Monday, January 10, 2011

One Man's Killer Is Another Man's Disturbed Individual - UPDATED

Much has already been said to try and explain Jared Lee Louhgner's evil actions last Saturday in Arizona, and many theories have been advanced on what might have driven him to commit multiple murders. The theory that prevails on the left is that the vitriolic political climate might have had an effect on Loughner's actions, while the right has immediately coalesced around the "very disturbed individual" explanation. I admit that I am in the former camp, so I put my bias in the open. But I have one question for those who advocate the "very disturbed individual" explanation: Who, if not disturbed individuals, commit actions like Loughner's? And why does being disturbed immediately disqualify toxic influences as an explanation?

People who are not disturbed on some level do not walk into a Safeway with a semi-automatic weapon with the intent of killing as many people as possible, including a congresswoman. Sane people do not say: "Honey, I am going to Safeway to pick up some groceries and to commit multiple murders, I'll be back by lunch."

Alas, being disturbed and being prone to being incited by hate-speech to commit heinous acts are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, it is quite likely that people who suffer from some kind of mental illness characterized by aggression against others are particularly susceptible to incitement to commit violent acts. If this is true, then does it not follow that those who promote the demonization of their adversaries and violent imagery against them are complicit, even indirectly so, with the actions committed by the disturbed amongst us?

No one can seriously contend that Jim Adkisson, the man who shot and killed two congregants at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, was not a disturbed individual. But could books found on Adkisson bookshelf, like "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by Michael Savage, or "Let Freedom Ring" by Sean Hannity, have had an effect on Adkisson's disturbed psyche? Is there a point where mental illness and violent rhetoric meet, pushing a disturbed individual to act out his evil ideas?

And not all those who commit heinous acts of violence can be indisputably accused of acting out of being disturbed. Take Scott Roeder, for example: he is the man who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor known to many anti-choicers (there is a different between being pro-life and being against abortion) as "Tiller the Killer", because he provided abortion services. Roeder may be a despicable individual, and in many's opinion a greatly disturbed individual, but he did not carry out murder because he was clinically or temporarily insane; he did it because he wanted to "protect the unborn." Therefore, saying that there is no link between the anti-choice rhetoric that portrays abortion as the destruction of a life and not as a legal medical service, or that speaks of murder instead of the voluntary termination of a pregnancy protected under Roe v. Wade, and the actions of Dr. Tiller would be disingenuous.

Was Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the perpetrator of the 2009 Fort Hood killings, simply a disturbed individual, or was he acting out his rational but violent response to "the refusal of Hasan's superiors to process his requests that sought to have some of his patients prosecuted for war crimes based on statements they made during psychiatric sessions with him"?

Actions, and words, do have consequences, however unintended and unpredictable. The Right's denial of any link between acts of violence and what people say or do, and the dismissal of such acts as the work of disturbed individuals do not invalidate the cause-and-effect relationship that often exists in these violent incidents.

We may eventually learn what led Loughner to act as he did last Saturday. Do not be surprised if a link can be established between his actions and the words of professional hatemongers on the right.

Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, makes many of the same points I made above in his typically impatient and acerbic way, and establishes a direct link between Loughner's killings and the right-wing's violent rhetoric.

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