On Monday Jim Adkisson pled guilty to last year’s shooting rampage inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church that killed two parishioners and wounded half-a-dozen others. The 58-year-old Vietnam veteran and unemployed mechanic stood stoic as he was sentenced to life in prison. But Adkisson was far from taciturn in his handwritten manifesto and intended suicide note which he released to a Tennessee newspaper following sentencing.
The letter represents the voice of one wrestling with a growing sense of personal despair while situated inside the echo chamber of conservative talk radio, Fox News and right-wing reading material. Adkisson’s nihilistic rant is chock full of militaristic allusions plucked straight from the hyperbolic and extreme hypothetical rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. “Lately I’ve been feeling helpless in our war on terrorizm [sic]. But I realized I could engage the terrorists allie [sic] here in America. The best allies they’ve got. The Democrates! [sic]” He then proceeds to attack the Unitarian Universalist Church. “This isn’t a church, it’s a cult,” Adkisson contends. They don’t even believe in God. They worship the God of Secularizm [sic]…This is a collection of sicko’s, weirdo’s and homo’s….They call themselves ‘Progressive.’ How is a white woman having a niger [sic] baby progress?”
While reading through the manifesto I was reminded of journalist Chris Hedges warning to religious progressives in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Persons committed to democracy must be cognizant of the paradox of tolerance. “There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated,” the author asserts.
In other words, the sort of jingoistic hate-speech that impelled Jim Adkisson to pick up a sawed off shotgun should always be challenged and contested with equal vigor and passion. One should never confuse being open and progressive with remaining tolerant and passive in the face of a Limbaugh-like culture. This, in itself, threatens the fabric of communicative democracy. And, in severe cases, such as this horrific event in Tennessee, the price of passivity is innocent human life.