A Closer Look at Jared Lee Loughner
Anyone trying to understand what happened on Saturday needs to read this piece in Mother Jones, which features an exclusive interview with one of the few people who still had contact with Jared Lee Loughner. One thing that becomes clear is that Loughner was obsessed with Congresswoman Giffords for several years, ever since she failed to adequately (in his view) answer the question “What is government if words have no meaning!”
Also, retired blogging great Hilzoy makes an important contribution to the discussion in the comments thread here, writing:
Like everyone above, my understanding is that while schizophrenia can manifest itself at all kinds of ages, late teens/early twenties is most common.
I don’t want to do Frist-style video diagnosis, but the videos make it pretty clear to me that he fits into the non-clinical category of “batshit insane”. What stands out for me, in addition to his flat-out craziness, is his claim to have created an alternate reality. He is the treasurer of his currency. He controls the religions and beliefs. He is the mind controller. Etc., etc. The fact that not everyone sees this seems more like a kind of incomprehensible annoyance than like a source of terror: why doesn’t everyone see that Pima Community College is unconstitutional? Why won’t Rep. Giffords answer his incomprehensible question? Why so few conscience dreamers?
The entire emotional tone is different from, say, Glen Beck.
There’s anxiety lurking around the videos, I think, but not the same kind that the tea partiers have. It bothers him that other people don’t see what he sees. He writes in formally valid syllogisms, which in my experience is something people do when they’re worried that they are not making sense and want to establish beyond doubt that they are. (Not that syllogisms help when your premisses are insane.)
This is worth keeping in mind. There’s not at this point any evidence that Loughner was even aware of right-wing conspiracy theories, much less that he was actually influenced by them. While there may be independent reasons for complaining about rhetoric, there is in fact no evidence that rhetoric, or even for that matter the “rhetorical climate,” played a role here. That certainly may change, but at this point there’s more evidence that the History Channel deserves blame for continually broadcasting and mainstreaming bizarre theories about the 2012 “prophesies” than that political rhetoric played a role in allowing this maniac to think that shooting 20 people and killing a nine-year old girl would be an appropriate act.
Using a tragedy to force a national discussion on a political issue you’ve been complaining about for a long time, when there’s no evidence that issue had any relevance to the tragedy whatsoever does no one any good. This is particularly true when the political issue is purportedly paranoid rhetoric; absent evidence of an actual connection, attempts to draw a connection will do nothing more than feed into and validate the very rhetoric about which you are concerned. While saying that right-wing rhetoric created a climate that helped to encourage this maniac to perpetrate his attack may not be intended to directly blame anyone, it should not be surprising if it is perceived as an attempt to directly blame people who had nothing to do with this. Indeed, even if you are simply trying to say that certain rhetoric is consonant with Loughner’s actions (and, as Hilzoy’s comment above suggests, there’s little evidence even of that much), then given the timing and actual facts here, it should still be unsurprising if it is perceived as an attempt to falsely blame people who had nothing to do with this.
It will, in short, have the complete opposite effect of what you hope. As Jonathan Chait rightly notes this morning:
I can see why those concerned about the rise of right-wing hysteria would want to use Loughner as a cautionary tale — even if he wasn’t a product of right-wing rage, they may be thinking, he is an example of what right-wing rage could lead to. Yet they fail to understand that this will appear to conservatives as an attempt to use the emotion of the moment to stigmatize them. The mania of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party must be dealt with on their own terms.