A spokeswoman for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is decrying widespread “politicization” of Saturday’s shooting rampage in Arizona that has left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., fighting for her life.

“This is a terrible politicization of a tragedy,” Palin aide Rebecca Mansour told USA TODAY.  “We don’t know (the shooter’s) motive.  It doesn’t seem like he was motivated by a political ideology.  Craziness is not an ideology,” she said.

In the hours since Saturday’s shooting, numerous media outlets and online bloggers have pegged Palin with accusations of inciting violence after the former vice president’s political action committee, SarahPAC, used what appeared to be rifle scope sights. Each “target” represented a House Democrat who voted for last year’s health care overhaul legislation who were from districts that Sen. John McCain carried in the 2008 presidential election.

Palin Aide Defends ‘Crosshairs’ Political Map that Targeted Giffords’ District in 2010

Though Palin’s 2010 electoral map never put Giffords or any likeness of Giffords in the crosshairs, many were quick to make a connection.

After news of the shooting broke, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas tweeted, “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin,” with a link to another blogger’s rant about the electoral map targeting Giffords — all without a shred of evidence that the alleged shooter ever saw Palin’s electoral map, let alone interpreted it as some kind of twisted instruction.

A liberal blogger at FiredogLake also blamed Palin for Saturday’s shooting, suggesting Giffords was on Palin’s “hit list,” and claiming her “Don’t Retreat – Instead Reload” slogan is no longer a metaphor.

While such irresponsible assumptions may be expected from an amateur blogger, the blame game has also been playing out in the national mainstream media. As we noted, one CNN anchor claimed that Palin “allowed” the shooting to happen.  One New York Daily News reporter claimed that Palin had Gabrielle Giffords’ blood on her hands.

Sadly, many elected officials have done little try and stem the tide of wrongful backlash toward Palin.  Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Democratic representative from the district adjacent to Giffords’, remarked to the Huffington Post that Palin “need to look at her own behavior.”  ”

If she wants to help the public discourse,” Grijalva said, “the best thing she could do is to keep quiet.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate also pointed the finger at Palin and her 2010 political map during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

“These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response,” Durbin said.

But Sen. Lamar Alexander defended Palin against the accusations and condemned the media for trying to make the connection.

By Saturday evening, SarahPAC had deleted the image from its website after Palin extended her personal condolences to the shooting victims via her Facebook page.

“We had thought that ‘Take back the 20′ was taken down after the November election because it’s irrelevant now,” Mansour said. “And they called us this morning and said, ‘Do you want us to take this thing down?’ Because they realized instantly, you know.”

“And I think, you know, just reflectively without even thinking about any consequences, our PAC treasurer said, ‘Well it should have been down already. Why is it still up? We are not paying for that. It is not getting any traffic. It is no longer relevant.’ So it was taken down.”

“It was not trying to scrub anything. The original Facebook post where we had this graphic is still up. And I just want to clarify again, maybe it wasn’t done on the record enough by us when this graphic came out, the graphic is, we never, ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply crosshairs.”

Using militant rhetoric in politics is indeed nothing new and Palin is far from the first politician to utilize such imagery.  In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama told his supporters that if his opponents “bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” Politicians from all ideologies are constantly talking about “targeting” voters, yet no one would accuse them of wanting to shoot them.

Despite his apparent outrage over Palin’s rhetoric, Kos’ Moulitsas has previously urged his own readers to “target” Giffords and put a bullseye on her district because she “sold out the Constitution…”

Harry Mitchell, former head of the Arizona Democratic Party put his own 2006 Republican opponent, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, in the crosshairs in a televised campaign ad and the national party organization has previously used similar “targets” in their campaign rhetoric:

Palin Aide Defends ‘Crosshairs’ Political Map that Targeted Giffords’ District in 2010

“The language of targeting a swing district has been used long before we used it,” Palin’s aide noted.  “We have no idea whether that person ever saw that graphic.”

While the media debates what role political rhetoric plays in driving someone to murder, Palin’s camp continues to deny any role in spurring violence.

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights,” Mansour told talk radio host Tammy Bruce, noting that the graphic was contracted out and that Palin staffers approved it without much thought.  “It never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent.” (click here for audio)

“We are all looking at our Twitter feeds and I am seeing people and it’s really sad,” Mansour said. “People actually accuse Gov. Palin of this. It’s appalling. Appalling. I cannot even express how disgusting that is.”

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