Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mental illness does not preclude the effect of the political environment

Dahlia Lithwick has an interesting take on the armchair diagnoses of Jared Loughner at Slate.
One of the great ironies of the Tucson shootings is that the initial call for everyone in America to simply talk more civilly to one another has mainly resulted in everyone in America becoming angrier and crazier. Every attempt to turn the conversation in a more "constructive" direction—be it to criticize Arizona's gun laws or to question the state of political discourse—has been condemned by those who scoff at the sin of politicizing a personal tragedy that is merely the result of one man's obvious insanity. There is some truth to this criticism. In the absence of a coherent explanation, many of us have used this tragedy as we use every national tragedy: as an excuse to talk more about ourselves or our favorite cause.
But if it's true that we can draw no more political meaning from Saturday's tragedy than we can from a Jackson Pollock painting—if David Brooks is correct in his assertion today that absolutely everything you need to know about Jared Loughner's lethal shooting spree is attributable to "the possibility that Loughner may be suffering from a mental illness like schizophrenia"—then this is also true: This apolitical explanation of Loughner's actions should also serve as a legal defense of them.
She goes on to detail the history of the insanity plea, but her point is mostly rhetorical.  The fact that a person may suffer from a mental illness does not necessarily render every aspect of his mental state immune to environmental effects.  Loughner's lack of a coherent political ideology does not mean that he could not be affected by the political environment.

I think that there is a strong chance that the violent, pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric combined with the paranoia about government and our elected officials that has been systematically spread by the politicians and demagogues of the right contributed to the inspiration of Loughner's crimes.  We know that because, as Dave Neiwart at Crooks and Liars reminds us, it's happened quite a few times just in the past two years.  (Hat-tip to digby at Hullabaloo.)
-- July 2008A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.
-- October 2008Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama. 
-- December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. 
-- December 2008In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb. 
-- January 2009A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center. 
-- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material. 
-- April 2009A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial. 
-- April 2009Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police. 
-- May 2009A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. 
-- June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard. 
-- February 2010An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.) 
-- March 2010Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war. 
-- March 2010An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead. 
-- May 2010A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse. 
-- May 2010Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed. 
-- July 2010An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded. 
-- September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.
As far as the idea that "both sides do it" is concerned, I'd be very interested in seeing a list of crimes and/or any rhetoric voiced by any prominent leftist that might have inspired them that is in any way equivalent to that.

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