A Lynching?

Filed in National by on September 23, 2009

From the AP:

The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery, and a law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word ‘fed” was scrawled on the dead man’s chest.

The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and occasional teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment.

Presented without my usual comment on the violent tendencies of the right wing.

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  1. Miscreant says:

    Any theories on why this wasn’t reported until now?

  2. I find this very scary. I hope this isn’t the beginning of something horrible. The rightwing bashing of census workers in particular (I’m looking at you Michelle Bachmann) has been particularly troubling.

  3. Steve Newton says:

    I would be careful with this one; among other things the word “fed” may have as much to do with drug trafficking as with current politics.

    From Facing South [link below]:

    In recent years the Daniel Boone National Forest has become a center for illegal drug production, with numerous marijuana plots and meth labs. A story about lawlessness in the park that appeared in Harper’s magazine last year reported that attacks and threats against Forest Service employees there have increased more than fivefold in the past decade.


  4. Steve Newton says:

    Help! comment with link to update in queue

  5. pandora says:

    Consider yourself rescued! 😉

  6. Steve Newton says:

    Thanks. It is amazing that this story hasn’t yet picked up major MSM coverage.

  7. Delaware Dem says:

    It just broke this afternoon, Steve. It is getting wide circulation on the blogosphere now. I have no idea why this story did not break until now (a delay of two weeks). You are right about the other possibilities also, hence the way I couched this post.

  8. Steve Newton says:

    I cannot find a link, but I recall the killing of a fed–a DEA agent I believe–near that forest around 2000. I cannot swear to it, but I seem to remember reading at the time that the drug runners suspected the DEA guys of going undercover as census workers, or of using the census workers as informants.

    On the Occam’s Razor scale of things, it just makes more sense in this case as a motivation than generalized anti-government rage.

    But what do I know? Certainly been wrong before.

  9. Steve,

    We just don’t know anything yet. It could be anti-government related or it could be someone trying to cover their tracks.

  10. Delaware Dem says:

    If it was a drug related-undercover DEA Agent-killing, that would explain the delay in this news breaking. Given the history of that region, and given the political landscape today, I’d say it is 50-50 as to whether a drug runner killed the census worker or whether a right wing Beck loving racist Christianist murderer did it. 😉

  11. Some details are emerging about the victim. It’s quite a tragedy. Reading between the lines on this article, it sounds like this story didn’t start going around until it was revealed that the word “FED” had been written on the victim’s body.

    William E. Sparkman Jr. was a 51-year-old single father who once battled Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma while he pursued his teaching degree, according to a March 2008 article profiling the London, Kentucky man.

    Sparkman worked two jobs while he earned his degree and was treated for cancer.

    How sad is it that this man survived cancer only to be murdered?

  12. UI — as if it would be less sad if he had not battled cancer?

  13. Delaware Dem says:

    No, RWR, she is not saying that. You know what she means.

  14. No, but it is like this story that I commented on at my site, about a teacher murdered by a special education student in his classroom this morning.

    I saw some comments at one news site about how sad it was that he had just gotten married 10 months ago — would it have been any less sad if he had remained single or if he had been married for 30 years?

    The tragedy is that someone’s life has been taken for no good reason — and the extraneous details of biography don’t make it any more sad (or less sad).

    By the way, folks — until a bit more is known, wouldn’t the responsible thing be to lay off the talk of lynching? After all, there were folks here who criticized the rush to judgment of some regarding the Belleville school bus beating being a hate crime — doesn’t this case deserve a similar sort of restraint?

  15. Delaware Dem says:

    Well, hanging a man no matter what the motive or circumstance is a lynching. The only reason I put a question mark there is because there is also some question as to whether this was a suicide. If it was not, it was a lynching, no matter if the culprit is a drug runner or a right wing sociopath.

    And I understand what you are saying about the deaths of this census worker and the teacher in Texas being tragedies without the further details of their respective lives. It is just something we say. We cannot comprehend the irony of surviving cancer only to get murdered, so we say it. We can’t comprehend the tragedy of being killed after just getting married, so we say it. We don’t imply that if the census worker had a clean medical history it would be any less of a tragedy, and we don’t mean to imply that if the teacher was single or married for 30 years it is any less of a tragedy. It is just something we say.

