N.C.-based evangelist Franklin Graham is defending Sarah Palin against accusations from some that her use of gun imagery and rhetoric are partly to blame for the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.
In a statement posted late Tuesday on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site, Graham said he was "shocked" at such accusations and called the former Republican governor of Alaska "a kind and compassionate God-fearing woman."
"Whether you agree with her politics or not, it is outrageous to suggest that her political opinions encourage violence toward anyone," the statement said.
The shooting of Giffords and others in Tuscon last Saturday has prompted a national debate over whether harsh rhetoric - in political campaigns, on the Internet, on radio and TV - has created such a toxic political environment that some may resort to violence.
Some commentators and Democratic members of Congress have pointed to a map Palin posted on Facebook last year that showed some congressional districts - including Rep. Giffords - in crosshairs. Palin also urged supporters to "reload" their efforts to unseat congressional Democrats running for office last year.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., whose uncles - John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy - were assassinated, recently cited Palin's map in comments to Politico.
"When Sarah Palin puts targets on people's districts? Or you have 10,000 signs on the mall during the healthcare battle saying 'Bury Obamacare with (Ted) Kennedy?" he said. "When the vitriol and the rhetoric is so violent, we have to connect consequences to that."
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