Who's to blame for killing of police in Pittsburgh?

A man who allegedly killed three police officers was afraid his guns and free speech would be taken away; liberal bloggers hold the right responsible.

Published April 6, 2009 4:00PM (EDT)

Saturday morning brought news of what's being described as "the worst police shooting in the modern history of Pittsburgh." A 22-year-old man named Richard Poplawski allegedly shot and killed three police officers who'd come to his house in response to a domestic disturbance call from his mother.

There's a political angle to this story, as Poplawski was apparently concerned that the Obama administration planned to radically diminish the freedom of American citizens, taking away both First and Second Amendment rights, among other things. And liberal bloggers have been running with this angle. At Firedoglake, for instance, Blue Texan wrote that Fox News host Glenn Beck and NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre have "blood on their hands." On Twitter, the DailyKos' Markos Moulitsas opined, "When we were out of power, we organized to win the next election. Conservatives, apparently, prefer to talk 'revolution' and kill cops."

This sort of thing happens almost every time there's a crime like this with a political element to it. One side goes on the attack, claiming their opponents are responsible for the deaths, while the other counterattacks, saying their opponents are just exploiting the tragedy. And then, when the shoe's on the other foot, the same drama plays out -- right accusing left, left accusing right, and plenty of hypocrisy all around. It's probably time to just declare this sort of political exploitation of tragedy ghoulish, and to forswear it, no matter who's responsible.

It's not just a question of propriety, either. To suggest that mere politics is responsible for the actions of someone like Poplawski leaves out a whole lot of context. According to local reports, Poplawski had separate, and deeper, issues than his extremist political beliefs. His girlfriend obtained a protection order against him years ago, which he reportedly violated on at least one occasion. She told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "He was a violent, abusive man. He dragged me by the hair, pulling me across the floor. I saw him choke his own mother. He was controlling." And this was not the first time police had to be called out to settle a dispute between Poplawski and his mother; the New York Times reports that similar calls went out at least twice and possibly as many as six times in recent years.

Moreover, Poplawski's political views are nowhere close to mainstream Republicanism, and some liberal bloggers have been leaving out the depths of his extremism in their discussions of the shooting. True Crime Report's Steve Huff reports that Poplawski was a member of Stormfront.org, a white supremacist Web site. One of his postings there, from 2007, shows just how extreme -- and disturbed -- Poplawski was. An excerpt, via David Neiwert:

1. The federal government, mainstream media, and banking system in these United States are strongly under the influence of- if not completely controlled by- Zionist interest.

2. An economic collapse of the financial system is inevitable, bringing with it some degree of civil unrest if not outright balkanization of the continental US, civil/revolutionary/racial war, SHTF/TEOTWAKI scenario etc.

2A. This collapse is likely engineered by the elite Jewish powers that be in order to make for a power and asset grab...

I don’t think there is any question that item 1 is the truth. ZOG is. One can read the list of significant persons in government and in major corporations and see who is pulling the strings. One can observe the policies and final products and should walk away with little doubt there is Zionist occupation and- after some further research & critical thinking- will discover their insidious intentions.

I also don’t think there is too much debate about the eventuality of a collapse of economic and social order in this country. All signs seem to point to a once great nation in the midst its last gasp, suffocating under the weight fiscal irresponsibility. Poisoned by design by the moral decadence that is a direct byproduct of item 1.

Now, that said, it is true that, since President Obama's inauguration, there's been a disturbing trend on the right towards some of the kind of thought that inspired Poplawski. For instance, Media Matters' Eric Boehlert, formerly of Salon, notes that the alleged shooter was a fan of Internet-based conspiracist Alex Jones, who was recently the guest on a Fox News web broadcast. And certainly the rhetoric coming from people like Fox host Glenn Beck, or even Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, is getting ever more paranoid. Incidents like this one should at the very least give them pause, make them think about potential consequences arising from people inspired by their words. But, for now, it's too early to start blaming anyone for what Poplawski did except for the man himself.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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