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Arizona — Across the political spectrum, the first reactions to the news of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting Saturday were horror and grief. For many in the tea party movement, another reaction quickly followed: Don’t try blaming this on us, too.

The populist conservative movement – which exploded across the political landscape in 2009 in angry opposition to what activists saw as the overreaching big government agenda pushed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats – has from the beginning struggled to debunk a storyline that its fiery rhetoric pushed followers towards violence.

So when details emerged after Gifford’s shooting that seemed to further that narrative– tea party protestors had followed her to events, her office had been vandalized soon after she voted for last year’s Democratic healthcare overhaul, her sobbing father identified “the whole tea party tea party” as her enemy and the shooting suspect had left a social media trail of anti-government sentiments – tea partiers and their allies knew what to do.

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