Eve Conant and Claire Martin dig into Jared Loughner’s background, trying to explain his mass murder. I think the first half the piece is weak, alas, but the second half is dynamite. The first builds on interviews with his neighbors, who say that the 22 year-old liked to walk the streets in a hoodie with his earbuds in, and didn’t respond to greetings. That could be a sign of mental illness, I suppose, or it could mean he’s a disaffected 22 year-old guy who lives with his parents and isn’t happy about it. If we rounded up all the guys or gals who wear hoodies and listen to iPods, we’d have to repopulate huge swaths of the Mission and Williamsburg.

The second half of the piece interviews experts who’ve been poring over Loughner’s rhetoric, and that’s where things get interesting:

Loughner’s rambling Internet missives, says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, likely come from well known online sources of the radical right. Potok, who studies hate groups and hate speech, has combed Loughner’s sites and says his material on grammar, in particular, likely comes from the writings of the Milwaukee-based, far right activist David Wynn Miller. As Potok explains it, Miller “believes in a ‘truth language’ that can throw off the government. If you use the right combination of colons and hyphens you don’t have to pay taxes. Miller is virtually the only person who pushes these ideas on grammar, it’s a very unusual idea, even on the radical right.” For his part, Miller tells The Daily Beast/Newsweek that Loughner has never reached out to him, but that “I expect he’s been on my website… He’s just repeating things I’ve had up on my site the past 11 years.” …

In examining Loughner’s list of favorite books, which includes Orwell and Mein Kampf, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Potok notes that an anti-government thread runs through all those works. In addition, Loughner’s obsession with currency not being backed by gold and silver “is a core idea of the militia, or Patriot, movement.” Loughner at one point writes, “My favorite activity is conscience dreaming” and Potok thinks he might mean “conscious dreaming,” an idea particularly perpetrated by a British writer David Icke. “The link to Icke, who is an extremist, might be weak, but the basic idea of conscious dreaming is impossible to understand but boils down to: what we think is reality really isn’t. We live in a holographic universe,” Potok says. If that is a philosophy Loughner had adopted, that might in some ways explain books like “Alice in Wonderland” and other alternate reality books on his favorite book list. “Most likely he is a mentally ill man who heard a lot of vitriolic rhetoric and started to absorb some of it,” says Potok.

David Icke is known for, among other things, arguing that shape-shifting reptilians have infiltrated our government as part of an elaborate plot involving Masons and British royalty and maybe even Elvis. He apparently has quite a following. Grammar-obsessive and self-styled “King of Hawaii” David Wynn Miller claims that Loughner must have been brainwashed by the Air Force.

Mother Jones has an exclusive interview with one of Jared Loughner’s long-time friends, who describes Loughner’s shift from a pot-smoking nihilist to an increasingly withdrawn and obsessive character. The shift began in high school (where, it should be noted, schizophrenia often begins to manifest). It caused him to focus on dreaming, especially the “lucid,” “conscience,” or perhaps conscious dreaming described above. According to the friend, “Loughner believed that dreams could be a sort of alternative, Matrix-style reality, and ‘that when you realize you’re dreaming, you can do anything, you can create anything.’” It’s almost like Loughner was self-diagnosing a schizophrenic break from reality.

Loughner quit drinking and smoking pot in 2008, according to the friend, but “After he quit, he was just off the wall.” Again, undiagnosed or uninsured schizophrenics often self-medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs as a way to control their symptoms, so this isn’t a surprising result. In the last couple of years, the friend says Loughner had drifted even further into his dream-world, to the extent that his dreams became “his waking life, his reality.”

Asked why he thinks Loughner did what he did, the friend says:

“I think the reason he did it was mainly to just promote chaos. He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what’s happening. He wants all of that.” Tierney thinks that Loughner’s mindset was like the Joker in the most recent Batman movie: “He fucks things up to fuck shit up, there’s no rhyme or reason, he wants to watch the world burn. He probably wanted to take everyone out of their monotonous lives: ‘Another Saturday, going to go get groceries’—to take people out of these norms that he thought society had trapped us in.”

It’s possible, of course, that Loughner’s actions have no rational explanation. But as rational people, we want more. Why that Saturday and not some other day? Why Giffords and not someone else? Apparently Loughner had been fixated on a dissatisfying answer Giffords gave Loughner at a public event some time back, but is that enough explanation? Mother Jones describes Loughner as “ticked off by what he believed to be a pervasive authoritarianism” in society, but it isn’t clear whether that’s the friend’s assessment or their own interpretation of Loughner’s far-from-coherent writings.

