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Context of 'July 27, 2008: Shooter Kills Two, Wounds Seven at Tennessee Church; Killings Motivated by Hatred of Liberals, Gays'

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The US Supreme Court overturns Tennessee’s “Duration Residency” law that prohibits some residents from voting. In the case of Dunn v. Blumstein, Tennessee’s law requiring voters to live in the state for a year before voting, and in a given county for 90 days before voting, is challenged. Tennessee law requires voters to register 30 days before an election in order to vote in that election, but has more stringent residency requirements. A lower court held the law unconstitutional because it interfered with a citizen’s right to vote and created what the court called a “suspect” classification of citizens, resulting in some Tennessee residents being unfairly penalized. Tennessee’s position is that the requirements are needed to ensure the integrity of voting, and to ensure that voters are knowledgeable about what they are voting on. The Supreme Court finds that the “durational residency” requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; US Supreme Court Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator Frank Church.Senator Frank Church. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A Senate committee tasked to investigate the activities of US intelligence organizations finds a plethora of abuses and criminal behaviors, and recommends strict legal restraints and firm Congressional oversight. The “Church Committee,” chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), a former Army intelligence officer with a strong understanding of the necessity for intelligence-gathering, notes in its final report that the CIA in particular had been overly cooperative with the Nixon administration in spying on US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974); US intelligence agencies had also gone beyond the law in assassination attempts on foreign government officials in, among other places, Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam. Church himself accused the CIA of providing the White House with what, in essence, is a “private army,” outside of Congressional oversight and control, and called the CIA a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The committee will reveal the existence of hitherto-unsuspected operations such as HT Lingual, which had CIA agents secretly opening and reading US citizens’ international mail, and other operations which included secret, unauthorized wiretaps, dossier compilations, and even medical experiments. For himself, Church, the former intelligence officer, concluded that the CIA should conduct covert operations only “in a national emergency or in cases where intervention is clearly in tune with our traditional principles,” and restrain the CIA from intervening in the affairs of third-world nations without oversight or consequence. CIA director William Colby is somewhat of an unlikely ally to Church; although he does not fully cooperate with either the Church or Pike commissions, he feels that the CIA’s image is badly in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, Colby later writes, “I believed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to undertake a long-overdue and thoroughgoing review of the agency and the intelligence community. I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch and must be protected from Congressional prying. Quite the contrary.” Conservatives later blame the Church Commission for “betray[ing] CIA agents and operations,” in the words of American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr, referencing the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece. The chief counsel of the Church Committee accuses CIA defenders and other conservatives of “danc[ing] on the grave of Richard Welch in the most cynical way.” It is documented fact that the Church Commission exposed no agents and no operations, and compromised no sources; even Colby’s successor, George H.W. Bush, later admits that Welch’s death had nothing to do with the Church Committee. (In 1980, Church will lose re-election to the Senate in part because of accusations of his committee’s responsibility for Welch’s death by his Republican opponent, Jim McClure.) [American Prospect, 11/5/2001; History Matters Archive, 3/27/2002; Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Final Report Excoriates CIA - The Committee’s final report concludes, “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The report is particularly critical of the CIA’s successful, and clandestine, manipulation of the US media. It observes: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.” The report identifies over 50 US journalists directly employed by the CIA, along with many others who were affiliated and paid by the CIA, and reveals the CIA’s policy to have “their” journalists and authors publish CIA-approved information, and disinformation, overseas in order to get that material disseminated in the United States. The report quotes the CIA’s Chief of the Covert Action Staff as writing, “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.…Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability.…The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage…. [The agency] must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” The report finds that over 1,000 books were either published, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA by the end of 1967; all of these books were published in the US either in their original form or excerpted in US magazines and newspapers. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the US media,” the report observes, “the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the US journalists and media organizations.”
