Washington (CNN) - Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told political supporters Tuesday that there needs to be a concerted effort by Arizona Republicans to help create a safe environment for people with opposing political ideologies, following the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.
Sanders, an independent who aligns himself with the Democratic Party, went as far as to specifically call on his colleague, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to lead the effort.
“First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate,” Sanders wrote in note that also solicited political contributions. “Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred.”
Sanders then listed previous acts of vandalism at Giffords’ office, and he referenced Sarah Palin’s political campaign that targeted 20 Democrats including Giffords for defeat in 2010. A graphic for the Palin campaign effort had crosshairs placed over the 20 individual Democratic districts.
And Sanders also noted that there were other “threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona,” and he named Rep. Raul Grijalva and former Rep. Harry Mitchell as well as federal judge John Roll, who was killed in the shooting Saturday in Tucson.
“In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process? Sanders wrote in the e-mail. “Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?
“My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack. I commend him for that. But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more. As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.”
Michael Briggs, Sanders’ spokesman, said the Vermont senator had not spoken to McCain prior to sending the e-mail but intended to talk to him about it.
A McCain aide said the senator was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Republicans zeroed in on the fact that Sanders addresses political fundraising in the first graph of the nearly 1,600-word e-mail.
“I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign,” he wrote. “There is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me. Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated.”
Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, charged that Sanders was using the Tucson tragedy for political gain.
“We will leave it up to the voters to decide the appropriateness of Sen. Sander’s decision to raise campaign donations off of the murder of six Americans,” said Walsh.
But Briggs denied that was the case and offered up this explanation:
“This was an e-mail letter that the senator’s campaign sends out, and will continue to send out, to supporters in Vermont and around the country on a regular basis,” Briggs said in the statement sent to CNN. “This quite long newsletter gives the senator’s views on the major issues facing our country. Most of the space in this newsletter dealt with the senator’s views on the economic implications of what will be happening in the new Congress. Given the enormity of the tragedy in Arizona, however, it would have been absurd not to comment on what happened there.
“The main point that the senator made about Arizona is that given the fact that Rep. Giffords’ office was attacked last year after her vote for health care reform, that a protester had previously brought a gun to an event she held, that Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva had to close his district office when someone shot a bullet through his window, that former Rep. Harry Mitchell had to suspend a town meeting in his district because of threatening phone calls and that Judge John Roll had received numerous threatening calls and death threats, one should not have been completely surprised by the tragedy of last Saturday. There is clearly a pervasive climate of fear and violence in Arizona and the senator very much hopes that the state’s leading public officials will do what they can to create more civility so that people there can express their political views without fear,” Briggs said in the statement.
“As he always does, the senator devoted one sentence in a four-page newsletter to thanking his supporters and another sentence indicating that their support in the future would be appreciated,” Briggs added.
Sanders served 16 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2006.