|The former Alaska governor has become a fixture on the US media landscape since leaving public office [EPA]|
Sarah Palin has denounced as “blood libel” claims that political rhetoric by her and her “Tea Party” followers encouraged the attempted murder of a US congresswoman.
On a national day of mourning for the victims of Saturday’s attack, the former Alaska governor also fanned speculation she will run for the White House in 2012 during a nearly eight-minute video released on Wednesday.
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them,” she said of the shooting rampage that left six people dead and Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life.
“Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible,” she said.
Jared Loughner, 22, has been jailed pending trial for the attack that occured in Tucson, Arizona.
Many conservatives have reacted with outrage at speculation in the media and comments by Clarence Dupnik, Pima County sheriff, suggesting right-wing proponents like Palin had whipped up a frenzied climate of hate that could push people into acts of violence.
“We will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults,” Palin said.
The former Republican vice-presidential candidate, now a bestselling author and reality television star, had offered a brief message of condolences and prayers just hours after the shooting.
But her new comments were expected to raise eyebrows, as “blood libel” historically refers to the slander that Jews use the blood of Christian babies to make Passover matzoh, a myth used to justify pogroms and other repression.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane reporting from Tucson said many people were surprised by Palin’s use of the phrase and that it was still not clear in what context she was trying to use the “very explosive and emotional” words.
“Some people have said that she probably did not understand the context or the historical meaning of it and there has been no explanation, but she has served to really anger the Jewish American community here,” our correspondent said.
Palin, who has become a fixture on the US media landscape since leaving public office, drew heavy criticism for a tweet she sent during last year’s healthcare debate urging ardent opponents of the legislation, “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”
She was also condemned for setting up a website called “Take Back the 20,” which included a map of the US with crosshairs on congressional districts of Democratic candidates she had singled out for defeat.
One of those seats belong to Giffords, a Democrat who squeaked out a narrow victory over her Republican challenger in November’s elections. Gifford was among those who criticised Palin at the time.
“The way she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district,” Giffords told MSNBC television last year.
“When people do that, they’ve got to realise there’s consequences to that action.”
Palin’s video message came as the US House of Representatives somberly paid tribute to Giffords and the shooting’s other victims, as well as those who had helped restrain the attacker.
Eric Cantor, US House majority leader and the first Jewish Republican to hold the post, declined to comment specifically on the “blood libel” allegation.
Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Cantor, urged “all Americans” to “keep their hearts, prayers, and hopes with congresswoman Giffords, the victims of this horrific tragedy, and their families who are no doubt grieving today and in need of our collective support.”
Barack Obama, the US president, is among several dignitaries travelling to Arizona on Wednesday to attend a service honouring victims of the shooting.