Let’s Just Agree–Violence Makes Your Politics Irrelevant

In the immediate aftermath of last week's tragic shooting at Arapahoe High School, there was ill-advised speculation right away based on reported anecdotes about the 18-year old shooter's alleged political leanings. Conservative bloggers and pundits became especially concerned about an edit made to a Denver Post story covering events as they unfolded. For example, major conservative blog Gateway Pundit:


After thinking things over, the Denver Post decided to delete the fact that Arapahoe School shooter Karl Pierson was a committed socialist from their news report…

Guess it didn’t fit their narrative that only right-wing Tea Party folks were the dangerous ones.

Todd Starnes of FOX News angrily demanded an explanation:

In response, the Denver Post explained their decision to remove this reported anecdote about Arapahoe High School shooter Karl Pierson thusly: "we decided not to have another student apply a label to the shooter — a label the student likely didn't even understand." And in fairness, Denver Post stories about the shooter did note a rant on Facebook attributed to Pierson that is plainly critical of Republicans.

But after watching conservative pundits–mostly outside Colorado–grope for any political angle they could find, anecdotal or otherwise, to invoke as Friday's tragedy unfolded, we are obliged to note a report this morning from Bente Birkeland of KUNC.

The Arapahoe High School shooting hit especially close to home for Republican senator Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch. His son is a junior at Arapahoe High and was on the speech and debate team with gunman Karl Pierson. Harvey is also a good friend of Pierson’s mother – who he says is one of his biggest political backers. [Pols emphasis]

By the same yardstick the conservative pundit class was ready to judge the shooter's own politics, it seems to us that as much could be made of the apparent politics of the shooter's mother–couldn't it? As you can probably see by now, this could very quickly devolve into an endless morass of speculation and reinforcement of existing prejudices. To some extent, that's probably inevitable.

But we believe it's better to not dwell on the shooter's politics, or that of his parents. We'd say the moment he made the decision to walk into his Colorado high school with a gun, politics ceased to matter. For anyone who would do such a thing, they probably never did. And even if that seems naive to you, if you think about it, our view, which we believe to speak for a majority, is one of the reasons you should feel very lucky to live in the United States of America. We would much rather live in a nation that condemns senseless violence with one voice.

Above all, we hope we'll have no need to ever bring this up again. But we probably will.


44 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavieDavie says:

    For once, I agree with the Denver Post editors — without knowing Thomas Conrad's own place in the political continuum, and the fact that a centrist-moderate Eisenhower Republican like President Obama is commonly thought of as a Socialist in certain circles, giving weight to Conrad's description of the shooter's politics would be, as they say in legal proceedings, highly prejudicial.

  2. HarleyHarley says:

    Well, with the rather diverse political veiws of Mother and son—the discussions in that household must have been interesting.

  3. Ralphie says:

    Politics is politics.  Fucked up is fucked up.

  4. BlueCatBlueCat says:

    His comments would indicate a more left leaning set of views and obvious antipathy toward Republicans. It isn't surprising that h such views were at odds with the average views, such as they are, at the school, Centennial being very strongly Republican leaning and most kids knowing little more about politics than that their parent are Rs or Ds. In Republican circles liberal,progressive, Democrat and socialist are pretty interchangeable so most kids would probably see views not consistent with their Republican parents' as "socialist" without having a clue what that means.

    All that said, some here would probably be making something of it if the shooter was reported to have right wing views so we can't complain much if some on the right choose to try to make something out of the shooter's politics when the shoe is on the other foot. And, to be fair, it rarely is so a bit of a knee jerk response is at least understandable.

    As with Columbine nobody is ever going to come up with a reliable explanation for why this particular kid did this particular horrific thing, especially to a young girl he didn't know and had no reason to hold a grudge against. It isn't ever going to make sense and offer us nice neat solutions on what to look for to prevent this kind of thing. 

    I bet there are dozens of students in a school population well over 2000 more obviously troubled than this one was, regardless of political leanings, if any, who will never go on a rampage before killing themselves. 

    As with the Columbine shooters, he wasn't an in crowd jock but had his circle of friends. That's pretty much the way it is and always has been for most High School kids. Only a minority attain golden circle status.  Most of the the rest take at least occasional teasing and put downs and a few poor souls get subjected to serious bullying. The overwhelming majority never shoot anyone. We'll never have definitive answers.

    In general, though, I don't approve of newspapers cleaning up what people said. Their cleaning it up is just going to bring more attention to it. 

    • DavieDavie says:

      BC, there are two issues here that I see:

      1. Mental health — I believe his first goal was suicide (hence the permanent marker scribble — "The die is cast"), he just wanted to take his debate coach with him.

      2. Reporters not providing in-depth context.  Just printing the unsubstantiated label "Socialist" without asking the kid "what does that mean to you?" or getting corroboration from other students and/or faculty gave the editors little choice but to remove the comment or send the reporter back to flesh out the background. 

      It doesn't matter that he was a liberal gun control advocate (whom I wouldn't be surprised to learn never owned or handled a gun before 2 weeks ago).  He decided that suicide was his only option to resolve his conflict.  That's what needed attention.  But he apparently hid behind a facade of normalcy — his friend was quoted as having no clue of his intentions just the day before the shooting.  Guys are pretty good at holding in their emotions, for good and bad.

      • BlueCatBlueCat says:

        I agree with everything but the socialist comment. I don't think many people take so seriously what one teenager says about another teenager's views so I don't think there would be a pressing need for reporters to spend time researching it any more than if the teen had said the shooter was dorky.  And besides, so what if he was socialist, as Dio points out below, that particular week?  

        I think it would be nice if we didn't join the righties in considering socialist a dirty word, whether used accurately or not. In this case probabay not. I saw that kid say that on TV days ago. More people see a little TV news than read the papers these days.  I don't have particularly strong feelings one way or the other whether the paper should have editied it out but if I had to choose I'd say if they're going to quote somebody, I'd rather they quoted them accurately.  

        Agree his intention seemed to be to have it end with his own death. But why he felt things had gotten to that point and why he would come prepared to kill random others besides himself and the teacher with whom he had a conflict? Why a young girl who had nothing to do with him one way or the other is fighting for her life? I don't think that will ever be explained any more than Columbine has ever been explained.

  5. Diogenesdemar says:

    The political leanings of a teenager.  Oh, please . . . one week it's Che Guevara, the next week it's Ayn Rand, followed by vegetarianism, then Taoism, with a U-turn to "greed is good," followed by a community-service outreach project to help feed the homeless. 

  6. itlduso says:

    I used to judge HS debate competitions when our daughter was on a HS debate team. These kids are incredibly smart. And they had to be prepared to argue both sides of an issue. I would literally flip a coin minutes before the start and then say you are arguing pro and you are con. Go.

    The shooter’s involvement with debate (even qualifying for Nationals as a junior) is most perplexing to me. I’m waiting for more information from both parents and his teacher to better. understand shy this tragedy happened.

  7. ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:

    How many times have people on the left sought to blame random acts of violence on the ideology of purported people on the right/tea party?  The overall point of this piece might be good….but a little self-serving/convenient given this such background. 

    • DavieDavie says:

      Ok, Elliot, quiz time — what were the political motivations/leanings of the Virginia Tech shooter, the Aurora Theater shooter?

      Mostly, liberal/gun safety advocates blame the easy access to cheap guns that the right-wing Gun lobby and their easily duped followers continue to champion for the oldest reason in the world — more money, collateral damage to everyone else be damned!

      • BlueCatBlueCat says:

        Nope. I think  Elliot's right on this one. If we're going to make hay out of rightie leanings that come up with any school, theater or mall shooting perps, we have no cause for complaint if righties are enjoying a moment of turned tables here. Let them enjoy their moment. The opportunities for them to do so are, after all, so rare.

    • DaftPunkDaftPunk says:

      You're right.  The violence of the right is never random: It is targeted:

    • Early WormEarly Worm says:

      When there is some reason to believe that religious or political ideology formed the basis for or motivation for the violent act, I think it is relevant: Timothy McVeigh, Ft. Hood shootings, etc.  When there is no apparent connection, it is not relevant: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, etc. I would cut the Post some slack in that, in the early stages, post shooting, everyone is asking why.  In that context, it is fair to act was he a radical?  It appears it was the tragedy was a product of small "p" politics, namely the politics of a high school debate team (and a troubled teenage mind).

