly with local and state law enforcement, will remain at a high level of readiness and advising all members of Congress to be on alert and to take extra precautions. Sen. John McCain has reportedly said whoever is responsible for the shooting, whatever their motivation, is “a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race” and that this individual should suffer the most severe punishment allowable by law.
The FBI and Homeland Security are, reportedly, also working with law enforcement, and there is expected to be an exhaustive federal investigation of the events leading up to the shooting and into the affiliations of the individual suspected of the shooting. White House staff who were off for the weekend or who had left for the day have reportedly been called in to work, and Pres. Obama is expected to give a statement shortly to the press.
Rep. Giffords has been targeted violently before, due to her support for the Affordable Care Act. The very night the legislation was passed by the House of Representatives, 21 March 2010, a window was smashed at her district office. It was unclear whether the assault was intended to be a break-in, or whether it was simply vandalism. The Arizona Daily Star reported on the following day:
The front door was smashed out at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ congressional office last night.
At 2:40 a.m., just a few hours after staff left the building after the late-night vote, the alarm system went off, said spokesman C.J. Karamargin. The panel to the front door and the glass panel alongside it were smashed out. The perpetrator likely had to hop the gated fence to get access to the door, since it’s not viewable from the parking lot.
Karamargin said it was unclear if the glass had been shot out with a kind of pellet gun, if it had been kicked or smashed with an object. The door has been covered with plywood.
In a separate incident, gunshots were fired into her Congressional office, prior to her winning re-election. Her opponent in the 2010 election held an M16-shooting event which he advertised to supporters as follows:
Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly
Kelly had also posted an image placing Rep. Giffords in the crosshairs. According to TalkingPointsMemo:
Kelly’s website had also cross-posted a local news article that carried the headline “Kelly places the crosshairs squarely on Rep. Giffords…
CNN correspondent Jean Meserve reportedly told CNN her sources said the suspect is a white male, born in 1988, “which would make him 22 or 23, depending on his birthday”. It is not known if authorities believe the suspect acted alone, or whether they are investigating the possibility of a conspiracy. A number of supporters have suggested it must be investigated whether the suspect was linked to any armed militia group, or any group with white supremacist, separatist or anti-immigrant views.
Just this morning, at 12:29 am, the Sierra Vista Herald reported that Rep. Giffords was hoping to work with Republicans and to build a bipartisan center for responsible shared action on crucial issues. While she actively promoted progressive policies and supported Pres. Obama, she was not the most partisan or ideological member of the House of Representatives. Many are afraid this event could be motivated by misguided political zealotry.
Phone calls to the governor of Arizona are not getting through, allegedly due to high call volume, and the governor’s website still shows Gov. Brewer promoting the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has consistently promoted the unregulated sale of assault weapons and opposed any attempt to limit the sale of firearms of any kind.
Gov. Brewer finally spoke to the press at 4:59 pm EST, possibly waiting for a statement from the White House. She wept and called the shooting “an unbelievable tragedy”, saying “Gabby… is a friend”. She explained, when prompted by a reporter, that she got to know Rep. Giffords when she served in the Arizona state senate and that they had met often during statewide campaigns.
Gov. Brewer called the Congresswoman “a kind, hardworking servant to the people of District 8″ and said she was never an extremely partisan politician, that she was very gracious and always sought to work with others to promote solutions that would benefit the people she represented. She also suggested that whoever was responsible should be punished.
Arizona has been a focus of intensely heated rhetoric throughout the last two years, including active and coordinate campaigns of hate speech and calls to violence, on the part of radicalized anti-immigrant groups and armed militia. Gov. Brewer herself has repeatedly made flagrantly false statements in support of a measure designed to ban any interaction between undocumented immigrants and local communities or law enforcement, a measure which some have said invites narco-traffickers to flood the state with dangerous criminal rackets.
