Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., was one of 20 Democrats targeted in Sarah Palin’s anti-health care legislation Facebook post in March. Two Ohio politicians also were among those in Palin’s “crosshairs.”
Former Ohio congressmen Charlie Wilson and John Boccieri told The Lantern they felt unsafe last year after the virtual “targets” were put on their backs.
On Palin’s Facebook fan page, SarahPAC, a map was posted that used crosshairs to identify 20 members of the House of Representatives that had voted in favor of health care reform. The map said things such as, “It’s time to take a stand” and “Let’s take back the 20, together!”
Repeated attempts to reach Palin were unsuccessful.
Palin’s website, SarahPAC.com, addresses the incident in Arizona.
“My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of (Saturday’s) tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice,” Palin said on her website.
Wilson said strong feelings lingered even after he lost in November.
“I am one of the representatives that voted for health care reform, and we were the targets, there is no question about that … I’ve received a lot of hate mail even after the election, so there is a lot of emotion still out there,” Wilson said.
Boccieri said he received numerous threats to his office while on the campaign trail as a result of the political debate.
“If people think that they can move public opinion, or move members of Congress to believe or to vote or to act a certain way, based on fear or intimidation … I think they will be greatly mistaken,” Boccieri said.
All three politicians were labeled as Palin’s “targets” to be defeated in the 2010 election. Boccieri said the political rhetoric, from both sides of the political spectrum, needs to be toned down.
“Those of us holding elected office, and those with a national microphone, we need to understand that this type of rhetoric could motivate people to action,” Boccieri said. “There are folks who are on the edge of being unhinged or are unhinged already.”
Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State, agrees with Boccieri regarding the political rhetoric.
“Our democracy would be much better off if leaders, elected and unelected, and talk show hosts would cool their rhetoric,” Beck said in an e-mail. “It is one thing to oppose policies, and there are legitimate differences of opinion on important issues. It is quite another to demonize those who hold positions we oppose.”
Wilson said those in the national spotlight, such as Palin, should be held accountable for what they are saying.
“I think it was all very hurtful. It just showed a lot of disrespect for our leaders and for each other,” Wilson said. “The rhetoric that went on during this last campaign is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Tom Nelson, an OSU political science professor, talked about the possible impact Palin’s comments had on the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner.
“Divisive rhetoric exemplified by the Palin website is unhelpful, to say the least. (It) did not cause Loughner’s mental illness, nor does it directly advocate violence against political opponents,” Nelson said in an e-mail. “Its main purpose, I believe, is to capitalize on a kind of martial or war-like framing of political competition, which energizes some voters.”
Boccieri said there were pleas from fellow Congress members to tone down the political rhetoric. Wilson explained a situation in which he said he was personally attacked because of his political stance in favor of the health care bill.
“A picture of me was hung in effigy, and that picture was tarred and feathered … this picture was a little on the edge, a little crazy,” Wilson said. “I received a lot of hate mail, even a couple Christmas cards that were hateful, even after the election.”
Wilson said that during the heart of the health care debate, his office would receive more than 1,000 phone calls and e-mails concerning the issue. Many of these were not even from Ohioans.
The map posted on the SarahPAC fan page caused problems for many representatives mentioned on the list, including Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, who had a gas pipe in his home cut and lit.
“There have been many threats to different lawmakers and there was a public outcry that this map should be taken down,” Boccieri said.
Because of the map, Wilson felt threatened during his recent campaign for reelection.
“I would not have been surprised if something had happened to me. There was an awful lot of anger, a lot of fear that was spewed and stirred up,” Wilson said.
Boccieri is a former representative from Ohio’s 16th Congressional District. Since losing his re-election, he has returned to his previous job, flying airplanes at the Air Force Reserve. Wilson, a former representative from Ohio’s 6th district, runs a funeral home business in Bridgeport, Ohio.
Wilson said he plans on running for representative again in 2012, and Boccieri said he has not ruled it out.
Six people were killed in the shootings in Tucson, according to reports. This includes a federal judge, John Roll, and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green. Fourteen others were wounded in the shooting.
Loughner appeared in court Monday, and is set to reappear for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 24.
Wilson sends his condolences to Giffords’ family and the families of the other victims.
“It seems so unfair that one of the most wonderful people from my congressional class of 2006 would be struck down because she certainly deserved much better,” Wilson said.
Boccieri said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the shooting.
“This is a most unfortunate tragedy and it was completely unnecessary,” Boccieri said. “I don’t know what motivated that gentleman to do what he did, but America is better than this. We are better than this situation, we are better than this tragedy.”
Justin Conley and Kelsey Buller contributed to this story.