- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When news broke in September that a census worker had been found hanged in rural Kentucky with the word “fed” scrawled across his bare chest, a number of liberal commentators suggested that anti-government sentiment whipped up by conservative activists had inspired a heinous crime.

Now it turns out to have been a suicide, but the mistaken impression of the commentators was no accident.

Kentucky State Police announced Tuesday that William Sparkman Jr. staged his death to look like a homicide motivated by hatred toward the federal government in hopes that his family would be able to collect on his life insurance.

“While all the details of the investigation will not be released at this time, the unusual level of attention and speculation attributed to Mr. Sparkman’s death necessitates this release of information,” the state police said in a statement.

Mr. Sparkman’s motive appeared to be financial stability for his family. Police said the 51-year-old had “recently secured two life insurance policies for which payment for suicide was precluded.”

Shortly after Mr. Sparkman’s death, there were attempts to blame the political climate fostered by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck; Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, and other conservatives.

In a blog post from September titled “No Suicide,” the Atlantic magazine’s Andrew Sullivan wrote “the most worrying possibility - that this is Southern populist terrorism, whipped up by the GOP and its Fox and talk radio cohorts - remains real. We’ll see.”

At his site Tuesday night, Mr. Sullivan wrote, among other things, that “although I clearly suspected foul play and believed it wasn’t suicide, I drew no firm conclusions about the actual perpetrators of this act. In every post, I made sure readers knew that the investigation was ongoing, and we did not yet know the full facts.”

Neither Mr. Sullivan nor the magazine returned e-mail messages from The Washington Times seeking comment.

Mr. Sullivan and some other bloggers made it clear in earlier posts that Mr. Sparkman’s death could have been the result of him stumbling across drug dealers as part of his duties as a part-time census worker. But they also theorized that Mrs. Bachmann’s criticism of the census, which she discussed on Mr. Beck’s show, may have motivated the apparent homicide.

Mrs. Bachmann said the census, which the Constitution requires be conducted every 10 years, includes intrusive questions. She also said the government used census data during World War II to round up those of Japanese descent and put them in internment camps.

“Unless and until contrary facts emerge, I’m prepared to call this a terrorist incident, and to say that Glenn Beck very likely has Bill Sparkman’s blood on his tongue and lips,” Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote in a blog posting on a Web site called The Reality Based Community.

“It now seems clear that Bachmann’s irresponsible rhetoric did not, in fact, help bring about this man’s death,” Mr. Kleiman told The Times in an email.

On Tuesday, he wrote: “It turns out that the death of a census worker in Kentucky was a suicide, not an act of domestic terrorism. Thus, contrary to my earlier speculation, the people who have been trying to whip up panic fear of the federal government in general and the Census in particular arent in fact responsible for the killing.”

John Amato, whose site ridiculed conservatives’ census fears as “a classic case of Freudian projection, where they project exactly the kind of fascist tendencies in their own little heart,” defended such criticisms as still legitimate in spite of the suicide finding.

“We never speculated or blamed anyone in connection with this incident. We did comment on the outrageous vitriol that has been spewed publicly about the Census Bureau by Fox News stalwarts like Glenn Beck and right-wing politicians like Michele Bachmann. And that concern remains valid, regardless of the outcome of this tragedy,” he told The Times on Tuesday.

The September item at Mr. Amato’s site, CrooksandLiars.com, was posted by another author.

A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on behalf of Mr. Beck. Mrs. Bachmann couldn’t be reached for comment.

Kentucky State Police said Mr. Sparkman, who died of “asphyxiation/strangulation,” was found with his hands, feet and mouth bound with duct tape, and rope around his neck.

But authorities said it was all for show, as DNA testing and examination of his vehicle and home indicated that Mr. Sparkman was the only person who had handled the key pieces of evidence found at the scene.

Investigators, which included FBI agents, spoke to witnesses, who said Mr. Sparkman had discussed committing suicide, authorities said.

Authorities said Mr. Sparkman had also “discussed recent federal investigations and the perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities by some residents” near where his body was found.

Census operations were suspended in the area after Mr. Sparkman’s body was found, but the Census Bureau said Tuesday that normal operations will resume there next month.

“The death of our co-worker, William Sparkman, was a tragedy and remains a loss for the Census Bureau family,” spokesman Stephen Buckner said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Sparkman’s mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Fla., disputed with the police. “I disagree!” she wrote in an e-mail to the wire service.

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