Politics and violence: What leads someone to go off the deep end?


by Chris Liedle, KATU News

Scene of the Arlington, Va. shooting on June 14 (KATU News photo)

While law enforcement agencies continue their investigation into James Hodgkinson, the man who allegedly opened fire at a republican congressional baseball practice in Virginia, a University of Oregon sociology professor says politics is becoming a trigger for violence and it goes far beyond party lines.

But, it’s not the sole reason for violence. Dr. Randy Blazak says there are often a series of events that lead up to action.

“Mass shootings…. they are overwhelmingly male and they experienced some sort of loss,” Blazak told KATU. “Overlay that with the political climate and the sense that we are in crisis… that the country is slipping away, that could be another trigger.”

Blazak says political violence is nothing new. In the 1970s, he says law enforcement recorded more than 100 bombings that occurred in the country they found were politically-related.

“Politics has become an increasingly an emotional sport,” he said. “[It] used to be something where we were all on the same team, but we’re coming at it from different angles now, it’s two very separate teams.”

Blazak says we don’t need to look across the country for examples.

He points to the violent, hate-filled actions of Jeremy Christian, the man accused of killing two men and hurting a third in a brutal attack on a MAX train last month. Politics may have also played a role.

Both Hodgkinson and Christian were active on social media.

“People refer to their echo chambers and they get a lot of reinforcement and then they come back into the game with all of these weapons ready,” he said. “They have links and websites and new stories that may be legitimate or not.”

Blazak says research has shown that finding common ground with someone who may have differing political views leads to greater understanding and healthier relationships.

“It’s just so easy to say: you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, and I just want like-minded people,” he said. “When you start talking about things that you have in common, there is this incredible bridge building that happens and that rebuilds the center.”

Blazak says those links may be sports, food, travel, business… we all share “something” in common.

“The challenge is to keep them on board,” he says. “Have these arguments, have these conversations, but also include in it something that links you to the other side.”

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