CIA Withheld Info on Kennedy Assassination, Castro Plots, King Surveillance - The committee also finds that the CIA withheld critical information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from the Warren Commission, information about government assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba (see, e.g., November 20, 1975, Early 1961-June 1965, March 1960-August 1960, and Early 1963); and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mafia boss Sam Giancana was slated to testify before the committee about his organization’s ties to the CIA, but before he could testify, he was murdered in his home—including having six bullet wounds in a circle around his mouth. Another committee witness, union leader Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared before he could testify. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Mafia hitman Johnny Roselli was murdered before he could testify before the committee: in September 1976, the Washington Post will print excerpts from Roselli’s last interview, with journalist Jack Anderson, before his death; Anderson will write, “When [Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald.” (Anderson’s contention has not been proven.) The murders of Giancana and Roselli, and the disappearance and apparent murder of Hoffa, will lead to an inconclusive investigation by the House of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. [Spartacus Educational, 12/18/2002]
Leads to FISA - The findings of the Church Committee will inspire the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978), and the standing committees on intelligence in the House and Senate. [Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Simultaneous Investigation in House - The Church Committee operates alongside another investigative body in the House of Representatives, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976).
Church Committee Smeared After 9/11 - After the 9/11 attacks, conservative critics will once again bash the Church Committee; former Secretary of State James Baker will say within hours of the attacks that the Church report had caused the US to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities,” a sentiment echoed by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who will observe that the opening of the Church hearings was “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.” Perhaps the harshest criticism will come from conservative novelist and military historian Tom Clancy, who will say, “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations. And as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.” [Gerald K. Haines, 1/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Tom Clancy, William Colby, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Richard M. Nixon, HT Lingual, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jack Anderson, Frank Church, Church Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, James R. Hoffa, Pike Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., James A. Baker, Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy, Jim McClure, Johnny Roselli, Warren Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jim Adkisson as he is escorted from the church under heavy police escort.Jim Adkisson as he is escorted from the church under heavy police escort. [Source: Knoxville News Sentinel]Jim David Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee, enters the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) in Knoxville, Tennessee, during the morning performance of a children’s play, Annie Jr., and opens fire. Two people die from gunshot wounds; seven others are injured. No children are injured by Adkisson’s shooting spree. Greg McKendry, an usher, is shot while trying to protect members of the congregation and dies immediately. Linda Kraeger is shot in the face and dies shortly thereafter. Betty Barnhart, Joe Barnhart, Jack Barnhart, Linda Chavez, Allison Lee, Tammy Sommers, and John Worth Jr., are injured, three critically. [UUWorld, 7/28/2008]
Shooting - Adkisson enters the church quietly and removes a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun from a guitar case. He gets off three shots before being wrestled to the ground by church members. [NBC News, 7/18/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008] (Early news reports claim Adkisson fires up to 13 shots, a contention that is later proven erroneous.) [Agence France-Presse, 7/27/2008] According to eyewitness Sheila Bowen, the music director sees the shooting and yells, “Get the hell out of here, everybody!” [New York Times, 7/28/2008] “We heard the first shot,” says eyewitness Marty Murphy. “It sounded like a bomb went off. We thought it was part of the program at first. The second shot is when everyone started calling 911 and telling everyone to get down.” [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/28/2008] During the shooting, Adkisson shouts “hateful things,” according to witness Barbara Kemper, who minutes later attempts to comfort a young boy whose mother is wounded in the head by Adkisson’s shots. Kemper will not give details of what Adkisson shouts. [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008] Adkisson has a large cache of ammunition in his possession, but is unable to reload his weapon before being restrained; one of the congregants who tackles Adkisson, Jamie Parkey, later says that he and his fellow members “dog piled” Adkisson to the floor. “He had the gun leveled in our direction,” Parkey later tells a