We now know that Jared Lee Loughner, mass murderer and would-be assassin of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was not a Tea Party member, a Rush Limbaugh dittohead, a Sarah Palin campaign worker or a subscriber to Glenn Beck’s Fusion magazine.   And we all agree that he is crazy: Except me.   He isn’t crazy, he is depraved[1]:  morally bad or debased; corrupt; perverted.

As I have suggested on earlier occasions, our culture has a tendency to expect that anybody who commits multiple murders must be an insane man, a lunatic, someone who “snapped”, or a person who is mentally unstable.  This is a sign we have bought the lie that evil in its worst forms does not exist.     There is no doubt what the Tucson killer did is sickening.   But sick?  No.  We try to cure the sick; or if incurable, we have pity on them.   We certainly don’t punish people when they are sick.

If there are many people killed or the crime is particularly bloody, we are even less likely to identify the killer as wicked.  The worse the crime, the less likely it was one of “us” who did it.  It was one of “them.” It is doubtful Loughner’s court appointed attorney, Judy Clarke, will hesitate a moment to use an insanity defense.  And why should she?  All the news stories and pundits couldn’t be wrong, could they?  It is true, that a good Arizona prosecutor could still squeeze the death penalty out of a jury, but the pool of potential jurors untainted by the mass publicity may be nearly impossible to find.  When is the last time a mass murderer[2] got the death penalty?

One writer wants us to be careful not to confuse being a “nut job” with what she thinks is Loughner’s real problem:  he has a mental illness.

The “ax-murderer” profile is hard to miss.

Loughner was a loner.   What does that mean?   Unless somebody kills somebody, people like him are called “shy”.  And if he was a loner, where did the press find all of these friends like Bryce Tierney, who knew him well enough to go to his house and read his journal. A young man who lived across the street (son of Roxanne Osler) was a friend, too.

Loughner was weird. When we look at Loughner’s online YouTube videos or MySpace profile it is easy in hindsight to label him a “whack job”.   But there are probably hundreds of thousands of anarchists and members of the Goth community whose pages are just as weird.  Some of these folks may the kind of folks ripe to become Hitler’s Youth, but they are hardly crazy.  You can see scores of estranged youth in the halls of the local high school or community college.

Odd behavior does seem to be insanity.   But if any of our lives were watched up close (especially mine) they might conclude we are insane.   Why do some people only acquainted with the killer say they knew something like this was going to happen (but never managed to tell anybody who matters!) while other people are shocked when they hear a co-worker, friend, or family member goes on a shooting rampage?  It is because no one wants to think normal people like them would do such things.  Hindsight brings out details that seemed irrelevant at the time because those behaviors occur in the lives of people around us every day and often in our own lives.

But Loughner’s smiling face on a head-shaved mug shot (where everybody sees a mad man) could have been taken from almost any bald man’s driver’s license and certainly any mug shot from those accused of jaywalking.  If you think he looks insane in that picture, you are seeing things.  You are super-imposing your knowledge of what he did onto his face[3].

In the picture I chose for this article at the top, the guy on the left is not the “insane” accused, but his “normal” classmate shown being interviewed on Fox News, talking about the accused. (Image from the Sean Hannity show). Loughner is on the right side.

Loughner’s family was strange.  Sometimes this nonsense carries over to the families of the perpetrators.  Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, head of enforcement in the county where the shootings took place, called the Loughner’s a “somewhat dysfunctional family” but without a shred of evidence anybody in the family ever did anything illegal, immoral, or out of the ordinary, prior to the shootings.   But normal wouldn’t fit the template.

I need to make three clarifications.

First, I do believe there is such a thing as insanity, but it is not a sickness.  To a degree, all acceptance of unreality is a touch of insanity. It is confused thinking.   There is no indication that Loughner thought himself to be in a dream, believed he was Jesus, or heard voices telling him to kill people.

Second, none of this means I believe other factors don’t have an impact on whether a person is more or less inclined to do horrendous acts of violence.  What people read, watch, or think about; how they are raised, and who they hang out with, all might make a difference.   But none of these things reduce the culpability of the criminal.

Third, being evil is no more an excuse to commit murder, than being deranged is.  Every one of us is capable of doing the same things as Loughner, but we don’t and most of us never will.  We cannot lock people up for what they are capable of doing, or we would all be locked up.

I understand the tendency to disassociate ourselves from reality.  But we are insane if we do so.


[1] Less than ten web news articles refer to him as depraved.

[2] I make the distinction here between mass murderer who kills a large number of people at once and a serial killer who kills a large number of people over time.

[3] Take a brief look by searching Google images of “mug shots” and you will quickly see what I mean.

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