Christina Taylor Green might well have made the world a better place someday. According to reports, Christina had just been elected to her elementary school’s Student Council. Her neighbor brought her along to Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s community event in the corner Safeway parking lot. She thought it would be of interest to this young, budding public servant.

Nine years old, a ballerina, a ball-player, a student councilmember and a beloved daughter, Christina Taylor Green was felled by a would-be assasin’s bullet.

Tragedies do happen. Innocent people, even children, are caught in cross hairs every day in this country. But these were no ordinary cross hairs. These cross hairs appeared on the website of an immensely high-profile political leader, indeed that of a former U.S. vice-presidential candidate: Tea Party spokesperson Sarah Palin. This map targeted, with the cross hairs of a gun barrel, Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). And to reinforce this map of “targets,” Palin tweeted to conservatives last year “Don’t Retreat…Reload.”

These cross hairs hung in the air when 2010 Congressional-candidate Sharron Angle, another Tea Party favorite, said in an interview that people should exercise their Second Amendment Remedies.

These crosshairs were present at a campaign stunt which Giffords’ Tea Party-backed congressional opponent Jesse Kelly staged. Kelly’s campaign event website posted a photo of him in his Marine uniform holding his gun, advertising a target shooting event: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Palin, Angle, Kelly and the Tea Party neither pulled the trigger nor can be said to be responsible for the shootings. They have rightly decried the violence. The suspected shooter, Jared Lee Laughner’s Internet rants seem to indicate mental instability and radical right-wing delusions. But so far there is no indication that he believes he was following instructions from any particular public figures.

No, they are not “behind the shootings.” But neither have they acknowledged the dangerous potential of their violent rhetoric. They have not repudiated their remarks or election tactics. They are not personally to blame for the tragedy. But can anyone say that they bear no responsibility for creating the cross hairs in which 20 innocent people were caught?

Pima County Arizona’s Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said in the Press Conference following the shooting, “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about the vitriol that inflames American public opinion by the people who make a living off of that. That may be free speech but it’s not without consequences.”

So, no. These were no ordinary cross hairs. And in them a well-loved public servant, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot through the brain. Six people were killed. Fourteen more were injured. And Christina, a child embarking on her own mission of public citizenship in her school, was caught in them and brutally murdered.

Incendiary rhetoric has ballooned in the past two years and has crafted the cruelest of cross hairs. This climate of hate threatens us all.

Karen Dolan is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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