To be sure, any direct connection between the shootings and the nation's economic woes is hard to verify, says Cecil Greek, a criminologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee. More likely, Mr. Greek says, Adkisson's alleged outburst may have been tied into suddenly jarred expectations – in his case, his ability to find a job and even stay on food stamps – at a time when a majority of Americans are questioning the country's course and many are feeling an economic pinch.
"It's not as much if things are good or bad economically, but more whether people know what the limits are, and what they can expect," says Greek. "If it's a period where everybody downsizes, or a period of raised expectations where nobody knows where the upper limits are, it can be a more dangerous period to live through in terms of the potential for people to act out strangely."
The Appalachian South has seen economic change in recent decades, as jobs have moved overseas.
"For a male in American society, to lose one's job and to risk losing food stamps ... they have to find a plausible scapegoat," says Mr. Levin. "They will take that intense personal feeling of emasculation and failure and find some societal or political overlay that makes the failure seem not of their doing."
For churches, political violence has become a growing concern. There have been at least 13 major church shootings in the last decade, though the problem may be worse than that figure indicates, says John Casey, the former director of security at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, which was attacked by a gunman in December.