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Eugene Weekly : Analysis : 1.13.11

Raising Cain In Arizona

By Joseph A. Lieberman

Within minutes after Jared Loughner was arrested for the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six other people, internet news websites were flooded with thousands of polarized reader comments claiming Loughner was either a Tea Party-influenced, right-wing hit-man, or a drug-addled liberal left-wing psycho. Both sides cited as proof "favorite books” listed on Loughners YouTube page, including Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, along with Brave New World and Animal Farm, which come closer to reflecting his obsession about authorities controlling the masses.

Digging a little deeper, it becomes clear that Loughner attached himself to whatever philosophies or political expediencies suited his paranoid delusional fantasies. To find parallels among other homicidal predecessors, we need look no further than our own local mass murderer, Kip Kinkel, who in May 1998 slaughtered both his teacher-parents and proceeded the next morning to shoot 27 students at Thurston High in Springfield, killing two.

Like Kinkel at Thurston, Loughner was also seen as a potentially serious threat by classmates and teachers at his community college. In Loughners online and handwritten ravings, theres a neurotic fixation concerning fake money (governments are colluding to create a unified "New World Order currency”) and mind control. Kinkel similarly labored under a complex set of paranoid delusions, including a certitude that Disney dollars would soon take over our U.S. currency, Disney and the government were collaborating to censor lyrics in music, and that his auditory hallucinations might be from a satellite-controlled microchip the government had implanted in his head.

Oregon clinical psychologist Dr. Orin Bolstad, who examined Kinkel, stated that people experiencing delusional paranoid symptoms can still maintain sharp cognitive thinking, and shrewdly plan and complete a course of action. "That doesnt mean theyre logical,” he added.

That profile appears to fit Loughner. A current speculation is that what really set him against Rep. Giffords was her reaction to a written question he handed up to her during a previous "Congress on your Corner” event at a mall in Tucson in 2007. The note said, "Whats government if words dont have meaning?” Giffords read the question, but (understandably) couldnt reply. The very same question was posted at the end of a semi-coherent screed Loughner posted in video form on the Internet Dec. 15.

What sets Loughner apart from previous shooters is that he coupled a targeted assassination with generalized mass murder. Thats something new. Kinkel had an "enemies” list, but none of those students were targeted that day in 1998. As in most mass murders, including recent mall and church shootings, the killers purpose is to inflict maximum physical, psychical and emotional damage upon a community he blames for alienating, marginalizing or rejecting him. Loughner, it seems, coupled that urge with a specific quarry who symbolically represented the government that he felt was trying to disenfranchise him.

As for the right-left debate, what we can learn from this event is how easily weve come to expect the worst from our political opponents. Using Loughners actions as a metaphor to embody the "evil” of the other side would be convenient, but no amount of projection can camouflage the fact that this was simply one sick individual bent on a course of external and self destruction.


Joseph A. Lieberman is a Eugene freelance writer and author of School Shootings ã What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children.