Palin Staffer: Giffords Attack Nothing to Do With Ex-Gov

Sarah Palin and her campaign website targeting Congressional Democrats. CBS/AP

Sarah Palin and her PAC's 2010 campaign website targeting Congressional Democrats.
CBS/AP

Updated 8:30 p.m. ET

A staffer for Sarah Palin is defending the conservative politician against attacks blaming Palin and the Tea Party movement for the horrifying Arizona shooting yesterday that left six people dead and Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition.

"We have nothing whatsoever to do with this," Palin aide Rebecca Mansour said in an interview with radio host Tammy Bruce, a Palin supporter.

Yesterday, a gunman open fired during a town hall-style meeting Giffords was hosting at a Safeway grocery store in Tuscon. Six people were killed and 14 people were wounded, including Giffords who was shot in the head.

There's no evidence 22-year-old accused gunman Jared Loughner was spurred to violence by Palin, the Tea Party, or any other particular group or individual.

Yet it didn't take long for Palin's critics to draw a link between the shooting and the fact that the former Alaska governor put Giffords on a "target list" of lawmakers she wanted to see unseated in the midterm elections.

In March, Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats that used crosshairs images to show their districts. (You can see it here.) Critics suggested at the time that she was inciting violence by using the crosshairs imagery and for later writing on Twitter to her supporters, "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'"

In her interview with Bruce, Mansour said there was "nothing irresponsible" about the cross-hairs graphic.

"We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," she said. "It was simply cross-hairs like you'd see on maps."

Though in a tweet following the November elections, Palin did refer to the "'bullseye' icon," noting how Republicans won in 18 of the 20 seats she targeted.

Mansour called yesterday's shooting "obscene" and "appalling," and said the politicization of the event "disgusted" her. She pointed out that "battleground" rhetoric is nothing new in politics.

"We can't ban the words 'targeted swing districts' from the English language," she said. "We did nothing wrong here."

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However, many people see things differently. In an interview with ABC News this morning, Facebook executive Randi Zuckerberg said the top question on the social media site right now is, "Is Sarah Palin to blame?"

That question is "probably the number one thing being discussed on Facebook right now," she said, adding that in the last 24 hours, over 2 million people have included the words "Giffords" or "Gabrielle Giffords" in their Facebook status updates.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" this morning, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said that Giffords' husband was angry about the rhetoric used by Tea Partiers.

"I talked to Mark Kelly, Gabby's husband, who is an astronaut. Very angry. Very angry about the level of angry rhetoric that he believes incites people," Hoyer said. "Not only this Loughner targeted Gabby in particular, but to target those in authority, whether they be judges, members of Congress, local officials, generically, to make their anger pointedly heard. And of course this allows that."

"We're going to have to find out exactly what the motivation here was," he continued. "But I think all of us ... in politics and in the media, in public square, fashion our rhetoric so that it does not incite but informs."

The new group No Labels, which promotes bipartisan cooperation, released a statement today calling it "inappropriate and irresponsible to rush to judgment" about the cause of the shooting. However, the group said that conversations about the incident and the political forces that may have contributed to it are "in the best interests and traditions of our country."

"Based on the immediate and intuitive reactions of so many Americans, we know enough to say that something is deeply wrong with our political discourse - and that with this incident, a dangerous line has been crossed," the group said. "As we grieve for those who died and pray for the recovery of those who were injured, we hope this moment of mourning will lead us to engage each other with more civility and respect and see each other not as opponents or enemies but as Americans."

Meanwhile, one Tea Party group is fighting back at the suggestion that right wing rhetoric led to this weekend's events, instead pointing the blame on liberals and urging their members to push back.

"The line we will see for the next few weeks is going to be that rhetoric and tone of the message from the Tea Party is responsible for this attack... The hard left is going to try and silence the Tea Party movement by blaming us for this," said Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips in a message to the group's members.

"In a decent world, we could all take a moment to mourn for those killed by a liberal lunatic. Political civility is long since dead and the left will not let us do this," Phillips continued. "The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words."

Another Tea Party group, The Tea Party Express, took a very different tone in its statement yesterday, saying "these heinous crimes have no place in America."

"Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas. An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process. We join with everyone in vociferously condemning it," said Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer.

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