08 January 2011

Tucson: Amoklauf or Terror?

Since the news broke of the attempted assassination of an Arizona congresswoman in Tucson and the concurrent deaths of perhaps half a dozen people, including a federal judge, Fox News has done an admirable job digging into the past of the alleged shooter. Their reporters got to the suspect's MySpace page before it was taken down, finding a final message indicating that he intended today's adventure as a suicide run. Given the body count -- as many as 18 people were reportedly shot or injured -- I've been uncertain of whether the shooting was a political act of terrorism or a simple amoklauf dedicated to killing as many people as possible. The suspect's purported YouTube page remains up as I write, and it's not very helpful. The Fox reporters have quoted extensively from his text videos, revealing an obsessive concern with currency, literacy and grammar, and mind control on the part of a self-described "conscience dreamer." It doesn't take long to read through the suspect's collected works; once you realize that they aren't going to make sense you're entitled to skim a bit. In this excerpt, he may have meant to pre-empt any condemnation of himself as a terrorist.

The suspect has determined to his own satisfaction that government under the "second United States constitution" is illegitimate due to the "ratifications" that "imply" a mind-control-through-grammar agenda. The nearest he comes to contemporary relevance is when he rejects any currency not backed by precious metals. His comment, "I won't trust in God!" isn't a confession of atheism (though he notes elsewhere that he did not list a religion on an MEPS questionnaire) but a repudiation of the motto on coins whose value he doesn't accept. While some people have already pegged the alleged shooter as a right-winger, I think that people ought to suppress their partisan reflexes for the time being. The suspect's obsessive employment of would-be syllogisms strikes me as a tell-tale sign of a genuine maniac.

Does the suspect's mental state determine the nature of his act? It's difficult to say until we learn whether he intended primarily to kill the Representative or the judge or simply sought to kill a multitude. Even then, experts already expect an insanity defense to be attempted, since the suspect was taken alive and apparently unwounded. The usual argument will probably be made that he did not know right from wrong. The argument fails, I think, if the suspect felt any imperative to kill someone. If he believed that killing a politician was the right thing to do, then he should be held responsible for the act even if his reasoning doesn't work like ours does. In his own mind, while he may refuse the label, he is a terrorist if he uses violence as a "political weapon." Posterity will prove him a terrorist if his alleged acts of today lead to a distancing of Representatives from their constituents for security's sake. Even if he proves an amoklaufer in intent, he should be held fully accountable under the law and given his day of due process in court. Accountability isn't always for doctors to determine. The people of Tucson, Arizona and the nation have every right to demand that this man be held accountable to them.

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