For some reason, there hasn’t been much in the news about the horrific, violent death of Bill Sparkman, whose body was found yesterday near Manchester, Kentucky. The 51-year-old substitute teacher and part-time census taker was found hanged, with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest.
I guess his death wasn’t very important—compared, say, to the 168 dead and almost 700 wounded in Timothy McVeigh’s 1996 attack on the federal government. But try telling that to Bill Sparkman’s mother.
People have always groused about taxes, things left undone by the government, and— ironically— interference by the government in their everyday affairs. “It’s just words,” some say. “People like to complain.”
Well, words can kill—and they do.
Just ask the 11-year-old son of Stephen Johns, the guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., who was shot down in June by a white supremacist. Or the families of the hundreds of police, federal office workers, and national park employees who suffer violence each year at the hands of people inflamed by the kind of hate-filled, anti-government propaganda so prevalent on FOX News and conservative talk radio.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of these things, reports that membership in hate groups is up by more than 50% since the year 2000—a time frame that coincides, not coincidentally, with the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage (whose pseudonym, interestingly enough, he chose himself).
But I’m not blaming Rush, Sean, or Michael for the atmosphere of violence that is clearly building in this country. Every one of us who willingly listens to these hate-mongers, allowing them to stoke the sentiments of negativity and rage in our hearts, is to blame. Every one of us who mindlessly supports radical organizations that use basically good ideas to support broad, radical ideologies (yes, NRA, I’m talking about you) is to blame. Everyone who habitually bitches about the government without doing something constructive to improve it is to blame.
We in America are not very far removed from the days when hundreds of people were hanged in the South every year because of the color of their skin. We’re only months past the days when people were routinely tortured by Americans in the name of national security. We still live in a country where those who serve our collective interests—that is, anyone who wears a badge or a uniform—may become a target of generalized, anti-government hatred and violence.
There is so much good that needs to be done—and for the next Bill Sparkman, so little time.