Whenever a new cause or movement is born, and a large number of people feel passionate about it, there's always the danger that it will inspire someone -- perhaps just a lone nut, or perhaps a group of them -- to destroy human life in its name. This is true even of the most legitimate, mainstream movements, which can suffer unjustly by the actions of a rogue sympathizer.
Someday this may happen to the Tea Party movement. So far it hasn't, because there has been no Tea Party violence. The only victims of Tea Party "extremism" are politicians who lost their positions in peaceful elections. One could be forgiven for not knowing this, given the extreme bias with which some in the liberal media treat the Tea Party.
Moments after the suspect's name became known in Friday's theater massacre in Colorado, Brian Ross of ABC News reported to a national audience that someone by the same name had signed on to a Tea Party website in 2011. James Holmes -- the name of the alleged shooter -- is a very common name, shared by at least 2,900 Americans, according to the website HowManyofMe.com. And as it turns out, James Holmes of the Tea Party is a Hispanic man, not related to the suspect and more than twice his age.
Ross had to issue an apology, but it's easy to see why he found the story irresistible. Here was a possible connection that bore out all of his worst prejudices -- groundless prejudices that many others share.
In February 2010, a man named Joseph Stack committed suicide by flying his small airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. New York Magazine, after reading his online suicide note, immediately declared that "a lot of his rhetoric could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally." The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart added that "his alienation is similar to that we're hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement." Neither mentioned that Stack had approvingly quoted "The Communist Manifesto" and denounced capitalism in his last message to the world. That may be a relevant detail if you're trying to blame his crime on a movement that believes the opposite.
Months later, right after the famous attempt to bomb Times Square, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested it had been carried out by someone "with a political agenda who doesn't like the health care bill or something." The would-be bomber, a Pakistani immigrant, later said in court: "If I'm given a thousand lives, I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah."
The following January, a shooter in Tucson wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six others. In all his wisdom, Paul Krugman leaped to judgment immediately: "We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was." He insinuated on his New York Times blog that Tea Party activists were back to finish the job after Giffords survived the 2010 election sweep. In fact, the killer was a deranged loner with no coherent political ideology, and no connection to the Tea Party.
All that has happened since the Tea Party began -- and all that hasn't happened -- undermines the credibility of Krugman, Ross, Capehart, and other pundits who carelessly associate it with violence. When we try to explain violence like last week's theater massacre, we look to irrationality as the first explanation. It takes a uniquely arrogant sort of journalist to use this same irrationality to explain anyone who disagrees with him politically.