Kentucky bloggers are still trying to make sense of the death of Bill Sparkman, the 51-year-old Census worker found dead in rural Kentucky, hanging from a tree with the word “fed” scrawled on his chest.

Investigators are still trying to determine how and why Sparkman was killed, and if the motives had anything to do with anti-government sentiment. In any case, the Census Bureau has suspended activity in Clay County, where Sparkman’s body was found.

Online, locals discussed possible motives for the crime—in part to fend off stereotypes of Appalachia already informing coverage of the killing.


At liberal website Daily Kos, a blogger called “Hill Jill” believes the death most likely is connected to “militia” or right-wing “wing nut” types from outside the region:

"Because of the remoteness of the area, it has drawn all kinds of fringe elements—everything from peace loving back to earth hippie types to hard core militia types. My feeling is that this is going to be one of the wing-nut types (could be either side, but lets face it more likely to be right-wing), who have either moved into the area, or a native who has been heavily influenced by these movements/elements. This does not strike me as a “native” crime. A native might shoot you, I won’t argue there—but they would not do the whole elaborate staged crime scene."

Hill Jill, who lives in Kentucky and is familiar with the southeastern Kentucky region where Sparkman lived and worked, does not rule out other possibilities, such as Sparkman having accidentally stumbled on a marijuana patch or a methamphetamine lab, which also proliferate in the area. But she says the manner in which Sparkman’s body was put on display seemed to indicate someone trying to make a statement. And anyone involved in narcotics would have wanted less, not more attention, and would have likely just dumped the body, she writes.

Many locals worried the gruesome death would foment stereotypes about the area, Clay County, in the environs of the Daniel Boone National Forest, which has a history of political corruption, anti-government sentiment, and drug activity. Forty percent of its people live below the poverty line, as my previous post on this story mentioned.

In an AP story on Clay County linked above, one resident says: “You get to the point where you don’t want to tell anyone where you’re from because of the stereotypes.”

Hill Jill, at Daily Kos, also worries about stereotyping:

"Once, as a college student, I had someone ask me if I owned my own shoes. Think about that. I’m going to college, I’m getting an education, I’m trying to make a better life for myself, and my people, and this person … is surprised because I’m wearing shoes. I could write a whole other diary … on asinine things people have said to me because I’m from Appalachia. We tend to get a little touchy about these things."

Later, as she describes media coverage of Sparkman’s death, she adds: “I really want everyone to just back away from the Deliverance Crazy-talk. (I wish to God that movie had never been made.)”

At the collective blog The Boar’s Head Tavern, lifelong Kentucky resident Michael Spencer, also known as the “Internet monk,” endorses the hypothesis linking the crime to drugs. “I’m sure,” he writes, Sparkman’s killing is “the work of one of our drug dealers.”

Spencer also believes the anti-Census statements of right-wing radio hosts (such as Glenn Beck), shouldn’t automatically be blamed for the crime. “I assure you few people of the sort who would kill a census worker are concerned with Mr. Beck,” Spencer says in one post.

In fact, Glenn Beck famously cautioned his listeners against anti-government violence in one broadcast. If Sparkman’s killer was a Beck listener, he did not heed this warning. Beck aside, if Hill Jill’s hunch is right, and it’s a militia member who’s nabbed for the killing, it will be difficult to separate Sparkman’s death from the resurgence of right-wing extremism in this country.