Within hours of the shooting spree in Arizona, conservative blogs lit up with the news that the suspect, Jared Loughner, was an aficionado of Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. A Hitler/Marx devotee, the logic went, is someone too idiosyncratic or crazy to be part of any mainstream political movement. Some went further, and cited the information as proof that Loughner was the sort of big-government liberal they had nightmares about.
As with so many of these fast-propagating conservative memes, this one got its start on Fox News.
When the suspect’s name was first publicized, the Google race was on to learn as much as possible about Loughner in the shortest amount of time. Simultaneously, reporters across the country discovered his YouTube page, which listed both Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto among his favorite books. It also listed Ayn Rand’s first novel We the Living, though there’s no viral online meme depicting Loughner as an Objectivist. Peter Pan and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz are also on there, though Loughner’s not widely known today as a fan of children’s literature.
That’s in large part because Glenn Beck framed it in his own inimitable way on his Fox News show Saturday evening.
“This kid thinks the Mars rover, the landing, was faked. He thinks George W. Bush was behind 9/11. He believes in big government solution. His favorite books include ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Mein Kampf’…. I could tell you right now this guy is a textbook study of everybody I’ve warned against. But I’m not going to do that.”
Several hours later, Sean Hannity took a milder tack. “[L]ooking at the psychological state of the shooter, I mean, you know, he has skull with candles in the backyard, he reads Mein Kampf to Communist Manifesto, the police has called the school five times, we just heard from one of his professors. I mean, how much more evidence do we need that this kid was mentally disturbed even as some try to politicize what motivated him?”
After that it becomes hard to find a single case where these two books aren’t cited more prominently than others.
The Washington Post played it this way: “On YouTube, Loughner’s profile listed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ among his favorite books. He also included high school English class classics such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ plus children’s works such as Aesop’s fables and ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’”
The next morning, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) took the same tack as Hannity in defense of the Tea Party.
“What we know about this individual, for example, is that he was reading Karl Marx, and reading Hitler, and burning the American flag,” Alexander said. “That’s not the profile of a typical Tea Party member if that’s the inference that’s being made,” he said.
And thus a talking point was born.
You can read the full list of Loughner’s favorite books below:
Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.