Not Right Wing, Not Left Wing...Mentally Ill

To Congresswoman Giffords and the 17 others who were shot yesterday, I offer my prayers for you and your families. This was a horrible tragedy and one that will not be forgotten soon. The man alleged to have shot Rep. Giffords and so many others, Jared Lee Loughner, has already been identified by many as a right wing extremist. I hate to disappoint those that are more concerned about political scoring points than human beings who have been shot; it appears that Mr. Loughner was mentally ill, not politically impressed by Sarah Palin’s or Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas’ target lists of Gifford.

Let’s consider what little we know about the alleged shooter, less than 24 hours after the tragedy. He posted several YouTube videos that are clearly rambling and disturbed. Some refer to the Constitution and gold/silver currency, lack of grammar, mind control, how the police are unconstitutional, while another refers to BCE and ADE, along with strings of numbers. A short read of these videos, most of which are text in nature, sounds like a paranoid person verging on, if not already in, the throes of schizophrenia.

A New York Times’ morning article, however, was quick to point out what they thought were his political leanings. They make reference to his commentary about the Constitution and gold/silver currencies. The Times also list some of his favorite books, listing “Animal Farm” and “Brave New World”, among others. They conspicuously leave out “Mein Kampf” and the “Communist Manifesto”.

Also left out was a commentary about the You Tube video posted on his collection and listed as his favorite. In it, a lone figure that Mr. Loughner identifies as himself (“do you see the rare bird perched on my shoulder?”) is apparently dressed as the Grim Reaper. The heavy metal music in the background has a repeated refrain “when the bodies hit the floor”. After a minute or so of doing nothing but apparently gazing at the American flag planted in the ground, the figure lights the flag on fire. No mention is made of this video in the New York Times article. This pattern is repeated in many blog postings about the incident.

So, from the little information gleaned thus far about the alleged shooter, we could make a very bad case that he leaned right: obsessed with the Constitution, gold/silver and currency, felt abortion was wrong, etc. Or leaned left: favorite books are “Mein Kampf and “Communist Manifesto, doesn’t believe in religion, burned the flag, etc. This could only be done by leaving out information that disagreed with the writer’s intended slant.

We can, however, make a good case for someone who is mentally ill by looking in totality at his writings, his behavior and what little we know of his history thus far (suspended from college for a “disturbing video” and recommended by the college that he seek counseling, refusal of the Army to take him as a recruit). And sadly, the mentally ill sometimes get violent, especially if untreated.

The lesson to be learned from this? Before hysterically shrieking political commentary, one could pause for a moment to think of the victims. Then, assess what information is actually available before making said commentary. Perhaps most revolutionary, put accurate and complete information in, not merely what agrees with the bias you want to convey to the reader.