Don't Call Killer's Actions 'American,' Gibbs Tells Russian Reporter

January 13, 2011

Mark Memmott

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There is nothing "American" about the "deranged actions of a madman" who would kill six people and shoot another 13 at a Tucson strip mall on a Saturday morning in January, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs sternly told a Russian reporter today at the White House.

It's sometimes part of a White House press secretary's job to correct what he or she sees as the mistaken impressions of foreign reporters -- and Gibbs did just that. You can listen and we'll put the transcript below:

Reporter: "First my condolences to all the Americans, especially obviously to the victims. But second as to why -- it does not seem all that incomprehensible, at least from the outside. It's the reverse side of freedom. Unless you want restrictions, unless you want a bigger role for the government ..."

Gibbs: "Well, let me do this -- because, look, I think there’s a -- there’s an investigation that’s going to go on -- there's a ..."

Reporter: "No ..."

Gibbs: "Hold on, let me -- let me take my time back just for a second. I think there's an investigation that's going to go on. I think there are -- I think as it goes on, we will learn more and more about what happened.

"I think as the president was clear last night, we may never know fully why or how. We may never have an understanding of why, as the president said, in the dark recesses of someone’s mind, a violent person’s mind, do actions like this spring forward.  I don't want to surmise or think in the future of what some of that might be.

"But I think it's important to understand that, as I said earlier, the event that was happening that day was the exercise of some very important, very foundational freedoms to this country: the freedom of speech; the freedom to assemble; the freedom to petition your government; democracy or a form of self-government that is of, by and for the people -- all of -- all very quintessential American values that have been on display along with the tremendous courage and resilience of those in that community and throughout this country that have had to deal with this tragedy.

"Yes."

Reporter: "Exactly, Robert.  But this is what I was talking about -- exactly this. This is America, the democracy, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition your government.  And many people outside would also say -- and the quote, unquote 'freedom' of a deranged mind to react in a violent way is also American.  How do you respond to that?"

Gibbs: "I'm sorry. What’s the last part?"

Reporter: "The quote, unquote 'freedom' of the deranged mind to respect -- to react violently to that, it is also American."

[Another reporter is then overheard on the recording saying "No, it’s not."]

Gibbs: "No, no, I would disagree vehemently with that. There are -- there is nothing in the values of our country, there's nothing on the many laws on our books that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day. That is not American.

"There are -- I think there's agreement on all sides of the political spectrum: Violence is never, ever acceptable. We had people that died. We had people whose lives will be changed forever because of the deranged actions of a madman. Those are not American. Those are not in keeping with the important bedrock values by which this country was founded and by which its citizens live each and every day of their lives in hopes of something better for those that are here.

"Thank you."

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