The 2010 electoral campaign season also saw a disturbing and dramatic escalation of both political rhetoric and of incidents in which threats of violence appeared to emerge from that charged climate. After a phone call he made in March, a San Francisco man who pled guilty to threatening to destroy then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home if she voted for healthcare reform. And in July, a man was arrested after a shootout with police that was touched off when it was discovered he was planning mass murder of employees of two non-profit civil rights organizations.
In a jailhouse confession, a California man has admitted it was Fox News host Glenn Beck who inspired him to plot the assassination of employees of the ACLU and the Tides Foundation. Byron Williams made national headlines in July, when he was arrested after he opened fire on California Highway Patrol officers. The shootout occurred as Williams was driving to the headquarters of the Tides Foundation headquarters in San Francisco.
UPDATE, 5:33 pm EST: CNN is now reporting that 6 people have died, and 12 others (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were injured. Rep. Giffords is reported to be out of surgery and through in critical condition expected to recover. Her doctors are not willing or able to project her complete recovery, but she is reported to have responded to commands that show meaningful brain functioning on a number of levels.
Pres. Obama told the press that FBI director Robert Mueller had been personally sent to Arizona to oversee the federal investigation and to assist local law enforcement. The president also spoke personally to Rep. Giffords’ husband, a naval officer whom he praised for being “one of our valiant astronauts”. He said no expense would be spared investigating the crime.
He also added that while not all the facts were known about what motivated the attack or who was responsible:
What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers…
UPDATE, 5:40 pm EST: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) expressed outrage at the shooting and said that the last time he saw Rep. Giffords before the shooting, just two days ago, she was reading the First Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives, “which includes the right to peaceably assemble” he specified. Rep. Giffords was shot while attending a meeting of members of Congress with constituents.
He said the shooting has no justification of any kind, and should “invoke the outrage of the entire nation”. He spoke of his friendship with the Democratic Congresswoman and said she was a moderate who was not politically extreme and who often worked with Republicans to build consensus.
UPDATE, 5:48 pm EST: At 5:46 pm, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for a moment of silence to honor those who died today, and to pray for the swift recovery of all those injured, including Rep. Giffords. The San Francisco Girls Chorus then sang. She expressed deep sadness and asked her audience to band together in somber recognition of the day’s tragic events.
UPDATE, 5:50 pm EST: Authorities have reported a 9mm handgun was recovered, “with an extended magazine”, allowing more shots to be fired in a shorter span of time. There are also reports emerging that websites linked to the suspect in custody list Hitler’s Mein Kampf as one of his favorite texts, raising further suspicions that extremist or white supremacist ties could be related to the shooting.
House Speaker John Boehner has issued a statement, saying he is ““horrified by the senseless attack”, and that “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve”. Boehner has, in the past, been reluctant to reject the use of language verging on incitement to violence, actually calling for armed rebellion at one point in 2009.
The Tea Party Express said its membership were “shocked and saddened” and denounced the violence, saying such actions “have no place” in American democracy, and that the only clash between ideological foes should be “the clash of ideas”. The Tea Party movement had been accused throughout 2009 and 2010, especially, of using extremist, hateful and violent rhetoric. This is one of the first specific and high-profile renunciations of violent rhetoric by a leading Tea Party group.
UPDATE, 7:04 pm EST: More information is emerging about the alleged shooter, identified as one Jared Lee Loughner, described as a political extremist who may have previously met and derided the Congresswoman. Mother Jones is reporting:
The alleged assailant has been identified as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, an Arizona resident described by one eyewitness as a white, clean-cut man who reportedly called out the names of some of his victims as he began shooting. (The Associated Press identified the suspect, who’s now in police custody, as Jared Laughner, but the Arizona Daily Star, Politico, and other outlets have ID’d him as “Loughner.”) The suspect appears to have posted YouTube videos under the handle “Classitup10″ that rail against the government and talk of revolution and terrorism.
In one YouTube rant, Loughner is reported to have said “A terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon. If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem.” He accused the government of mind-control and brainwashing, and appears to have suggested he might be labeled a terrorist.