reporter. “That’s when I pushed my mother and daughter to the floor and got under the pew. When I saw the men rushing him was when I got up to join them.” Another eyewitness, Marty Murphy, later recalls: “There were shotgun shells all over the place, so he must have thought he was going to get more shots in. He had those shells everywhere.” Parkey’s 16-year-old daughter is in the play; his six-year-old daughter is in the sanctuary with Parkey. Neither are injured, though the younger daughter is extremely upset and covered in a victim’s blood. Police respond to the shooting within minutes and arrest Adkisson. Members Mark and Becky Harmon witness the shootings; Becky Harmon later tells a reporter: “Within seconds people were tackling him. The hardest part was there were so many children there and they all had to see this. It was just devastating.” [NBC News, 7/18/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008] Bowen says one of the men to wrestle Adkisson to the ground, history professor John Bohstedt, thought for a time that Adkisson had a bomb with him. She says of Bohstedt: “He moved very quickly and he assessed the situation very quickly. He’s sitting on this guy. He had a package with him, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and John was afraid that that might be a bomb, so John was screaming at everyone to get out.” The package turns out to be a prop for the play. [New York Times, 7/28/2008] Two witnesses call the first victim, McKendry, a hero for attempting to protect other congregants. “Greg McKendry stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us,” says Kemper. Taylor Bessette, McKendry’s foster son, adds, “Make sure everyone knows that Greg McKendry was a hero, a total hero.” McKendry acted as a human shield to protect the children on stage. “He stood in front of the bullets and… actually took the bullets to save the child,” Bessette says. [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008] Amira Parkey, a teenaged friend of Bissette’s, says of Adkisson: “This guy does not realize how many lives he totally destroyed. People who do this, they think they’ve got problems, but they destroy so many other people’s lives.” [New York Times, 7/28/2008]
Reactions from Congregation, Others - Parkey later says: “For the situation, everyone responded phenomenally. [Two TVUUC members] mobilized and got the kids out the back.” The play’s director, Vicki Masters, calls for the children to evacuate the building, and another woman ushers the children to a nearby Presbyterian church after Adkisson is subdued. “Everybody did exactly what they needed to do,” says Parkey’s wife Amy Broyles. “There was very little panic, very little screaming or hysteria. It’s a remarkable congregation of people. I’ve never seen such a loving response to such an overwhelming tragedy.” TVUUC member Mark Harmon says: “This is a very courageous congregation. Not just the three or four people who tackled the gunman, but also the religious education director who got the children out of the way, and the people afterward who consoled each other.” Unitarian Universalist Association president William G. Sinkford says after the shooting: “A tragedy such as this makes us acutely conscious of the beauty and fragility of our lives and those of our loved ones. I am especially saddened by this intrusion of violence into a worship service involving children and youth. I know that many people, both in Knoxville and around the country, are struggling with shock and grief right now. I pray that those so affected will find strength and comfort.” Parkey and Broyles are at the church to visit, but after the day’s events, they decide to join the church. Broyles later tells a reporter, “Now that this has happened, having experienced that with them today, we definitely want to be part of this congregation.” [NBC News, 7/18/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008]
Personal, Racial, Political Motives for Shooting - Adkisson apparantly has both personal and political motives for the shooting. His ex-wife, Liza Anderson, had been a member of the church years before, which may have been a personal reason for him selecting the church as the target of his violence. Additionally, Adkisson seems to have been triggered by a virulent hatred of liberals, blacks, gays, and Jews. Police find a four-page statement written by him in his car. According to Knoxville Police Department Chief Sterling Owen IV, Adkisson’s shooting was motivated by his “hatred of the liberal movement.… Liberals in general, as well as gays.” Owen also says that Adkisson blames liberals for his failure to get a job (see July 27, 2008 and After). TVUUC, like many UU churches, is active on behalf of the gay community. [UUWorld, 7/28/2008; Associated Press, 7/28/2008] “It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Owen says. And a longtime acquaintance, Carol Smallwood, tells a reporter that Adkisson is a loner who hates “blacks, gays, and anyone different from him.” In 2000, Adkisson’s ex-wife, Alexander, took out an order of protection against Adkisson, telling police that Adkisson often drank heavily and had threatened “to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out.” She told a judge that she was “in fear for my life and what he might do.” [Chancery Court of Anderson County, Tennessee, 3/1/2000 pdf file; Associated Press, 7/28/2008; CNN, 7/28/2008]
Guilty Plea - Several months later, Adkisson will plead guilty to the shootings, and will release the document to the press (see February 9, 2009).

