The caller’s name is Avery, and as the call progresses he seems a case study in incendiary talk radio rhetoric.
In a slightly shaky voice, Avery reads from a book by Laura Ingraham, a syndicated conservative radio host whose show is on a couple of hours later on the local right-wing talk station, 104.1 The Truth.
The passage speaks about the need to emulate the country’s founding fathers and fight back against the federal government. Avery says, “We have to say when enough is enough and we take up arms like our forefathers did —"
“You’re certainly not justifying what happened Saturday,” interjects Jon Justice, the host.
The rare conservative firebrand in a liberal town, the host of “The Jon Justice Show” has been dubbed, by admirers and detractors, Tucson’s Rush Limbaugh. He’s spent the days since the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords passionately arguing that heated political rhetoric on the airwaves does not cause violence.
Talk radio, which Limbaugh reinvigorated more than 20 years ago, is now part of its own conversation. There is no evidence that Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the shooting of Giffords and the killing of six others, even listened to it. But its daily dose of provocative rhetoric, mostly from conservative hosts, has taken center stage in the national debate over what has happened to civil discourse.
On Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik issued his now-famous broadside against “vitriol” contributing to the attack. On Wednesday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took issue with him, saying in a Facebook video that crimes “begin and end with the criminal who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio....”
If an outsider wants to hear how all that is playing in Tucson, one way is to tune in to Justice. At this moment, he is tangling with Avery.
“The media is not discussing what needs to be discussed, which is our government with boots on our heads,” Avery continues.
“No, I completely disagree,” Justice interrupts again. “There is no room for violence in Washington. You want to make a difference in politics? Get out and vote.”
He cuts off the call.
Shortly after Dupnik tied political discourse to the shooting, Justice, 38, lashed back. “To say, as Dupnik did, that comments made on the airwaves essentially motivated this person to commit this crime is exactly what he blamed talk radio of doing, inciting through pure rhetoric,” Justice said at the time. He called for the sheriff’s resignation.
Dupnik’s friends say the sheriff’s call for more civility was likely sparked by nasty rhetoric coming from national figures, such as Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But Justice, who has long feuded with the sheriff, has taken the comments personally. Though he’s calling for calm, he hasn’t given up on being contentious as he, like so many talk hosts around the country, has spent the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. offering a conservative perspective on the sticky issues of political speech and violence.
“I’ve witnessed and heard you bully,” Green Party Dave tells Justice.
Green Party Dave is Justice’s moniker for a semi-regular caller who belongs to the left-wing party, and who today defends Dupnik’s statements.
Justice talks down some callers who take a more conspiratorial or potentially violent tone, but he’s not afraid to stir the pot.
Justice was born in San Dimas and grew up in various cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties. His first on-air radio job was at a Tucson alternative rock station. He briefly returned to Southern California in the late ‘90s to co-host a morning show on KCXX 103.9 in Riverside- San Bernardino. By then he had replaced his given last name, LoGiudice, with his on-air handle. He next moved to Atlanta, then Grand Rapids, Mich., where he sparked controversy by pretending to drown a dog on the air to draw attention to the drowning deaths of two children. In 2007, he returned to Tucson, where he landed his own talk show.
Since arriving here, he’s torn into Dupnik for being critical of a tough state immigration law, gone after the Tucson school system’s Chicano studies program as possibly promoting racism and, infamously, posed with the puppet of a local Latina activist and had it purr that he made her feel “warm, like a freshly cooked chimichanga.”
But Justice has been stressing calm this week. “Have I ever committed an act of violence against anybody?” he asks Green Party Dave.
“You have bullied people by calling names.... You just called Clarence Dupnik ignorant.”
“He is ignorant. He is a buffoon.”
“There,” says Dave, “that’s bullying.”
“He said ignorant statements that caused death threats against me,” Justice counters. “Never in there would I advocate violence against any individual, including Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.”
Justice wraps up by saying, “I have no regrets of what I’ve said on this show.” He moves on to other callers, but is fond enough of the exchange with Green Party Dave to later post it online.
Green Party Dave is in the distinct minority this morning — most mornings — on the show. The vast majority of callers are regular listeners who this week are baffled and outraged over being lumped in with the apparently disturbed 22-year-old charged in the rampage.
Caller Bob ticks of a list of times Democrats have used charged rhetoric, including the time then-presidential candidate Barack Obama remarked that “if they bring a knife, we bring a gun,” and the president’s reference to Republicans last year as “our enemies.”
“I don’t understand this one-way, only Republicans can say bad rhetoric,” Bob says.
“It’s just hypocrisy,” Justice replies, “and you have to continue pointing out the hypocrisy.”
But Justice seems to come alive the most when he’s challenged. James calls from Indiana. He cites Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s talk of the need for possible “Second Amendment remedies” against Congress. He then points out that the Giffords attack “was handled in a Second Amendment way.”
Justice challenges him to find a quote from a talk show host advocating direct violence. James cites Palin’s now-infamous gun-sight target map, which included Giffords’ district.
“No side of the political spectrum has exclusivity on using language like that,” Justice counters. “You’re never going to stop that kind of rhetoric from any political party. And people have been killing people, murdering people since the dawn of man.”
The two trade examples of each party using loaded images. “Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the individual to take that, whatever they see, and do with that what they want,” Justice says. The call ends amicably.
A day earlier, Justice had advised his audience to cut critics a bit of slack. “I don’t believe it’s all about Democrats and liberals trying to gain control,” he said of the backlash against conservative talk radio. “The other facet of this is people can’t wrap their heads around such pure evil.”
That notion — of evil and the limited things that can be done to stop it — permeates today’s four hours. Just after the show starts at 6 a.m., a caller talks about the need for heightened security.
“I’m not necessarily sure that anything should change, to be honest with you,” Justice answers. “At the end of the day, it comes down to, what percentage of the public is capable of carrying this out?”
Later he riffs on the idea that people are offended by the body blows of political debate. “Words do hurt,” he says. “I’m waiting for some Democrat to come out with legislation so I don’t have my feelings hurt. Can we ban hurt feelings?”
He says he welcomes President Obama, who will arrive in Tucson a few hours later for a memorial service, but is skeptical the commander in chief will help depoliticize the tragedy. But when a caller laments how the nation is not “coming together” after the shooting, Justice stops him.
“I don’t think anything’s going to change,” he says. “When this thing dies down we’re going to be the back where we were before. We are a divided community, and most communities are — they’re divided along political lines.” That, he says, is fine.
And it’s time for a commercial break.