      • This. Political leanings are important when they form a basis for the person's actions, not so much when they're not related.

        Also, I'll disagree in a kind of generic way about Sandy Hook. The issue of gun rights and gun ownership was somewhat central to the background of the shooter; had his mother not been such a strong supporter – and a supporter of her child shooting guns despite his psychological issues – I think things might have been a bit different there.  Not so much of a "what political party" case, but "what political issues"…

    • OrangeFreeOrangeFree says:

      When those on the right talk so nonchalantly and favorably about "second amendment solutions" to political opponents, you bet it's a legitimate question to find out the political leanings of a kook who, say, tries to assassinate a Democratic Congresswoman. 

      Don't see many socialists talking about "second amendment solutions" to much of anything. Fox News and their ilk are merely trying to find a false equivalence and bias where it doesn't exist. 

    • Ralphie says:

      Elliot.  There's a beautiful young girl lying in a coma.  Your bullshit attempt to gain some sort of political advantage from the alleged politics of her shooter is heartless, and, quite frankly bullshit.

      If you're looking for an issue, please try to look past this young girl's life.

      Right now, nothing matters more.  Well, maybe not to you anyway.


    • dwyer says:

      @Elloit Fladen

      This is a good opportunity to educate you on the background of one such event.  In the immediate aftermath of the Arizona shooting, the Sheriff accused the killer of being a right wing radical.  That was corrected as soon as more information became available.  This is the back story: 

      A federal judge  had just stopped by to see his friend, Gabby Gifford, when the ambush started and he was one of those murdered.  A few years previously, the judge had made an unpopular ruling in a migration case.

      That had earned him the wrath of the right wing radio.  He had also received death threats and for 18 months had had federal marshal protection as a result.  That protection had recently been removed.  So the Sheriff's first emotional response was to presume that the judge had been the target.

      • ElliotFladenElliotFladen says:


        Did the Tea Party condone the Giffords shooting? It did not.  Yet you all unfairly linked the two. 

        I think you need some "education" on what is apparently a new term for you: "double standard".

        • dwyer says:


          Bullsh*^t   Who is this "you" you speak of?  I certainly did not link the

          Gifford shooting to the TP.  I explained the reason behind the Sheriff's initial reaction.  It was then corrected.  However, it lives on in talk radio rants….without the clarifying back story….it is one more way that "you people" villify the so-called MSM.

          I note that you did not condemm the death threats that the judge received.  Why not?

        • dwyer says:


          I am going to ask to retract the statement you made attemping to say that I unfairly linked the TP to the Giffords shooting.  I DID NOT.  Nor would I.

          The TP has not been involved in any violence that I am aware of.

          Your comment is behind the pale.  When we are talking about the horror of domestic terror, it is imperative that everyone, regardless of political belief, be factual.  If that standard is one by which you cannot abide, then leave the blog.

          • BlueCatBlueCat says:

            The you he speaks of is not so different from the you you address when complaining about what cluess cheerleaders those who don't share your degree of alarm of over every fill-in-the-blank are. You're both fond of generalizing via hypothetical straw dog yous and theys and those who says so perhaps you should get down off that high horse before you get a nose bleed. 

        • roccoprahn says:

          I'll gladly be the one to drop that hammer. Dwyer was way too good to you in his reply.

          palin directly challenged "patriots" to shoot Democratic Representatives and/or Senators, both at the State and Federal levels with her "shooting bullseye" target symbols on the map she put out just before Arizona. 

          bachman used "don't retreat, reload" and "we're down to "second amendment remedies" statements in redleg rallies up to and on the eve of Arizona. The implication was clear. If frustrated, use your weapon. It's ok. bachman was very up front with it……….untill Gabby was shot. Then she actually denied she'd said it.

