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Published January 11 2011

Tea party supporters say movement unfairly blamed

In the wake of Saturday’s shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, tea party supporters in the Red River Valley and across the nation on Monday criticized what one local conservative radio host called “unforgivable” attempts by some to link the movement’s rhetoric to violence.

“That’s such a bunch of crap; it’s unbelievable,” said Jerry Breyer of Grand Forks, who organized a tea party rally there in October.

Breyer said he has never detected violent undertones at a tea party rally.

“The most law-abiding people in the country are tea party people,” he said. “And yet right away when something happens, they want to blame the tea party, Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. It’s absolutely insanity what’s going on with the liberal press.”

Fargo-based conservative radio voice Scott Hennen said the shooting suspect in custody was “clearly deranged,” in contrast to the “God-fearing, freedom loving” tea partiers who want their elected leaders to follow the Constitution and “bring some common sense back to government.”

“To blame a group, if you will, a way of thinking, for a tragedy like this rather than the individual who pulled the trigger, is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life, left or right,” Hennen said. “Let’s get out of that game once and for all.”

The website Politico reported Sunday that the Tucson Tea Party searched its e-mail list and membership rolls and found no record of shooter Jared Lee Loughner participating in the group.

Still, a number of critics and online commenters, including Cuba’s communist leader, Fidel Castro, zeroed in on Palin’s so-called “target list” and its map with crosshairs over legislative districts held by 20 House Democrats who voted for President Barack Obama’s health care bill – including Giffords and former North Dakota Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy.

Others cited a Palin quote, “Don’t retreat – reload,” as an example of rhetoric gone too far.

Hennen, who has interviewed Palin in the past, defended her, saying that’s just how the former Alaska governor talks and that she isn’t advocating violence.

“She’s certainly not saying, ‘Hey, all my loony followers, let’s go out and physically harm people we disagree with.’ That’s crazy,” he said.

Hennen called the Arizona shooting “a tragedy” and “horrible,” but said it’s unfair to blame it on talk show hosts or the tea party.

“That’s a sign of total desperation by a political party about ready for the ash heap of history,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528