Feature

Calming speculation about Bill Sparkman's death

Questions about anti-government anger linger following the suspicious death of a Census worker

What happenedA Kentucky coroner confirmed that Census Bureau employee Bill Sparkman died of asphyxiation. Investigators said Sparkman wasn't hanging from a tree—a rope was wrapped around his neck and tied to a tree, but his feet were in contact with the ground. Police still haven't determined whether Sparkman was murdered or committed suicide, and said it would be speculative to tie his death to anti-government anger. (The Washington Post)

What the commentators saidIt doesn't seem to matter that police don't know much about Bill Sparkman's death, said Michelle Malkin in her blog. But that didn't stop the Associated Press from spreading the rumor that Sparkman may have been "targeted because of his Census job." That was "enough 'evidence' for the nutroots to convict every outspoken conservative activist and advocate for limited government of a murder that has yet to be determined a murder."

The AP report only triggered speculation that Sparkman's death was the result of anti-government violence, said Zachary Roth in Talking Points Memo, because an anonymous source said the word "fed" had been written on his chest. Police still can't say whether Sparkman was murdered or committed suicide, and they tried to "put a damper" on the speculation by saying the AP report contained errors. But Clay County coroner Jim Trosper confirmed to TPMmuckraker that "fed" was indeed written on Sparkman's body.

It's hardly surprising that such a detail would fuel "rampant" speculation, said Cary G. Stemle in Time. Bill Sparkman died "at a time when talk media, tea parties, and white-hot town hall meetings have fanned anti-government sentiment." Investigators haven't reached any conclusions, but an assistant director at the Census department's southern bureau says the police say it is an apparent homicide. If so, it's reasonable to ask whether it was "part of the recent rage at what right-wing commentators decry as the big spending, socialistic government of the first African-American president."

Sure, "this might indeed be a case of militiamen gone wild," said Allahpundit in Hot Air, but there’s "good reason" to think isn’t." The area is "filthy with pot growers, drug dealers, and meth-heads" who might kill someone from the government for knocking on their door. The "uniquely disgusting" thing about this story is the eagerness of the "nutroots" to find a political motive and use the loss of a human life as "the crudest sort of political prop."

It's the right-wing "hate talkers" who are being cavalier, said Rick Ungar in True/Slant. That is why—even though it would be "inappropriate to pre-judge the motive" in this case—this tragedy will stir up "yet another discussion about the influence that incendiary broadcasters, such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, have on the minds and hearts of those who would commit such a horrible act."

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