Investigative journalist and native Arizonian Zoellner (Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World, 2009, etc.) combines memoir, history and reportage in an attempt to understand mass murder and the attempted assassination of a friend in Tucson.
The author notes he has truly loved few people in his life, but “Gabrielle had quietly come to be one of them.” In January 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head outside a Safeway supermarket by Jared Lee Loughner. Six people died, and 18 were injured. Loughner alone was responsible for this carnage, but what was it about Arizona, and perhaps America, that facilitated his schizophrenic rampage? Zoellner finds this context in the fear and hatred that has engulfed Arizona. Always a place for self-reinvention, this was accompanied by a rootlessness culminating in endless tracks of suburban housing where neighbors isolated themselves in air-conditioned solitude. When economic hard times hit the state, isolation turned to unremitting anger. Latinos—though soon to be the majority population of the state—were suspect, and laws were passed to root out the illegals among them. Big government became a chimerical enemy, and hatred of it was fueled by politicians who found that extreme positions brought votes, and by talk radio with its “constant generation of low-grade outrage.” When fellow citizens were viewed as potential predators, carrying a gun became a must, and one could buy guns and ammo as easily as a quart of milk—which is precisely what Loughner did. The gunman wandered alone, ignored or purposefully avoided, until he acted, taking from his environment shards of reality that led to mayhem. Zoellner brilliantly evokes the past and present of Arizona, the outsized personalities that have shaped the state and the paranoia lurking at the edge of society.
A sure-to-be-controversial, troubling tale of the wages of fear on the body politic.