Entity Tags: William G. Sinkford, Carol Smallwood, Vicki Masters, Taylor Bessette, Tammy Sommers, Allison Lee, Amy Broyles, Betty Barnhart, Becky Harmon, Barbara Kemper, Amira Parkey, Sterling Owen IV, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Marty Murphy, Jim David Adkisson, Joe Barnhart, Sheila Bowen, Greg McKendry, Jack Barnhart, John Bohstedt, Jamie Parkey, Linda Chavez (TVUUC), Mark Harmon, Liza Anderson, Linda Kraeger, John Worth, Jr

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An unrepentant Jim Adkisson, right, shares a laugh with his lawyer Mark Stephens during Adkisson’s court proceedings.An unrepentant Jim Adkisson, right, shares a laugh with his lawyer Mark Stephens during Adkisson’s court proceedings. [Source: Lisa Hudson / AP]Jim David Adkisson, charged with killing two and wounding seven in his attack on a Tennessee church congregation (see July 27, 2008), pleads guilty to all charges in a Knoxville, Tennessee, courthouse. Adkisson has accepted a sentence of life in prison. District Attorney General Randall Nichols tells the court that Adkisson “knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victims murdered,” and that the murders “were committed in the course of an act of terrorism.” In his explanation for his actions, given in a four-page document found in his car in the minutes after the shooting (see July 27, 2008 and After), Adkisson said his motives were rooted in patriotism and a desire to kill political liberals. The same day he pleads guilty, Adkisson releases the document to the press, though the local sheriff denies him access to reporters who may wish to interview him. Adkisson’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he advised Adkisson to go to trial using an insanity defense, but Adkisson refused, saying the plea deal is “the honorable thing to do.” Stephens adds: “He pled guilty to everything he was charged with. He accepted his responsibility. I’m sorry for those folks that went through that ordeal.” One of the congregation members who wrestled Adkisson to the ground during the shooting spree, John Bohstedt, responds to Stephens’s contention by saying: “There’s no insanity defense that I can see, unbalance, yes, bitter, yes, evil, yes.… I’m sickened that he shows no signs of remorse.” Tammy Sommers, who is recuperating from shotgun wounds inflicted by Adkisson, says, “He needs to stay in prison, which is what’s happening.” A convict who spent time in jail with Adkisson, Matthew David Chamberlain, says Adkisson told him that the motive behind the attack was purely ideological. “He said if he got out [of prison], he’d do it again,” Chamberlain says. Local citizen Brian Griffith believes Chamberlain is correct, and echoes the sentiments of many local residents by saying he was offended by Adkisson’s demeanor in court. “Today, he just sat there and sneered and seemed proud of it,” Griffith says. Church choir leader Vicki Masters, a witness to the shootings, agrees. “When he first came out into the courtroom, he had a look of sheer evil, he really did—evil as well as arrogance,” she says. “And he sat down after he looked around, and then he used his third finger to scratch the back of his head, with an air of arrogance and just pure evil. Those are the only words I can use to describe what I saw.” However, many church members say they are glad Adkisson chose to accept a plea, thus avoiding the necessity of the children who witnessed the shooting having to relive it in court. The Reverend William Sinkford, president of the Universalist Unitarian Society, says, “I am glad that the perpetrator is able to acknowledge publicly in the legal process what he did, and I am also glad that this community and church are not subjected to public trial.” [CNN, 2/9/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009; WATE, 2/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Stephens, Brian Griffith, John Bohstedt, William G. Sinkford, Matthew David Chamberlain, Tammy Sommers, Jim David Adkisson, Randall Nichols, Vicki Masters

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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