Jared Loughner Has a Violence Problem, Not a Mental Health Problem

In the days since Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head and murdered six people by firing his Glock pistol into the gathered crowd, people have repeatedly asked, Why?

Why did this young man do something so violent, so reprehensible?

Two main explanations quickly appeared in the media and in everyday discussions – it was due to violent political rhetoric, or it was due to mental illness.

On the rhetoric side, the man tried to kill a Democratic congresswoman in a heated political environment, complete with gun sights over Gifford’s district and public figures speaking of citizens exercising their second amendment rights. However, little evidence has appeared in the days since that ties Loughner to this type of political rhetoric. Rather, he was drawn to the fringe of political ideas, like a return to the gold standard and the government using mind control. The link between mainstream politics and his acts appears tenuous.

The mentally disturbed side has gained traction for several reasons. Loughner’s behavior, writings and videos help paint a picture of a disturbed young man. Many mental health professionals, as well as media pundits, have been eager to diagnosis him as schizophrenic. And making Lougher’s behavior about something just inside his head, not about politics, serves many people’s interests.

Vaughan Bell predicted much of this in his essay early last Sunday, Crazy Talk, on Slate. In my post Jared Lee Loughner – Is Mental Illness the Explanation for What He Did?, I subsequently chronicled ideas and explanations that broke out of the either/or dichotomy. Mental causes and social causes locate explanations in either mental states or political rhetoric. Neither works well.

But a central problem remains – understanding what Loughner did and what we can do about it. If it is not an either/or, then what is it? How can we begin to make sense of Loughner’s terrible act of violence?

I will approach answering that question slowly, first taking us through why the mental illness model is inadequate in this case, then showing how what he did was inherently political, and finally ending with important elements to building a better explanation for Loughner’s terrible actions.

The Mental Illness Breakdown

What mental disorder might Loughner have, and could that explain what he did?

Many people have already diagnosed Loughner with schizophrenia, particularly paranoid schizophrenia. They see evidence of delusions, particularly in what he posted on YouTube, and make him into a schizophrenic. He has lost touch with reality, and he is potentially violent – that is what the schizophrenia is supposed to explain.

Certainly he does have thoughts different from most of us, and his outbursts in the classroom were odd and often aggressive. His videos indicate a significant lack of coherence in the way he thinks. He might be, as Greg has described, in the prodrome of schizophrenia – at risk for it, in early stages that might become schizophrenia, but still connected to reality, still in control.

But two things argue seriously against him being a schizophrenic. The first is just how organized his behavior was. His acts alone point to a man doing something on purpose. Dr. Ira Rosofsky writes:

Schizophrenics in general, as well as paranoid schizophrenics in particular are too disorganized to organize premeditated, multi-step acts of violence. In fact, paranoid schizophrenics tend to isolate themselves and more likely become violent when they feel their personal space is being violated. They don’t go out looking for trouble.

The second is that he had two significant encounters with people that day. A police officer stopped Loughner for running a red light. Everything checked out normal. A taxi driver took him to the grocery store, and was astounded later when his passenger turned out to be the killer. In two public interactions, Loughner came across as normal – not as delusional, paranoid, violent, or disorganized.

Much has also been made of Loughner’s alcohol and drug use. We know that alcohol use heightens propensity to violence, and that alcohol and drug use can worsen mental illness. We also know that Loughner was rejected from the Army for a positive drug test, that during at least one period of his life he used marijuana extensively, and that he drank heavily on occasion.

Does this make him guilty of a diagnosis of substance dependence? No. No evidence has emerged that he was using alcohol or drugs while carrying out the shootings, or that he used drugs to self-medicate any psychotic symptoms. He enjoyed heavy metal music, and smoked pot with friends – but also said that he wanted to leave drug use behind. He was stopped by police after he drank a great deal of vodka, which he said he did because of an argument with his father. This was not someone who exploded because of substance use, getting into a fight at a bar or a violent confrontation with the police.

Other potential mental health explanations might focus on his fixation on Giffords. But he did not stalk Giffords in any discernable way. Or he could get an armchair diagnosis as suffering from antisocial personality disorder. I’m rather surprised no one has said this. But he didn’t have numerous run-ins with police, and exhibited few signs of being “antisocial” during his childhood. It’s a tougher sell in the public domain.

To sum up, Loughner was fixated on Giffords, yes, but not stalking her. He had delusional thoughts, but was not a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic – he was too organized for that. He used alcohol and drugs, but nothing to indicate that he was “souped up” on alcohol and drugs when he did the shooting. Moreover, on the day of the shooting, he got stopped by a policeman, and went with a taxi driver to the site of the shooting. Both saw him as normal

In the end, posing with a gun and red panties, making strange YouTube videos, and spouting off in class is not the same as being mentally ill. These things do highlight that Loughner is a disturbed young man. But to place responsibility for what he did on a “mental illness” misses the facts in the case, and misses too our own responsibility to better understand why he did what he did.

