By CARL HULSE and KATE ZERNIKE
WASHINGTON — The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.
While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.
Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, seemed to capture the mood of the day at an evening news conference when he said it was time for the country to “do a little soul-searching.”
“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”
In the hours immediately after the shooting of Ms. Giffords, a Democrat, and others in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, members of both parties found rare unity in their sorrow. Top Republicans including Speaker John A. Boehner and Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona quickly condemned the violence.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”
President Obama made a brief appearance at the White House, calling the shooting an “unspeakable act” and promising to “get to the bottom of this.”