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Jared Loughner’s Mental Illness Didn’t Take Place In A Vacuum

January 17, 2011

Please check out Justin Sharrock’s excellent article “Explained: Jared Loughner’s Grammar Obsession” in the online edition of Mother Jones magazine

He shows that the Tucson shooter’s beliefs and rants are not inventions of his own disordered mind. They are not “disjointed ramblings” or “loose associations” or evidence of any mental confusion unique to him.  His seemingly bizarre obsessions are straight out the ultra-right-wing  Sovereign Citizens movement: contempt and hatred of the government, the assertion that government is trying to drain language of all meaning by control of grammar, sinister manipulations and deceits of the monetary system,  the hidden evils of the 14th Amendment (“the ratifications”),  secret sell-outs to a hidden world government, etc.,etc. To true believers these are not “disjointed” but each one is an  interlocking component that all fit together in making up  a giant, evil  government conspiracy. To their followers these beliefs are evidence of  mental clarity and excellent mental health, not craziness or confusion.  Many believe that ordinary people are “unreal” because they are not sovereign and don’t know it. Many Sovereign Citizen followers have routinely refused to pay taxes or obey multiple  court orders; others get in shoot-outs with law enforcement officers,  asserting there is no legitimate police power, no legitimate laws, no authority they need respect, much less submit to.

And while reportedly more of a loose association of like-minded groups than a tightly run organization with formal membership, Sovereign Citizens have many adherents across the  nation , many websites, videos, speakers bureaus,  books and articles–in short, an energetic  and widespread publicity and propaganda machine.  Jared Loughner fits right in, it seems to me. If he’s mentally ill, so are they. If he’s paranoid, so are they. If his beliefs, obsessions, and rants are crazy, they are not unique to him, not the unpredictable product of a presumed  “biochemical imbalance” in the brain. He didn’t invent them. He found them in his cultural milieu and adopted them. He took them in,  took them seriously, and then acted upon them. Echoing the Sovereign Citizens beliefs, he asked Congresswoman Gifford, “What is government if words have no meaning?”  Dissatisfied with her (unrecorded) answer, he decided she was an enemy he was justified in hating, a part of the conspiracy, that needed to be “taken out” by what Tea Partier Sharron Angle called  “Second Amendment solutions. ” He succeeded in removing her from office (probably permanently) by his own “Second Amendment solution.”

Of course it wasn’t just the Sovereign Citizens that influenced him, but dozens of other rage-filled conspiracy theorists he listened to,  like Sarah Palin, Michale Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and the creators of films like  Zeitgeist: the  movie  who constantly and loudly demonize elected officials, fuel paranoia,  encourage rage,  and advocate “Second  Amendment  remedies” to the “wrong people” being repeatedly, democratically,  elected to public office.

It may well be that Loughner is either schizophrenic or a paranoid personality, but the culture he lived in was what fueled, shaped, legitimized, and funneled his frustrations and rage into the specific form it took.

Mental illness never takes place in a vacuum. There is almost always some meaning to the apparent madness.

In this case there clearly is, it seems to me.  But what do I know? I’ve only been a mental health professional for the past 25 years, spending more time with schizophrenics than E. Fuller Torrey probably has.  Equally renowned psychiatrist Peter Kramer shares my dissent from the spin given to Torrey’s statements.







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