Could anti-government paranoia have contributed to the killing of a census worker

Given the climate of hostility and frustration right now in our country, where protesters gather at town hall meeting to shout down their local congressperson and join in at loud TEA parties carrying placards accusing the federal government and President Obama of all sorts of underhanded behavior, it is not surprising to me to learn of the apparent murder of Bill Sparkman earlier this month.

Sparkman was a part-time worker with the federal census bureau in a remote area of Kentucky who was found hanged from a tree on September 12. According to investigators the word ‘fed’ was written across his chest.

Although it’s unclear whether or not Sparkman’s capacity working for a federal agency as “intrusive” as the census bureau was a factor in his killing, it is a possibility that the hostility and animus many people have in our nation could have contributed to this man’s death.

After all, in recent months our commander-in-chief has has come under unfounded suspicion from a good many people in our country of pushing the nation towards the brink of totalitarianism and extreme socialism. A good many of people in our country still hold steadfast that President Obama is Muslim, despite the fact that he is a Protestant Christian. All types of wild rumors and innuendo are out on the Net and with the ranting and raving of people on all sides, commentators and talking heads spewing anger and venom, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone saw a harmless canvasser from the census bureau as an Gestapo-like intruder.

There are plenty of ignorant hillbillies out there that if I were heading from house to house asking questions on behalf of the federal government, I’d be a bit scared myself. Unfortunately, legitimate questions about federal spending and health care proposals have taken a backseat to paranoid ramblings and unsubstantiated rumors.

Sparkman’s job, according to an Associated Press article published this morning, involved door-to-door interviews in Clay County. The substitute teacher had been working for six years with the bureau.

So far authorities are treating Sparkman’s hanging as a homicide. They aren’t saying whether it appears to have been politically motivated and aside from the word scrawled across his chest, I suppose there would be no reason to necessarily believe that. Perhaps the perpetrator or perpetrators had other motivations. What makes me suspect that it could be motivated by someone inflamed against the government is that Sparkman’s laptop computer was left in his truck and not stolen. Robbery does not appear to be a motivation in his killing.

There could be other reasons, I suppose, but given the climate right now, I think it’s reasonable to wonder if he were executed due to someone’s anti-government paranoia.

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The futility of protesting Fred Phelps

As I understand, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas will be here in Albany in a short while to picket Albany High School and hold a demonstration on the SUNY Albany campus.

A lot of people are predictably up and arms about the firebrand (likely insane) preacher coming here to protest against the gay lifestyle, which–as a Five-Point Calvinist–he believes is an insult to God and the source of all misfortune and wickedness in the world, particularly here in America.

I understand there is a call for a counter protest of Phelps and his church (which is largely comprised of family members, it is so small and insular). I myself look forward to snapping some pictures of their interesting, albeit offensive signs. I live right near Albany High and I like taking pictures of strange things.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out to those out there who may be participating in a counter protest that Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, their God Hates Fags mantra and anything else that defines them, are crazy. They are so crazy in fact that 99 percent of the world–including the clinically insane–believe that they are nuts. Therefore, the point of a counter protest (most protests in my opinion do nothing at all) is just kinda, well, futile.

As offensive as Fred Phelps may be to gay people, their families and even most Christians, there’s nothing getting up in arms about Mr. Phelps’ people will to stop them. If you do that, you only play an integral part in the street theater that Westboro Baptist Church so much enjoys, which is confrontation. If they did not have confrontation, they would be little more than an afterthought, but in the decade since they first caught America’s attention, they have continued on precisely because they know that it bothers people and like a child who pulls a classmate’s pigtails for enjoyment, they like to get a rise out of folks.

There are few people in the world who are converted to the Westboro Baptist Church’s thinking and reports have shown that even children who grow up in the church often leave, so it’s not as if you’re really doing them much of a favor.

If you want to do gay folks a favor, it probably makes more sense to petition your state senator or assembly person to support marriage equality than to go out to a sidewalk and do a whole lot of shouting at people who really don’t give rat’s ass if you disagree with them on whether the sky is blue.

Fundamentally, Fred Phelps is a sad figure. He’s a man known for an abundance of anger and hatred. Still, he’s just a small figure in America, the representative of a loony fringe element that has no particular political influence and are so marginal that even mainstream conservative Baptists wont acknowledge them.

My advice is to watch Most Hated Family in America, a documentary that came out a few years ago about the Westboro Baptist Church. If nothing else, it is humorous because the host, Louis Theroux did such a good job of making it just that, comedic.

If you wouldn’t argue with a mentally ill man on the #55 bus who wears tin foil on his head, smells like urine and tells you that the spirit of Heinrich Himmler is controlling his mind, then why would you care what Fred Phelps says. You’re only playing an essential role when you counter protest this guy. Better just to watch.

Our nation guarantees most forms of free expression, including some of the most shocking and offensive. Certainly, picketing the funerals of dead gay people, troops and priests is offensive, but in the end, no one really takes the Phelps seriously except a small, fringe group of folks. They are a cult, but unlike the People’s Temple or Heavens Gate or other destructive cults, they largely abide by the principle of peaceful–albeit crazy–protest. That said, they are rarely cited with breaking laws and instead, gain publicity when people show up to incite them.

In closing, if you have any doubts of the futility of protesting Fred Phelps’ crew (and I seriously doubt he’ll be there) watch this segment of the BBC documentary, particularly the last few minutes of the clip. You’ll stand corrected.


Do most of us really know why we're supporting Obama or McCain?

This morning, during a C-SPAN call in program, an elderly woman from Buffalo phoned in to explain why she and her family members–including several new voters–would be pulling the levers for Sen. John McCain. She said the new voters in her family were particularly excited:

“They love Sarah Palin and they are voting this year for the first time. We are a big family…We love children. We’re pro-life. I don’t know how people can survive without children…John McCain believes in children. Look at his family…His mother…And Sarah Palin and her family all believe in large families and it’s just wonderful and it’s going to set an example for this country for all those with large families.”

Though I’m pro-choice, I do have an appreciation for many pro-life people as opposing what they feel is wrong. But this isn’t about abortion. I’m more interested in why people choose who they vote for and if indeed most of us know why we are voting for someone or something at all. The woman from Buffalo struck me as having a vague entirely simplistic reason for voting for her candidate. And it’s not only McCain supporters who can be accused of this.

Today the Daily News carried a column by 20/20 reporter John Stossel. I normally find Stossel to be a blowhard, but this caught me. Short and to the point,it said something no newspaper editorial board or television pundit has had the gall to say, which is that many–if not most–voters do not exactly vote on policy or principle but rather on very vague notions of what they want or expect. Stossel notes many people don’t possess the most basic idea of civics. They don’t know the number of people who serve in the United States Senate (from which both major candidates come). That doesn’t bode well for grasping the more fundamental concepts that any eighth grader should know, including the separation of powers and layers of federal, state and local governments.

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