A large part of the audience likely will be those who identify themselves as members of the Tea Party, some of whom have, at past public events, openly carried guns and used tactics of intimidation; brandished racially offensive posters depicting President Obama; and shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at congressional leaders outside a rally allegedly held to protest health care legislation. One of the spokespersons for the Tea Partiers even wrote a facetious letter “from the Colored people” to Abraham Lincoln praising slavery, to challenge the NAACP’s claims that the party harbors racist elements.
Most jarring is the sad irony of all these people at the podium, with their supporters spread across our National Mall, celebrating, in part, their worship of guns while invoking, quite blatantly, the legacies of two great Americans whose magnificent lives were cruelly cut short by bullets.
And as you hold that image in your mind, consider the words of Dr. King, who, while mourning with all Americans the loss of President John F. Kennedy to gun violence, suggested, “While the question ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question ‘What killed him?’ is more important. Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder.”
Are Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent the new keepers of King’s dream and of Lincoln’s legacy? Or do they, with this event at this place and time, in one of the boldest and most public ways imaginable, mock and, indeed, slander everything for which these men so nobly stood, and for which they died?
Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s largest nonpartisan grass-roots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. The Brady Campaign is devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work and in our communities.