  16. DD — I respectfully dissent as to your first paragraph. Lynching has some very definite connotations that go beyond what you state, usually with heavy overtones of race. And the term lynching would apply to such a killing by means other than hanging. I’m just uncomfortable with the word — especially when you seem to gleefully intimate who you think may have done it, as if the acts of one individual delegitimize the political views of tens of millions of others who may share similar religious or political beliefs.

    And as for the second part, I understand your point — but I’m just troubled by the notion that we are somehow less diminished by the death murder of someone because of an accident of biography. As a former colleague whose daughter was murdered in a random drive-by once commented (and I paraphrase), “People say that it is so tragic that my daughter was murdered at Christmas time. It is — but it isn’t any more tragic than if she had been murdered a month later. What is sad is that she is gone, not the date her life was taken — and the page on the calendar doesn’t make a bit of difference in the sense of loss or the senselessness of her death.”

  17. I think the reason people say things like that is that details of someone’s life humanizes them and makes them seem less like a statistic. You’re right RWR, marriage or cancer does not make someone’s death less tragic.

  18. DTG in STL says:

    By the way, folks — until a bit more is known, wouldn’t the responsible thing be to lay off the talk of lynching?

    It’s the textbook definition of a lynching. Rope + tree + victim + murderer = lynching. Period. Regardless of the skin color of the victim (Sparkman was white).

    We can surmise this much: Sparkman appears to have been murdered, and the murderer(s) harbored deep resentments against the federal government, and in marking the man with the word “FED” across his chest, they were trying to terrorize other federal workers.

    Obviously, we don’t know whether this was motivated by Beck/Bachmann sycophant’s hatred for the U.S. Census Bureau and the Obama Administration or a drug dealer’s hatred for the DEA, but regardless of the motive, by all appearances, this man was lynched.

    That’s what you call it when you hang someone from a tree and use it to send a message.

    A lynching. Let’s not sugarcoat it. And let’s not act as if it it is any less tragic if it was done by a paranoid meth cook.

  19. LaNuit says:

    Wait a second. RWR is fucking arguing about what the “connotations” of lynching are?

    They murdered a black census worker because, of course, they’re apart of the evil ACORN conspiracy to take over the world.

    I blame Glenn Beck. I’m serious.

  20. LaNuit,

    The victim was white, not that it makes it any better. DTG is right – rope + tree + murder = lynching.

  21. Not if you look in the dictionary.

  22. RICO says:

    Lynch: to be put to death by a mob without legal sanction.

    Merriam Webster

  23. DTG in STL says:

    Not if you look in the dictionary.

    From dictionary.com:


    – To punish (a person) without legal process or authority, especially by hanging, for a perceived offense or as an act of bigotry.

    There’s no denying that lynching in America is generally tied to racially motivated murders of African-Americans. That said, while African-Americans have made up the vast majority of American lynching victims, they aren’t the ONLY lynching victims in U.S. history.

    Case in point… Leo Frank, a white Jew from Atlanta, GA whose death penalty conviction was overturned for the rape and murder of a young girl. (Evidence since suggests that he wasn’t in fact the killer, but perhaps an accomplice).

    And while most lynchings have been associated with mobs of people, a young black man named Micahel Donald was lynched at random in 1981 by two KKK members – not a mob action, not motivated by a sense of vigilante “justice”, just a random killing of a black man motivated by racial animosity. It was called a lynching because he was hung from a tree (though he was already dead when they hung him), and it was done to send a message.

    Much the same, Mr. Sparkman was apparantly hung from the tree… to send a message. He was murdered without legal process or authority, by hanging, for a perceived offense (working for the Census Bureau). Textbook definition of lynching.

    Unless this is determined to be a suicide – and there’s no reason to believe that a single father cancer survivor who pursued his teaching degree while undergoing chemo would be suicidal – then this was in fact… a lynching.

