The plot of this week’s Law & Order SVU revolved around a killer who was inspired by a fictional right-wing talk show host to kill children of immigrants. Defending his client’s actions, the killer’s attorney says the man is “just a symptom” of the “cancer spreading ignorance and hate” that is “Garrison [the fictional host], Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly.”
Fox News personalities Glenn Beck and O’Reilly were outraged and quickly fired back. O’Reilly called the comments “simply defamatory and outrageous,” and condemned Law & Order creator Dick Wolf as “a coward,” “a liar,” and a “despicable human being” who is trying to push a “progressive point of view.” For his part, Beck asked “where is the evidence for inciting any violence? Show it to me.” Watch it:
Sadly, there is some evidence to support the notion that Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly have served as the inspiration for individuals disposed to act out with violence. In July 2008, a Tennessee man went on a “shotgun rampage” in a Unitarian church “during a childrens’ production of ‘Annie,’” killing two and injuring six. Police found a letter, explaining his attack was motivated by “a hatred of liberalism and Democratic leaders.” They also found three books in his home:
[Police] seized three books from Adkisson’s home, including “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television commentator Bill O’Reilly; “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder,” by radio personality Michael Savage; and “Let Freedom Ring,” by political pundit Sean Hannity.
Richard Poplawski, who killed three police officers in April in Pittsburgh, may have been partially inspired by Beck. Poplawski “bought into…conspiracy theories hook, line and sinker” and was motivated by a belief that President Obama would “outlaw guns.” Beck and other right-wing pundits pushed the false notion that Obama would ban firearms, leading to a spike in gun sales after his election. Poplawski watched Beck and even posted a clip of Beck and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) discussing FEMA camps — a common subject of right-wing conspiracy theories — to a white supremacist web site.
In May, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered in the foyer of his church. Prior to this incident, O’Reilly regularly singled out Tiller on his show — there are nearly 1,800 abortion providers in the country — referring to him repeatedly as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and saying that he “executes babies.” Tiller’s name appeared in 29 episodes of “The Factor” between 2005 and Tiller’s death. As Salon’s Gabriel Winant wrote in May, “there’s no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose,” as O’Reilly. Legal and psychological experts event suggested that Scott Roeder — Tiller’s accused killer — might be able to use “the O’Reilly defense” in court. “The deluge of ‘Tiller is a Nazi, mass murderer, baby killer’ verbiage by Mr. O’Reilly surely can drive one into a state of what we in the legal profession call ‘righteous assassination,’” legal expert Jonathan Turley told Huffington Post’s Scott Young.
While Beck and O’Reilly are not directly responsible for any of these incidents, their hate-filled rhetoric has indeed been shown to incite angry or unbalanced listeners.