UPDATE, 7:27 pm EST: C.J. Karamargin, press secretary for Rep. Giffords, said that among the fatalities was Giffords’ director of community outreach Gabe Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a former social worker, from Tucson, who was engaged to be married.
UPDATE, 8:02 pm EST: Captain Mark Kelly, the Congresswoman’s husband, is scheduled to command the last scheduled mission for the Space Shuttle Endeavor, in April, and has reportedly been rushed to her bedside in Tucson, from where he was currently stationed, in Houston. His twin brother, also an astronaut, is currently serving on the International Space Station. Two years ago this month, Rep. Giffords herself became chair of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
The NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issued the following statement this afternoon:
We at NASA are deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless shooting of Representative Giffords and others at Saturday’s public event in Tucson. As a long-time supporter of NASA, Representative Giffords not only has made lasting contributions to our country, but is a strong advocate for the nation’s space program and a member of the NASA family. She also is a personal friend with whom I have had the great honor of working. We at NASA mourn this tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to Congresswoman Giffords, her husband Mark Kelly, their family, and the families and friends of all who perished or were injured in this terrible tragedy.
UPDATE, 8:20 pm EST: The Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, has just said, during a press conference, that “We are not convinced that he acted alone.” He said there is reason to believe the suspect in custody arrived at the location of the attack with at least one other person, but said that for legal reasons, the Sheriff’s Department would not yet be disclosing photographs or names. Sheriff Dupnik said his department is “actively in pursuit of” the second individual.
He updated the figures on casualties, saying there are in total 19 victims of the attack, with 6 confirmed deaths. The full list of the 13 surviving injured victims has not been disclosed.
Sheriff Dupnik denounced the “vitriolic language… the hatred, the bigotry…” of the recent midterm electoral campaign. He lamented that Arizona appears to have become the “capital” of vitriolic rhetoric, adding that ”We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Observing that most public officials receive threats constantly, he warned that “pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who will be willing to subject themselves to serve in public office”.
UPDATE, 9 Jan., 9:43 am EST: Local authorities have revised casualty figures for yesterday’s shooting rampage: 20 victims are now reported to have been shot in the assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. 6 are confirmed dead; information is not readily available for all of the 14 people wounded in the shooting.
This morning, House Speaker John Boehner announced the Capitol flag would fly at half staff to honor the service of Gabe Zimmerman, director of community outreach for Rep. Giffords, a committed public servant well-known and liked throughout the local community, who the Speaker said “died in the line of duty”.
Speaker Boehner also confirmed prior reports that normal House business would be in part suspended for the coming week, while Congress moves to deal with the shooting, with security issues and to put off hotly controversial debates, so a period of solemn recognition could first take place. It is, at the moment, unclear exactly when the House Republican caucus will resume its campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as Republicans and Democrats alike are calling for unity, collegiality and bipartisanship in defense of the serious work of public service.
UPDATE, 9 Jan., 1:24 pm EST: Rep. Giffords’ staff was hard hit by the atrocity. The Sierra Vista Herald is reporting:
With Giffords in critical condition from a gunshot through her head, two staff members injured and one dead, the rest of the staff just can’t figure out why it happened, Karamargin said.
“She’s always been so open, so accessible. She listened to her constituents,” Karamargin said, adding that what happened Saturday morning “puts the democratic process under attack.”
Observers, supporters and even political rivals, have been saying of Giffords that her service in the House has been an example of the best of what service in Congress is supposed to be. She reached out to constituents, made herself available, and took genuine interest in both the everyday needs and the policy views of her constituents. She worked with the other party and always was available to explain her votes and to learn how her service impacted the community.
A family friend who works at the hospital where she is being treated, Dr. Carmona, yesterday told the press he was hopeful she would survive, but warned that she had suffered a “devastating wound” and that numerous complications, and possibly further surgical intervention, could ensue.