  24. I’ll stand with the Merriam-Websters definition — to put to death, esp. by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.

    We seem to be lacking the mob action here.

  25. susan says:

    To Rhymes with Right, I am very sorry to hear about your daughter and can not imagine the pain you go through over her loss. I think that is more important to acknowledge than the term lynching by others here. And starting something not known with who or why is just plain wrong. As stated before you can’t judge millions by a few stupid people who can’t think and reason for themselves. Give the millions who can and do think and reason for themselves some credit. No one wants to be accused of something they don’t approve of and didn’t and wouldn’t do so give it a rest please. Think how you would feel it the shoe was on the other foot. Ever heard that expression! No one is perfect.

  26. liberalgeek says:

    It was not RwR’s daughter, it was a former colleague.

  27. DTG in STL says:

    I’ll stand with the Merriam-Websters definition — to put to death, esp. by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.

    We seem to be lacking the mob action here

    So Michael Donald wasn’t a lynching victim then?

    His killing was certainly motivated by the racist rants of the local KKK in Mobile, Alabama, but it was carried out by only two Klan members in that area. And the local Klan didn’t instruct the two killers to specifically kill Mr. Donald. Hence, it wasn’t perpetrated by a “mob”, per se. Just two racist Klan assholes on a mission to kill a black man, any black man. Mr. Donald happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time that night. His only offense, real or perceived, was that he was black.

    And yet, you will find no one who disputes that Mr. Donald was in fact the victim of a lynching. Even though he wasn’t hung by a “mob”.

    But if you apply the extremely literal language of Merriam-Webster, Mr. Donald was not lynched.

    I think anyone who would claim that Micahel Donald wasn’t lynched… is an asshole.

    If Mr. Sparkman was the victim of a homicide, he was lynched, given the circumstances of his death. The only way this wasn’t a lynching is if he committed suicide, which seems extremely unlikely at this point. Whether you agree or not.

  28. I’m going to abandon this line of discussion here, lest we spend any more time debating the semantic issue and lose sight of the fact that Mr. Sparkman’s murder is a terrible event and unacceptable in the eyes of all of us, regardless of the motive and whether or not the term lynching is a appropriate term to apply to it.

  29. And susan — I appreciate the sentiment, despite your error. And i know that Judy would be moved by that sentiment were she to read them, so I pass my thanks on to you on her behalf.

  30. donviti says:

    rwr wins the trophy for typical troll behavior and you morons win the trophy for entertaining this asshole.

  31. donviti says:

    I also like how the Dictionary gets used when RWR likes too. Sort of like the bible too.

    what a joke you are.

  32. Art Downs says:

    When JFK was shot, there were news reports that implied a ‘right wing plot’. Lee Harvey Oswald certainly did not fit that pattern.

    Then there is the sloppy use of the term ‘lynching’. The term was properly used for an extrajudicial execution of a presumed criminal. Hanging was long the common mode of such lynching (it takes a lot more effort to build an electric chair than it does to tie a certain knot) but murder by hanging is not always a lynching.

    A lot of black men were hanged by New York thugs during the Draft Riots but these victims were not even suspects of any crime. They were simply murdered.

    The lynching of the Mafia defendants in New Orleans came after their acquittal in a trial where there was substantial jury tampering. Some were hanged and others shot. The group that imposed this ‘extrajudicial punishment’ was middle class and included some African-American members.

    Perhaps it might be best to avoid the exploitation of an incident before all the facts are in.

    Remember Al Sharpton and Tawana Brawley.

  33. MJ says:

    I suppose if we all said the sky was blue and beautiful, RWR would argue that it would be just as beautiful if it weren’t blue (and then argue that it wasn’t blue at all). He just likes to argue and pick fights because otherwise, he’d be a lonely, right-wing nut case. Oh wiat, he is a lonely right-wing nut case.

  34. Geezer says:

    In the “note of caution” file, add the Lindsay Bonistall murder at a UD off-campus apartment a few years back. The killer, who is black, scrawled racist graffiti on the apartment walls, misleading the media for several days about the nature of the incident. I recall reporting that speculated on whether she had been the victim of someone angry because she was dating an African-American. It was all just a red herring.

