News & Politics

Jared Loughner: A Character Sketch Emerges


Just two days after Jared Lee Loughner fired at least 31 shots in front of an Arizona grocery store, killing six, including federal judge John Roll, while attempting to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a frightening, if scattered portrait has already formed via the media of a disturbed young man turned murderous. Loughner’s largely incoherent political beliefs — including a penchant for Hitler, The Communist Manifesto and Plato — were described on social network profiles like MySpace, with bizarre views verbalized on his YouTube channel. But new responses to Loughner’s deadly rampage from teachers, classmates and friends reveal Loughner as something of a ticking time bomb.

“I was getting concerned about the safety of the students and the school,” said Ben McGahee, who taught Loughner algebra at Pima Community College, in the New York Times.

A student in the class, Lynda Sorenson, 52, wrote an e-mail to a friend expressing her concerns.

“We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I’m not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit,” Ms. Sorenson wrote in an e-mail in June that was forwarded Sunday to The New York Times.

“The teacher tried to throw him out and he refused to go, so I talked to the teacher afterward. Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.”

In addition to odd personal quirks, like laughing at the wrong moment or dressing in disparate styles day to day, Loughner’s political incoherence is remarked upon:

But one classmate, Steven Cates, said he had tried on occasion to engage Mr. Loughner in political discussions, with no luck. He instead liked to talk about philosophy, or logic or literature, Mr. Cates said. He added that one topic that Mr. Loughner seemed to be obsessed with was the American dollar.

At Slate, an interview with Loughner’s philosophy professor, Kent Slinker, tells a similar story:

“His thoughts were unrelated to anything in our world,” says Slinker. One time, he handed in an assignment with geometric doodles instead of answers. Slinker also remembers that Loughner would have “exaggerated ‘Aha!’ moments just completely not connected to anything in class.” He was mentally checked-out. “He always was looking away, not out the window, but like someone watching a scene play out in his mind.”

Slinker, though, says he “never sensed violence from him.” When asked, Slinker said Loughner “never” brought up politics.

One old friend told ABC News that Loughner was a “good person that just somehow changed so much.” Another old friend, Bryce Tierney, told Mother Jones that he received a voicemail from Loughner at 2 a.m. on Saturday: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”

This emerging picture of a crazy loner, unhinged — a common thread in would-be assassins, or at least the media’s portrayal of them — will make Loughner’s looming court dates even more closely watched as questions of motive and mental capacity are addressed. A Department of Homeland Security memo points to a possible connection to the American Renaissance group, a “white nationalist” organization:

The memo states that there is “no direct connection” between Loughner and the group, “but strong suspicion is being directed at AmRen / American Renaissance. Suspect is possibly linked to this group. (through videos posted on his MySpace and YouTube account.). The group’s ideology is anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti-Semitic.”

The public defender set up to defend Loughner has experience with this type of extremely public, violent criminal. Judy Clarke has already landed in Phoenix, though she has not yet been confirmed as Loughner’s council, according to Yahoo’s The Lookout blog:

Clarke most famously defended the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph (the Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinic bomber) and al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the 9-11 attacks. She was also on the team that represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

“Every day in the courtroom, she has her hands on his shoulders, her hand on his back, she looks very intently into his face and talks to him as though to somewhat stabilize him,” said CNN’s Don Knapp on Clarke’s handling of the Unabomber. In this case, based on what we know so far, stabilization may be necessary once again.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 10, 2011

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