Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Postings of a Troubled Mind"

The Wall Street Journal has a detailed article about the Tucson shooter and his activities in an online gaming forum. The story, "Postings of a Troubled Mind," depict a deeply disturbed young man who alarmed everyone whose path he crossed. The shooter was a time bomb, but the search for a trigger is the work of political and journalistic hacks. I have close, personal experience with mentally ill people, and I can tell you this much: anything can be a trigger.

The forums frequented by the shooter are for a browser-based game called Earth Empires, about which I know nothing. It appears to be a standard global conquest strategy game without the kind of grotesquely violent elements that tend to alarm non-gamers. It's about to get very famous, very fast.

Even in the notoriously wild world of game forums and chat rooms, the comments of the killer were remarkably bizarre. They show an obsession with conspiracy theories about education and grammar, contain copious references to violence and even cannibalism, and veer into inexplicable non-sequiturs. It seems as though everyone who encountered him thought the same thing: this man is dangerous, and one day he's going to snap.

Now that the media and politicians have embarrassed themselves by trying to tie this horrific crime to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement without the tiniest bit of evidence, they will now move on to blaming games as well. This is SOP. I've written different versions of this story for most of my career, and the political and media reaction is as predictable as the sunrise.

Just to be clear: I like Sarah Palin, although I'm not certain she's presidential material; and I support the limited-government goals of the Tea Party movement. Neither Palin nor the Tea Party bear any responsibility in this tragedy, and I find it deeply hypocritical that the same people urging conservatives to "tone down the rhetoric" are simultaneously accusing us of complicity in mass murder. Talk about your irony impairment.

By and large, mainstream journalists don't have particularly sophisticated minds. They manipulate a few well-worn (usually inaccurate) narrative tropes and assumptions, and rarely dig deeply into unfamiliar territory. (And, yes, I say this as a professional journalist with extensive newspaper experience.) The mind of a mass murderer is a wild and unruly place, and journalists feel this need to Explain It All in 1200 words by a 3:00 deadline. Reality doesn't actually work that way. Reality doesn't fit itself into the five Ws and an inverted pyramid style, with a 20 word lede and a three-line nut graph.

In keeping with my standard policy, the name of the shooter will not appear in any of my writing or anywhere on this site.  Spree killers and assassins are fame whores, and their crimes are only fed by a media culture which rewards them with the recognition they so desperately crave. Only six names matter: Christina-Taylor Green, Gabe Zimmerman, John M. Roll, Dorwin Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, and Dorothy Morris. Remember them. Pray for them and their families, as well as for Rep. Giffords and the other wounded.


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