  35. If this happened in Maine people would call it a hanging.

  36. RICO says:

    why are libs so sloppy with language?

    so eager to blurr the definition of words until they become meaningless.

  37. JustTheFacts says:


    Sloppy with language? This from the people who brought you the labels: socialism, “new world order”, communism for everything they don’t like.

    Give. me. a. break.

  38. a. price says:

    RICO and RWR are intentionally being blind to reality. First RWR argues what a lynching is. then, after he is presented with a dictionary definition, he tries to change the subject, or argue that the reason the person was killed is not relevant. RICO just throws out some random slam against liberals and tried to present it as an argument.
    hey kids, this isnt the first time this year people from the right wing have used violence (the gun nut in pitt. who killed all those cops cause Glenn Beck told him Obama was coming to take his guns) Bachmann, and Beck have caused these uneducated pieces of white trash (MOST of the Confederacy) to think the evil Nazi Socialist Muslim is sending ACORN workers to their town to sodomize their sons, burn their bibles, force them to pay for illegal immigrant health care, and take all their guns, bibles, and baconaise. im sure you guys are level headed people who would never so such a horrible thing, but you need to wake up and realize these discussions are
    they are about the irresponsible political posturing, the need for t.v ratings, the bold face lies being spewed by these people (backmann, beck, et all) and the gun humping bible beating racist “patriots” who listen to them and believe them. Glenn Beck LOVES Obama. TRUST ME. His ratings have spiked, it’s like how Jon Stewart owes his success to the Bush administration. It isn’t about you RWR, it isn’t about you RICO.

  39. RICO says:

    the FBI is “still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide”

    But aprice knows it was a lynching by a mob of right wing Beckian hate mongers.

    thanks for setting us straight.

  40. mike w. says:

    RICO – Given what was said in the article it looks more like a murder than a suicide at this point. Im betting it’s drug related.

    Either way an innocent man is dead.

  41. a.price says:

    right because someone killing them self goes to a lot of trouble to make it look like a murder. I bet is was Obama. he killed the guy and wrote FED on him to make it look like the right wing.. just like he killed his grandmother and fixed his birth certificate right before the election.
    or maybe it was like that moron girl who was working for McCain and carved a B into her face and said a black man did it because he saw her McCain P(alin)ig sticker and wanted to teach her a lesson. Im sure the fact that the right is stirring the crazy pot, and Ky already has just a ducky record when it comes to racial tolerance it HAS to be a suicide made to look like a hate crime.
    RICO, instead of going back and forth between denying that the growing violent extreme right wing exists and defending them as “patriots exercising their rights” why not work to make the right wing not so horrible. I’m not talking about policy, or beliefs, while i disagree on most of it, it is still a valid position worth debating and finding common ground with I’m talking about practice. Im talking about “we came unarmed THIS TIME”. I sad how many on the right may very well dislike these tactics, but they are either too scared of their own ilk to stand up to them, or too stupid to come up with a better way. So they deny it is happening, or defend it kinda, or worse join in because at least killing fellow Americans is better than a country run by a Muslim Nazi Socialist Pro-gay wanna be abortion doc who wants to kill grandma right?

  42. RICO says:

    aprice, take the pills the doctor gave you, it will quiet the voices in your head.

  43. Progressive Mom says:

    “Either way an innocent man is dead.”

    …wait for it… RICO and RWR will ask: how do you know he’s innocent? And what do you mean by innocent? Because they knew a guy once who was found dead, but he was a drug dealer/child molester/ awful person who didn’t park within the lines.

    Then RICO will call you some names, and RWR will go off to another thread to sucker punch someone else.

    DonvitiinAmersterdam is right.

  44. Bullshit, PM — I’ll presume his innocence (and that it was a murder) until presented with evidence to the contrary.

  45. mike w. says:

    Actually progressive mom, in my experience the libs here are quick to assume guilt. They only believe in innocent until proven guilty in some cases.

    Hell if it involves guns everyone is automatically guilty until proven otherwise.

