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What Made Loughner Snap?

Ever since the Giffords shooting occurred, people across the spectrum have been trying to read political motivation in Jared Loughner’s actions. If that’s the case, he has managed to obscure it pretty well in the materials he produced prior to his shooting spree.  After reviewing most of it, I think it’s much more likely that his rage was fueled by his recent expulsion from Pima Community College, and frustration over deteriorating mental health.

The New York Times profiles Loughner today. “In one extended Internet posting, Mr. Loughner suggested that the government was trying to trick him, or take advantage of him, although he never explained exactly what caused these concerns,” they say.

Actually, he did.

Loughner’s videos are a series of syllogisms, which everyone will recall from Philosophy 101 is the core of deductive reasoning.  Two premises are stated, each of which has one term in common with each other, and one term in common with the conclusion.

On an intellectual level it’s tempting to read this choice of form as that of a young person pretentiously attempting to demonstrate their mastery of Aristotelian discourse, to vanquish and ridicule the arguments of his opponents with simple and irrefutable logic.

But on a psychological level, it also feels like the desperate attempt of a young man struggling with crumbling mental health to break down his world into the basic building blocks of know facts, and assemble them methodically in a way that makes sense. Which he actually does, with some success.

Loughner’s video entitled “A Student at Pima Community College: An Unconstitutional Crime!” was uploaded on November 30.  In it, he says:


If I’m not receiving the purchase from a payment then I’m a victim of fraud.

I’m not receiving the purchase from a payment.

Therefore, I’m a victim of fraud.

Loughner believes he paid for something, and did not get the value of it. In the next frame, he says:

A student paying for a Pima Community College course is a purchase for an educational course.

But his mind starts jumping around, and the next connector doesn’t occur until the 4th frame:

The police remove you from the educational facility for talking.

He paid for classes at Pima Community College, but the police removed him from the facility, and therefore he did not receive the “purchase” from the “payment” he made.

And, that is what the LA Times’ reporting confirms:

From February to September of last year, he was involved in five “classroom and library disruptions” that were handled by campus police, the school’s officials said late Saturday.

In the video, Loughner continues to return to his belief that “the police” have behaved in an “unconstitutional” fashion by depriving him of the value of something he has paid for. He leaps to invoking the 10th Amendment, as if somehow the money he has paid — not backed by silver or gold — did not have true value in the situation.

Loughner was suspended in September after school officials viewed a YouTube video that they found disturbing, and told his parents that he needed psychological evaluation before he could return. But Loughner seems to believe he was expelled for “talking” in a way that clearly disturbed his fellow students:

“No one in that class would even sit next to him,” Mr. Coorough said. Another fellow student said that he found Mr. Loughner’s behavior so eccentric — including inappropriate remarks and unusual outbursts — that he wondered if he might be on hallucinogens.

In his video, he calls his fellow students “illiterate.” He also said that those “who reside in District-8 are illiterate.”  And during his contact with Giffords in 2007, he asked her a question but did not appear satisfied with the answer, and later made comments to the effect that she was stupid.

I don’t see anything in any of Loughner’s works to indicate that his feelings about politics are any way as deep and affecting as his feelings about being expelled from school and shamed by people who did not understand him. Which isn’t to say that irresponsible political figures, or a violent and vitriolic culture, or the insane availability of semi-automatic weapons to someone in his mental condition didn’t play a role in what happened.

But the timing of Loughner’s rampage comes on the heels of his expulsion from Pima Community College. Most of his “ramblings” are tied to that event. Based on what is known at the moment, which admittedly is not much, he appears to be someone who was in need of help for his mental health issues rather than someone acting out of a powerful political imperative.

Update: I don’t mean to imply that Loughner was not responsible for his actions. Just the opposite, in fact. There is a logic to what people are referring to as his “ramblings,” and he does comprehend what has happened to him at school. He’s capable of reasoning and understanding consequences. In short, there is adequate reason to believe Sherrif Dupnik is correct in his assessment that Loughner is “unstable,” but not “insane.”

There is not, however, any good reason I can find for selling this guy a Glock in November, which is what this post started out to address. It got too long, though, so it’ll have to be saved for another one.

Update II: From the NYT:

Mr. Cates, the former classmate, said he thought that leaving Pima was probably a major blow to Mr. Loughner.

“He was really into school. He really loved the acquisition of knowledge. He was all about that,” Mr. Cates said. “It would make sense that losing that outlet would be a negative thing for him psychologically.”

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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