Was the 9/12 murder related to inflammatory rhetoric of Beck, Bachmann, and Fox 'News'? Or to recent local events that have rocked the rural, poor, Republican county? Or all of the above?
By Brad Friedman on 9/24/2009, 4:54pm PT  

We spent a fair amount of time earlier this year reporting on the election fraud conspiracy scandal in Clay County, KY, where seven election officials were indicted on charges of conspiracy for rigging elections, changing votes on voting machines without voters' knowledge, and more during elections from 2002 through 2006. The officials included the district court judge, the county clerk, the school superintendent, and other election officials and judges.

As you've likely read by now, Bill Sparkman, a part-time census worker, substitute teacher, and local Boy Scout director was found hanged on 9/12 in Clay County's Daniel Boone National Forest (though the story wasn't made public until last night) with the word "fed" written across his chest.

According to AP, "The Census Bureau has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation," and the incident has drawn many to believe it may be related to recent distrust of the Census Bureau by elements of the Teabaggers, as sparked by comments made earlier this year by folks like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Glenn Beck, and many of the other personalities who advanced paranoia about the possibility of 2010 Census workers being hired from places such as favorite wingnut whipping-boy ACORN, via outlets like Fox "News."

Despite fomenting by comments like Bachmann's "enough is enough" (as seen in the video at right), Sparkman's death having come on September 12 (the day which Beck had called for his "9/12 Movement" Teabagger protests in D.C.), and the letters scrawled on Sparkman's chest, there is not yet definitive evidence that the hanging was tied to the Bachmann/Beck movement, though the blogosphere is understandably abuzz about it today.

As we spent quite a bit of time speaking to folks in Clay County last March while covering the election fraud scandal, we learned a bit about what's been going on there over the last several years. The hanging could be as much related to those events, and more that preceded them, as to Bachmann/Beck's ill-considered fear-mongering, even as that recent fear-mongering may well have served to inflame the local residents' already-inherent distrust of federal authorities...

A long federal investigation has been taking place in the county over the last several years, which, even before the election fraud conspiracy was shut down by law enforcement, had resulted in the arrest of the local Mayor and others on charges of drug trafficking and more. The sale of oxycontin, or "Hillbilly Heroine," as well as marijuana seems to have played a large role in the scandal that rocked the very rural, very poor, very Republican county over the last couple of years. Arrests from the narcotics ring may well have led to the later election fraud busts.

In short, there are many reasons and many people who are likely to have a deep distrust for the federal government in that part of Kentucky. AP's story included several disturbing quotes from local residents

One comment includes information that Sparkman had been "warned...to be careful when he did his Census work" by a retired state trooper with whom he had worked during after-school programs:

"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,'" [Gilbert] Acciardo said.

"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," Acciardo said.

Another local interviewed by AP offered a remarkable response to questions about the incident:

Kelsee Brown, a waitress at Huddle House, a 24-hour chain restaurant, when asked about the hanging, said she thinks the government sometimes has the wrong priorities.

"Sometimes I think the government should stick their nose out of people's business and stick their nose in their business at the same time. They care too much about the wrong things," she said.

Given the deep-seated mistrust of the federal government, no doubt inflamed by many years of rightwing paranoia heard across the public airwaves, along with the community's direct involvement with several federal stings that have rocked its local residents to the core, it's probably wise to wait for more details to emerge before jumping to any direct conclusions, and pinning the tail on any particular elephants.

While working on this piece, it seems Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel has also noted the recent election fraud busts, and suggested the possibility of similarly-connecting dots:

While there's no more reason to believe Sparkman's death is connected to [the election fraud] case than that it is connected to Bachmann's inflammatory statements, it should at least caution us against leaping to conclusions. There may well be very localized reasons why people in Clay County don't want the federal government going door-to-door.

With all of that in mind, however, it's admittedly damned difficult not to look back at the kind of wildly-irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric being slung casually across the airwaves to millions of viewers and listeners every day by folks like Bachmann, Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and all the rest, without pondering questions such as: "What the hell are these people thinking?" and "Do they not realize that people are actually out there paying attention to what they have to say?"

We've long suggested on these pages that it would be remarkable if the rightwing Summer of Teabagging didn't eventually result in somebody's death. It's still too early to jump to direct conclusions here, as Marcy notes, that it did. But it's very difficult to avoid wondering if that's exactly what may now have happened.

If the killer or killers are ever found, anybody here want to bet that they are found to be avid fans of wingnut media?

UPDATE 9:56pm PT: Greg Sargent offers this update at Plum Line:

1) Kentucky state police have not ruled out the possibility that the death was a suicide or even that it was accidental, according to police spokesman Don Trosper.

2) His death has been ruled “asphyxia,” Trosper said in an interview. “There was a rope around his neck. It was attached to a tree,” Trosper continued, adding this intriguing detail: “He was in contact with the ground.”

That raises the possibilty that the cause of death was not hanging. Asked if this were possible, Trosper said: “Nothing is being ruled out.”

3) Trosper said the initial AP story on the death contains “flaws and errors.” That means it’s possible that the AP’s claim, based on an anonymous source, that he had the word “fed” scrawled on his chest could be false. Asked if that were the case, Trosper declined to comment.

...And Zach Roth at TPMmuckraker offers more ratcheting back from the original AP report:

[David] Beyer, a spokesman with the FBI's Louisville, Kentucky filed office, declined to comment on the accuracy of the "Fed" detail. But he was at pains to ratchet back speculation that Sparkman was killed in an act of anti-government sentiment, saying that investigators had not yet determined even whether the death was a homicide.

Previous reporting "left the impression that [Sparkman] was found strung up in a tree because he was a federal employee," Beyer said. "At this juncture that's not accurate." Beyer added that Sparkman died of asphyxiation.

UPDATE 9/25/09, 9:21pm PT: Despite the influx of wingnuts to this item vis a vis MichelleMalkin.com (are these folks just genetically incapable of understanding that not everyone who believes they are wingnuts is an Obama and/or Dem supporter?? Many of us didn't even vote for Obama, ya lamebrains. Good god, people, there is far more than Left/Right, Lib/Con, Red/Blue in the world, despite what Malkin and her pals would like you to believe - but I digress...), the initially reported details of the killing are now being confirmed by a number of eye-witnesses. From AP tonight:

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press on Friday that he was among a group of relatives who discovered the body of 51-year-old Bill Sparkman on Sept. 12.

"The only thing he had on was a pair of socks," Weaver said. "And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.

"And they even had duct tape around his neck. And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder."
Two people briefed on the investigation [from the state police] said various details of Weaver's account matched the details of the crime scene
Coroner Jim Trosper has said the word "fed" was written on Sparkman's chest with what was likely a felt-tip pen.
[Weaver said,] "I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there. It was a bad, bad scene."

UPDATE 11/25/09: Sparkman's death has been pronounced a suicide by the Kentucky State Police. Michelle Malkin believes we owe a retraction for this story for some reason. Here's our opinion about that...