Oklahoma Republican congressman Rep. James Lankford said at a town hall meeting in Oklahoma City earlier this month that blame for gun violence in the U.S. falls on the shoulders of "welfare moms" who commit fraud. According to video published by Think Progress on Tuesday, Lankford was answering a question from a constituent who was concerned that "psychotropic drugs" are to blame for recent tragedies involving high powered assault weapons and multiple deaths.
The constituent, a woman in a gray, zippered polar fleece and jeans, can be seen in a video of the event asking the congressman, "My question is regarding the guns and is Washington at all aware of the psychotropic drugs that these children are taking? I guarantee it, 100 percent, that’s our big problem. I'm a little afraid of what I'm hearing about the psychiatric, uh, bent, as far as running people through nurses and psychologists because they want to put 'em on drugs."
Her statement falls in line with theories put forth by pro-gun advocate and professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, proprietor of InfoWars.com and who infamously blamed the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut on "CIA mass murder pills" like Prozac and other antidepressants during a bizarre, rambling interview with CNN's Piers Morgan.
Lankford replied, "I agree with that. I believe that there's a bunch of issues that, quite frankly, most liberals are afraid to talk about. Where are we on all the violent movies? Where are we on all those violent video games? Where are we as a culture? We've disconnected from a lot of those things. Where are we on all those psychiatric drugs? We're overmedicating kids."
"Quite frankly," he went on, "some of the overmedication of kids are because welfare moms want to get additional benefits and if they can put them on SSI through maintenance drugs, they can also put them on Social Security disability and get a separate check. That is wrong on every single level. Not only is it fraudulent to the government, but it also tells a kid with great potential, 'don’t try because you’re disabled.'"
Lanford's remarks fall back on a number of familiar conservative tropes like the demonization of people on public assistance. During his 1976 presidential campaign, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan (R) talked about a mythical "welfare queen" who drove a Cadillac and had "eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."
Reagan also evoked the specter of "strapping young bucks" using food stamps to "buy T-bone steaks," images that inflamed white, conservative America's racial animus and constant suspicion that somehow, somewhere, people of color are getting a "free ride."
The Reagan tropes were also echoed in former Speaker of the House Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA)'s attacks on President Barack Obama during the Republican primary in which he called Obama the "food stamp president." Republican message craftsmen like these terms because they can spring racial tripwires in voters' minds without explicitly mentioning skin color.
In the words of veteran Republican strategist Lee Atwater in 1981, "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can’t say 'nigger' —- that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites...'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'”
Raw Story contacted Lankford's Washington office requesting elucidation on the connection between gun violence and welfare fraud as well as asking whether the congressman subscribes to the theories of Alex Jones. We were told that the office's communications director had "just stepped out." We await their reply.
Watch the video, embedded below via Think Progress: