Assassins and Rhetoric

In recent days, the most interesting and level headed report on the connection between political rhetoric and assassination suggests not only that there is no connection between the rhetoric and the violent response, but even more that the political position of the political target is not even a motive for the assassin. He is more likely to pick a target based upon the fame he will receive. In the report, Alix Spiegel revisits a study produced by the Secret Service in 1999.

What emerges from the study is that rather than being politically motivated, many of the assassins and would-be assassins simply felt invisible. In the year before their attacks, most struggled with acute reversals and disappointment in their lives. Which, the paper argues, was the true motive. They didn’t want to see themselves as non-entities.

She quotes the author of the story:

“They [the assassins] experienced failure after failure after failure, and decided that rather than being a ‘nobody,’ they wanted to be a ‘somebody.'”

You can read (and listen to) the whole report here.

That drive for fame seems counter-intuitive to most of us because we are able to find other, more socially acceptable, ways to satisfy that basic human drive to be someone.

Whether there is a connection between rhetoric and violence remains to be proven, though greater civility in our public, political, and, yes, ecclesiastical, discourse is always to be desired. I tend to agree with the Atlantic’s Megan McCardle’s assessment, addressing the most recent tragedy, that the only violent rhetoric this guy was listening to were the voices in his head. She concludes by saying:

A terrible thing happened. We live in a universe in which terrible things happen. That’s no one’s fault — or maybe, everyone’s fault. Either way, I don’t see much in the way of solutions coming out of this – only terrible, terrible sadness.

I could decorate this paragraph with theological garland linking it to the Biblical story. But it would say the same thing.