Bill Sparkman, the 51-year old Census worker who was hanged to death in Kentucky, was found “naked, gagged and had his hands and feet bound with duct tape.” A witness reports Sparkman also “had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.” The word “fed” was scrawled on his chest in a felt-tip pen, and his “Census ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area.”
The gruesome lynching of this Census worker seems to bear a disturbing similarity to some of the worst hate crimes committed across this country. Regardless of what the motive for the killing may have been, why would a murderer(s) take such pains to so blatantly convey anger, fear, and vitriol towards a Census employee? Perhaps because some on the right have created an impression that Census employees are terrifying.
Earlier this summer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) waged a high-profile, wildly-dishonest campaign against the Census. The Minnesota congresswoman said she was so worried about the threat of the government asking “very intricate questions” and collecting information that she would illegally refuse to fill out the form. “They will be in charge of going door to door and collecting data from the American public,” she said. “This is very concerning.” She repeatedly used inflammatory and fear-mongering rhetoric against the Census:
— “I think there is a point when you say enough is enough to government intrusion.” [6/25/09]
— “If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the census bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations, at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps.” [6/25/09]
“You will receive approximately six contacts from them [Census workers], either through phone calls or they will knock on your door. If you still do not give them the information, they said they’ll contact your neighbor to the left of you, to the right of you to get information.” [6/25/09]
Bachmann’s irrational diatribes about scary stalking Census workers quickly spawned a right-wing movement. During an interview with Bachmann, Fox News’ Glenn Beck said, “Ok, so let me talk about the Census because there’s a lot of people that are concerned with it because they don’t want to fill it out, they’re not comfortable with ACORN members coming to find out all this information, they don’t want to give the government all this kind of information.”
Conservative radio host Neal Boortz told a caller, “Most of the rest of the [Census] information is designed to help the government steal from you in order to pass off your property to the moochers. They’re looters.” Boortz urged his listeners to resist the Census workers. “If somebody comes to my — if a burglar came to your house, are you going to show him where the silverware is?” he asked. “Maybe you will if he pulls out a gun.”
The Washington Post reports that violence against Census workers is a growing concern:
Census takers who die on the job typically succumb to strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But violence against field workers, while rare, is an ongoing concern.
The 2000 Census was marked by a spate of violence. In Indiana, a pack of dogs mauled a census taker to death. A California census taker was grabbed and forced into her car after a homeowner ordered her to leave and she lingered, trying to explain the importance of the Census. A Denver census taker was hijacked and stabbed, and in Chicago, a census taker was thrown down a flight of stairs.
This year, a county manager in New Mexico warned that many people take their property rights seriously, and some might shoot at census takers who trespass.
A subsequent investigation concluded the Sparkman committed suicide.