The fact that the person accused of firing a shot in the direction of the White House on Friday may have spent some time at the Occupy DC encampment should not lead anyone to leap to the conclusion that the radical squatters are part of a general or specific conspiracy. According to law enforcement officials, the suspect, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who was arrested for the crime today, had no connection with the occupiers. The media has been quick to highlight the disassociation of the movement from the shooter. Though there has been some justified criticism of the willingness of the mainstream press to whitewash the radicalism at the core of the movement, under the circumstances, allowing any doubt to linger about even a perceived link between the crime and the protests would be wrong.
But imagine just for a moment if a man who was described by police as being filled with anger at Washington and the president and who had a predilection for violence had, prior to losing a shot at the White House, lingered in the vicinity of a Tea Party demonstration, let alone an encampment of the group. Though they were routinely depicted as a threat to democracy, there was no Tea Party violence, just an occasional rude remark to members of Congress at town hall meetings. The notion of the Tea Party as a band of violent racists is a trope that was repeated endlessly by the same news outlets that are rightly endeavoring to make sure there is no guilt by association link established between the White House shooter and OWS.
Let’s also compare the rush to absolve OWS of any connection to Ortega-Hernandez with the stampede to tie Jared Loughner, the mentally disturbed man who attempted to assassinate Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to conservative critics of President Obama and the Democrats. Though that supposed connection was almost immediately proved to be utterly false, the fact that some Republican groups (including one led by Sarah Palin) sought to “target” Giffords (as in, attempt to defeat her re-election bid) is still spoken of in many quarters as being somehow responsible for the attack.
The point here is not to try and play the same game at the occupiers’ expense. They have faults enough without trying to accuse them of violence that is, according to the police, unrelated to their cause. Rather, it is to show how easy it would be to do so. Unscrupulous journalists could, as they did with Palin’s handouts, try to mine OWS handouts for language similar to that uttered by the suspect so as to build a case for their influence on his behavior even if that was untrue.
Unlike the genuinely peaceful Tea Party, the OWS movement has proven itself to be violent and radical in nature, with many of its adherents guilty of extremist statements, including anti-Semitism. But they are not responsible for Ortega-Hernandez. Does anyone in their right mind believe the Tea Party would be treated as fairly if the situation were reversed?