  46. a.price says:

    New details breaking at this hour. he was found bound in duct tape, naked and his cencus worker id taped to his neck. Still think it is a sucicide RICO? how bout you RWR? this is only going to get worse. these pathetic ecxuses for humanity called thr right wing are going to keep killing innocent Americans untill something is done.

  47. I’ve said that I presume it is murder until told otherwise.

    And what do you want done, a.price? Suspension of the First Amendment? Imprisonment of known conservative activists as accessories to murder for daring to criticize the government? Involuntary commitment for “psychiatric treatment” like was popular in the USSR?

    What, exactly, do you propose?

  48. A. price says:

    im talking about you terrorists policing yourself. ask yourself what your love for country really means. do you love it enough to tone your own people down? if you see someone planning violence will your party affiliation trump any desire to not see fellow americans hurt? or are those of us who like the Nazi Muslim not “real Americans:” to you. you people are the only ones who can do anything. if we suspend your rights, you’ll just get more violent. there is no denying it anymore. no explaining it away as happenstance, isolated innocents…. whatever.
    Until the right wing decided they love America MORE than they hate Obama, people are going to continue to die at the hands of violent extremists who want to force their political will on a democratic majority because they are sore losers.

  49. I don’t know anyone on my side of the political aisle who would not act to stop violence.

    But as far as “toning down” the rhetoric, I won’t even suggest that. After all, dissent is patriotic — isn’t that right, my liberal friends? So other than trying to stop direct incitement of violence, I won’t say a word to limit the speech of my fellow conservatives.

  50. A. price says:

    but it is clear that this “dissent” is directly inciting violence. that is what you are so blind to. how much more proof do you need… what atrocity committed on behalf of or by the insane birthers and the flat out hateful people will it take to convince you that these people are told it is ok to fel what they are feeling. Because this group of outsiders who don’t like them are trying to destroy their country, will it BY glenn beck, and BY rush limbaugh. Never mind those “outsiders” were picked by a large majority of Americans…. but i guess democracy doesn’t count when the Right Wing Loses.

  51. Actually, it isn’t at all clear that the dissent is directly inciting violence.

    It also isn’t clear that you know what “directly inciting violence” means.

    Of course, it seems that you not only want to control what people say, you also want to control what they think and feel. The only way you are going to get control of those things is by that Soviet mental hospital process that I mentioned, with dissent being declared mental illness by the government.

  52. A. price says:

    Dissent it totally different from terrorism. you could call the iraqi insurgency dissenters. but no. they are the enemy.
    This was a murder carried out because of political views. that is not a protected form of speech. The man who assassinated Lincoln though he was within his constitutional rights and was defending his country. Upholding freedom has always been used as an excuse to commit murder. Implying that someone is destroying the country….. that their continued existence will result in enslavement of white people and mandatory rejection of God or whatever the Bachmanns and Becks want us to believe so people will pay attention to them ….. will surely and obviously drive someone to “defend the country” by “killing the enemy within”. They may not say “go hurt people” but you have to be in a very deep state of denial to not see what is going to happen.

  53. You are trying to limit political speech because of how someone reacts to it. That is what you are ultimately calling for.

    I heard much worse political speech out of you folks on the Left during the last eight years. If your point of view were to have been adopted by the Bush Administration, Kos would be in Gitmo along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

  54. A. price says:

    not for lack of trying on the part of the VP…. but not once have i said anything about anything government imposed. It has to come from within the deranged movement. It is obvious what will happen if you tell scared ignorant people with a cultural history of violence “in defense of liberty” that the country is under attack. Your continued denial that the violence will inly increase as the push for ratings also increases either shows your staggering ignorance of history, or it signals a tacit endorsement of the likely outcome of this “political movement”. Either way your actions do nothing to stop the march toward violence. Americans killing Americans. That is what you refuse to stop.

  55. Gee, but that wouldn’t be political hate speech, with you claiming that the elected vice president was actually out to imprison political dissenters and that conservatism is a “deranged movement.”

    Let me guess — you were part of the “BusHitler” crowd, or at least never said a word to criticize it.