Friday, January 21, 2011

Tucson Aftermath, Part 4: The man holding the gun

As the national conversation over the tone of contentious political rhetoric continues in the days following the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, new details about the shooter have emerged.

The shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner from Tucson, was initially believed to have been inspired to carry out the attack by inflammatory Right-wing rhetoric that has targeted Representative Giffords in recent years. As Loughner refused to speak to police investigators, new information revealed by the media in the hours and days following the tragic shooting in Arizona have raised more questions than provided answers.

On his Myspace webpage, Loughner had posted, "Goodbye" on the morning of the shooting. "Dear friends," he wrote, "please don't be mad at me." Among photos on his webpage were earlier pictures of Loughner, smiling during happier times, and one of the handgun used in the attack on top of a book entitled, United States History.

It was reported that Jared Lee Loughner had a history of disturbing anti-social behavior and that he had shown signs of possible paranoid schizophrenia. It is believed that Loughner's mental illness may have presented itself while he was attending Pima Community College in 2010. According to former teachers and classmates, Loughner was prone to outbursts of irrational, nonsensical comments and frequently exhibited confusion and disorganized speech. One student recalled how she was scared of Loughner and described him as the type that would bring a gun to class.

According to Pima Community College, Loughner was suspended for disruptive behavior. Before he could be readmitted, college officials demanded that Loughner submit to an mental health evaluation. Loughner refused and never returned.

On his Myspace page, Loughner wrote about his obsession with 'lucid' or 'conscious dreaming': the state of being aware of one's dreaming and controlling the outcome of the dream. A concept played out in the film, "Inception," Loughner may have believed he could live in a dream world.

Loughner also posted various delusional, anti-government messages. In sentiment popular among fringe groups, Loughner's distrust of government included his rejection of U.S. currency because it is not backed by gold or silver, his belief that schools and police were "unconstitutional," and his belief that the government was "implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar."

Loughner laid out his rambling incoherent thoughts in a series of videos posted on Youtube. In the last video posted Loughner writes, "Every human who is mentally capable is always able to be treasurer of their new currency." "You don't allow the government to control your grammer structure, listener?" "If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem. You call me a terrorist. Thus, the argument is ad hominem."

It was also reported that Jared Lee Loughner had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. At the age of 15, Loughner was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. In 2008, Loughner was denied entrance into the U.S. Army for admitting to drug use, and in 2007 he had been arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to those who knew him, Loughner had habitually used marijuana and listened to heavy metal music. When asked to describe Loughner, one former classmate said that when she knew him in 2007, she thought he was "left-wing" and "liberal."

Following the tragedy in Tucson, the Republican party and Tea Party fell under heavy criticism for its use of gun metaphors and calls to revolution including that of Representative Giffords' recent challenger, Republican Jesse Kelly, who hosted a fund raiser inviting donors to come shoot an M-16 with him and said, "If you dare to stand up to the government they call us a mob. We're about to show them what a mob looks like," as well as former Governor Sarah Palin's use of the phrase "Don't Retreat, Reload" and posting Rep. Giffords' district on a map of the U.S. in "crosshairs."

The Right, facing pressure to repudiate and abandon their use of violent rhetoric and imagery, took the news of Loughner's drug use and supposed political leanings as an opportunity to change the debate over reckless rhetoric in politics and instead lay blame for the shooting on the Left.

Though Jared Lee Loughner's anti-government beliefs during the Bush administration do not make him any more 'liberal' than his anti-government beliefs during the Obama administration make him 'conservative,' the Right continued to point to cherry-picked, ambiguous information as evidence that Loughner was a 'leftist,' not incited to violence by right-wing rhetoric popular with Tea Party Republicans, thereby absolving the Right from any culpability for the shooting in Tucson and any responsibility to change their divisive language and behavior.

Right-wing bloggers then pounced on the report that among Loughner's list of favorite books posted on his Myspace and Youtube pages were Marx and Engels' The Communist Manifesto and Hitler's Mein Kampf.  All of this tenuous information from the internet was offered up by those on the Right including Tea Party Nation founder, Judson Phillips, and North Carolina's Rep. Virginia Foxx as 'proof' that Loughner was a "Liberal" as if never were there Conservatives that smoked pot, listened to heavy metal music, or read books that presented political points of view that were the polar opposites of each other or didn't espouse their own personal beliefs.

Again, the Right made the ridiculously unsubstantiated claim that Liberals are contrarily both Communists and Nazis, two factions that oppose each other, and Conservative pundits and writers fell back on stereotypes and generalizations that Liberals were the headbanging drug users of society. The Left could have easily as well used the stereotype that Liberals 'hate guns' and since Loughner used a gun to kill people, he must have been a Conservative, but these claims would be and are all nonsense.

For the record, other books listed in Loughner's favorites include Ayn Rand's We, the Living and George Orwell's Animal Farm - anti-communist works - and other assigned school reading that can't really be judged as holding any connected political or philosophical ideology. To Kill A Mockingbird, Old Man and the Sea, Gulliver's Travels, Phantom Toll Booth, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Looking Glass, Fahrenheit 451, Siddhartha, The Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and so on.

During a search of Loughner's home, FBI investigators found a safe containing an envelope with the words, "I planned ahead," "Giffords," and "My assassination" next to Loughner's signature along with a letter addressed to Loughner from Rep. Giffords' office thanking him for attending a "Congress On Your Corner" event, the same type of event Rep. Giffords was holding on the day of the shooting.

Loughner had met Rep. Giffords at an event hosted by the Congresswoman in 2007. According to peers, Loughner was angry with Rep. Giffords for failing to satisfactorily answer a question he posed to her. Loughner reportedly asked Rep. Giffords, "What is government if words have no meaning?" Giffords, likely not knowing how to respond to the bizarre question, apparently infuriated Loughner who later derided her as "unintelligent," "stupid," and "fake."

(Read Part 5 here)

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