Census Worker's Death: The Next Generation of Lynching?
We know that the levels of right-wing vitriol have reached psychotic new heights. But could they really be behind the "apparent homicide" of a Kentucky census worker, William Sparkman? Should we be calling this, as some are, a "lynching?"
On September 12, the same day as those wacky protests, Sparkman was found hanging from a tree with the word "fed" carved into his chest. The 51-year old single father and substitute teacher had been canvassing Kentucky's rural, poor Clay County for the Census Bureau. That sounds like a pretty safe job, yes, but locals warned Sparkman of hidden dangers lurking in the blue grass. Recalled former state trooper Gilbert Acciardo:
I told him on more than one occasion, based on my years in the state police, 'Mr. Sparkman, when you go into those counties, be careful because people are going to perceive you different than they do elsewhere.
Even though he was with the Census Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as 'the government.' I just was afraid that he might meet the wrong character along the way up there.
Sadly, that appears to be the case. And, if this was in fact murder, the death would seem to be targeted — "fed" was, after all, carved into the man's chest — and some are calling this a modern day lynching.
One twitterer wondered, "Why has the Bill Sparkman lynching in KY that happened on or before 9/12 not been reported nationally until now." Another also used the l-word: "Sparkman lynching reminds me of young Obama volunteer I got hooked on politics - she had shotgun pulled on her during O canvass."
Such symbolic use of the word "lynch," though convenient, may do more harm than good. This case has all the makings to become a rhetorical landmine: those who think tea baggers pose a danger could use it as an example of the right-wing's lunacy. Already concerned citizens are saying Sparkman's death should teach conservatives like Michele Bachmann that stoking anti-government sentiment brings death and destruction. And it's likely the discussion on this particular topic will grow more shrill in the coming days.
Turning Sparkman into a symbol will be easy — he was a single father, an Eagle Scout and completed his teaching degree while fighting cancer — but it's also something of a Catch-22. Of course politicians and media personalities should be wary of fanning outraged flames, and hopefully Sparkman's death, even if not murder, will make people think twice about churning up national shit. (Are you listening, Glenn Beck?) That said, there's also a real danger that a one-sided, accusatory conversation will only make the right feel more isolated and, therefore, help spread anti-government sentiment. And then it will be civil war all over and the old adage will be proved true: everything old is new again.