What we know, then, is that he was probably schizophrenic, which isn’t an explanation for violence. It doesn’t seem like he was being treated. He had become obsessed with ideas that even fringe thinkers find kind of strange. But that isn’t a predictor of violence on its own either. He was unhappy and isolated, apparently directionless. But we still haven’t got something that, even within his own irrational framework, makes sense of Saturday’s tragedy.

Comments

  1. #1 abb3w
    January 10, 2011

    Josh Rosenau: Mother Jones describes Loughner as “ticked off by what he believed to be a pervasive authoritarianism” in society, but it isn’t clear whether that’s the friend’s assessment or their own interpretation of Loughner’s far-from-coherent writings.

    Either way, my expectation is that’s a slight misunderstanding. I suspect his objection is not so much to an authoritarian society per se as to an authoritarian society where HE isn’t the authority.

    Of course, I’ve been recently reading some of the journal publications related to Sidanius’s Social Dominance Orientation measure (as well as Altemeyer’s RWA, and my usual random assortment of crap); my impression may just be a case of “if you have a shiny new hammer, everything starts to look like a nail”.

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    January 10, 2011

    It has been my experience that schizophrenics are no more likely to be violent than “normals”, and often are less so. This kid may have had undiagnosed obsessive behaviour, or some other personality disorder, but schizophrenia doesn’t explain his actions, and not even his susceptibility to the rhetoric of the insurrectionists. Nor is it needed. Many people are insurrectionists, and many of them are violent.

    It seems to me that it is a media trope in the US to “explain” violent actions as “mental instability” when in fact it is a general fact of human populations that some portion will be violent. By so “explaining” violence this way, it means [the eponymous] you can avoid having to deal with management of violence in general, and keep your guns.

  3. #3 Tom Degan
    January 11, 2011

    One of the tragedies of history is the fact that Lee Oswald never had the chance to testify in his own defense. I’m not one of these people who believe that the man was some kind of patsy who was framed for killing President Kennedy. I have no doubt that he was the one (and the only one) who pulled the trigger of the Manila Carcana rifle that ended JFK’s life. But I have a theory:

    Oswald was an extreme left winger – the type of which no longer exists in this country: a committed Communist. I believe that had he been living in New York or Boston or Los Angeles – or even Atlanta – when the president rolled into town, he never would have attempted assassination. But he wasn’t in any of those cities. He was living in Dallas, Texas. In November of 1963, Dallas was the right wing capital of the nation. Just a few weeks before the Kennedy shooting, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been physically attacked and spat on at an appearance in that city.

    Lee Oswald’s motive for killing John F. Kennedy was not fame and recognition. He vehemently denied having any part in the shooting.

    “I DIDN’T KILL ANYBODY, NO SIR!”

    That was his story and he was sticking to it! He didn’t have to stick to it for very long, though. Forty-eight hours after he was arrested, a single bullet from Jack Ruby’s gun forever silenced Lee Harvey Oswald. What could have been his motive? Here’s my theory: He killed Kennedy because he really believed he could get away with it. The atmosphere in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 was so politically toxic, Oswald must have assumed that the police and Secret Service would immediately focus on one or more that city’s illustrious right wing crackpots.

    The extremism of 1963 was pretty much isolated to a few southern cities. Forty-eight years later it’s gone national. What happened in Arizona over the weekend is only the beginning. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but America’s political discourse has been hijacked by half-wits and crazy people. Their spokespersons make their names by inflaming their clueless masses with the language of hate. That’s their job. Then again, I’m not giving away any state secrets here, am I?

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan

  4. #4 Mike from Ottawa
    January 11, 2011

    The mention of David Wynn Miller had me look him up and he serves as a nice example of how being nuts is not, on its own, an explanation for a loonie’s actions. Loughner tried to assassination a politician and shoot up a bunch of people. Miller hasn’t, but he’s sure a loonie.

  5. #5 dwayne shavargo
    January 25, 2011

    For those of you that don’t think that there is no such thing as aliens, you need to wake up. There have been reptilians living amongst us for thousands of years, and there’s countless evidence to prove it. This video does a pretty good job of giving you a rough idea of what the Draconians are and how long they’ve been here. Their disguises utilize technology that is much more advanced than the technology that is available to the general public (which is usually 50 to 100 years behind what the human elite organizations such as DARPA have), but it is still not infallible. There have been many instances caught on tape when the moving features of their face (mouth and eyes) have a slight lag time to recalibrate to the sudden change in movement. Hence the appearances of reptilian eyes or tongues for split seconds. One of my buddies who also (happens to be quite adept in regards to the reptilians and what they’re all about) was filming a city council meeting for ventura county when he caught something like this. He posted some of the pictures at his website (they’re at Anxiety.org if you want to check them out) although the quality isn’t as good as the one shot by the news network.