          No. You can't deny the direct participation and encouragement of teabaggist politicians/provocateurs/yakkers in the Arizona shootings. palin removed the Congressional District "targets" from her self indulgent website the day after the Gabby Giffords shooting, but her meaning was clear as well. She just didn't realize she'd be connected to the violence through her provocating posturing.  

          Your credibility will increase only when you directly confront and condemn those of your stripe that are agitators, and admit how truly hatefull your party is.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      What I find so self serving in this issue Elliot is the continued attempts to deflect the discussion from responsible run ownership to Republicans complaining about being VICTIMS of a vast left-wing conspiracy.  Only dick's like you search for other topics to talk about besides building a society that shows resonable competence in regulating these lethal weapons.  Nice try asshole but the central issue isn't this mentally unstable child's politics but how our education and social structures failed to identify his suicidal condition and treat it before he went insane.  Making progress on slowing the gun violence epidemic is about more than confiscating guns.  It's about helping people with mental problems who have access to these arsenals but conservatives are quick to cut mental health centers that's Socialism and God strike us down if we ever want to help the disadvantaged in our society out of the goodness of our Jesus loving hearts.  Fuck you Elliot and your "we're victims' narrative.  You are not a VICTIM asshole.

  8. Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

    ~~How many times have people on the left sought to blame random acts of violence on the ideology of purported people on the right/tea party?  

    About as many times as people on the right sought to blame random acts of violence on the ideology of purported people on the left/Democrats…?

    Got some numbers , Elliot? If not…this is bullshit, nothing more.

  9. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    This story shouldn't be about the shooter's politics, but about the incredibly piss-poor reporting (if one can still call it reporting and not "producing") at the state's "paper of record."  

    One has to be extremely naive that the "paper" did not know what it was doing when it put out that little tidbit–namely pumping up it's online presence with  with hits/links to it's own page from the Conservative blogosphere.  To then retract it and hide behind responsible jouralism reeks of the same sort of tactics used by those Conservative pundits the "paper" later dismissed:  pitch to the base, retract, but don't halt the spin because that would halt the hits and the advertising dollars.

     This "paper" went down a notch in my eyes, which was hard to do given where it stood before this incident!

  10. dwyer says:

    The most grievous comment I heard was from a lady talk show host who did the socialist equals communist and everyone knows communists kill their enemies rant.

    • Ralphie says:

      Lady talk show hosts do it for the money.  As do male talk show hosts.  When you hear something relevant, please let us know.  I'll be listening.

      • BlueCatBlueCat says:

        I doubt very much that most people would react with anything but disgust to these types of rants. They are for the core listeners who, every year, represent a smaller percentage of the voting population because their average age is sky high. I don't believe for a second that your average Centennial resident or anyone else is much interested in politics in connection with this horrific tragedy. Like you, they care most about Claire and their own kids. I don't see the relevance either.

  11. dwyer says:

    @Ralphie, BC

    And yet, they read, they comment.


    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      OK. After this I'll hold my peace when you address me. I think you wildly overestimate the size of the "they" you have in mind. You equate the niche "they" of the rightie media world you choose to live in with the far more numerous general "they" of the larger world,  investing your "they" with much more power than they actually wield.

      This is plainly demonstrated by the objective reality of who has been elected here in Colorado, in DC and in numerous other states by the general "they", the recent rightie recall victories here in an off off year special election notwithstanding.  The objective results of these elections are wildly different from what would have been the case over the last decade if your "they" were as powerful as you insist they are.

      You consistently assume a degree of public opinion and political influence hegemony for rightie radio and other rightie media unsupported by objective reality as demonstrated in election results and opinion polls, then lecture us for being clueless what me worriers because we fail to share your demonstrably distorted assumptions and decline to be hysterically alarmed every single time time some awful radio host says something predictably awful.

      We already assume they're always saying awful, stupid, innacurate things because that's what they do. Their audience may be a minority of the general public but it's quite enough to make their rantings profitable so it's still a good business model regardless of the degree of power they exert outside their limited but reliable demo.

      Once again, there are alarm settings between 0 and 11 and majority segments of the population who don't look kindly on all that emanates from rightie ranter land. That reality is at the root of our disagreements.

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