It Was Political

The earliest attempts to make sense of Loughner’s actions, and to cast blame, focused on heated political rhetoric, particularly by politicians and media stars on the right. The view that these political figures incited Loughner to attack has not been supported by what we’ve learned about the young man. He has not been involved in either Republican or Democrat politics, he does not claim allegiance or inspiration by mainstream political figures, and he has made little of recent political debates over health care, immigration, and the recession.

It would be easy to conclude that politics have nothing to do with what he did. This view is wrong. What Jared Loughner did was inherently political, even if not within the realm of “politics as usual,” of fights between Democrats and Republicans. Moreover, what we now do in the wake of Loughner’s act is also inherently political, from how we conduct public discourse to what measures we take to address violence.

Loughner attacked a politician at a political event. He targeted a woman, the youngest woman elected to congress, the first attempt to assassinate a woman politician at the highest levels in the United States. Moreover, he aimed to sow chaos with his acts – several friends have confirmed how he reveled in this sort of act.

He also had political axes to grind; they’re just not mainstream ones. Loughner wants to see the US return to the gold standard. He advocates for a focus on the US Constitution rather than current federal laws. He worries about mind control by the US government, particularly through language.

Loughner’s focus on language and politics and mind control might seem fringe – grammar isn’t really the way political figures aim to control speech and manipulate thought. But that concern –the use of language by politicians and government – is a legitimate one. Language matters, from the freedom of speech embodied in our Constitution to the ways politicians craft messages and frame debates and bureaucracies settle on innocuous language for even the most horrendous things. Language does shape thought and action, particularly when mixed with imagery. As Giffords herself said, “We’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve gotta realize that there are consequences to that action.”

Loughner’s fixation on Giffords also takes place within the realm of politics. He initially met her at a political event; his statements about language and mind control were met with a response on Spanish. He kept a letter from Giffords, part of her political outreach. He attacked her at a political event. To divorce politics from what happened, to say it was only the “deranged actions of a madman,” is to divorce ourselves from what really happened.

What we do next is also inherently political. Loughner’s act raise core political issues. President Obama, like many others, pointed to debates we will have about gun control and about access to and funding of mental health care. His speech focused on political rhetoric and debate, and called for civility.

A Focus on Violence

Like most of us, Obama dances around the core problem – violence. The regulation of guns matters, both as a Constitutional issue and a public safety issue. But the old slogan is largely right – guns don’t kill people, people kill people. A debate over guns, as if access to guns is somehow the cause of Loughner’s actions, is only a bad proxy for what Loughner did: kill.

Similarly, in our push to be seen to be doing something about this tragedy, considerable attention is being placed on our mental health infrastructure (or lack thereof) and on how universities and colleges can better handle the mental and behavioral health problems among their students. I would be among the first to support better mental health coverage in this country. But what Loughner did is not simply a mental health issue. It is a violence issue. And that requires us to focus on him as a person, and to think about how to understand that, and what we can then do.

In Loughner’s dealings with Pima Community College, it was his potential for violence, and his interest in it, that led to his suspension.

He sang to himself in the library. He spoke out of turn. And in an act the college finally decided merited his suspension, he made a bizarre posting on YouTube linking the college to genocide and the torture of students.

“This is my genocide school,” the narrator on the video said, describing the college as “one of the biggest scams in America.” “We are examining the torture of students,” the narrator said.

It is telling that the two recourses Pima Community College had proved insufficient. For the college police, it was not clear that he had broken a law, since he had not made specific threats against individuals. The college did suspend him, and said he would need a mental health evaluation as a condition to return to school. He didn’t choose to do that, and indeed, it’s unclear whether a mental health assessment would have revealed him to have a problem.

The political solution – waiting for him to break a law – and the mental health solution – making him go to an office for assessment – both proved inadequate in this case. While improved policing and improved mental health services surely have the potential to help in cases like these, we are naïve to see either as a solution.

I’ll make two modest proposals – (1) understanding violence as a public health problem is an important addition to policing and psychiatric services, and (2) we need ways to understand Loughner’s behavior that stretch from mental states to social life, from our brains to our culture.

People who deal with violence on a regular basis, who search for solutions beyond punishment and treatment, have settled on a broad public health approach that relies on a mix of community interventions, social work, anthropological insight, and other factors.

The Loughner case can be understood as an excellent example of a main epidemiological insight – the greater the number of risk factors, generally the worse the outcome. Social isolation, loss of schooling, difficult parental relations, an aggressive father, a lack of mental coherence, social outbursts, alcohol and drug use, and run-ins with law enforcement are all factors that appear in the Loughner case.

To address these complexities, you need a comprehensive approach. Take the Violence Intervention Program:

Members of the intervention team include social workers, a parole and probation agent and physicians specializing in psychiatry, trauma, epidemiology and preventive health. They visit with the patient throughout the hospitalization and on a regular basis after discharge, helping to provide access to services like substance abuse rehabilitation, job training and G.E.D. tutoring and offering the support necessary for successful completion of the patient’s plan.

Similarly, recasting the issue of gun control as a public health problem can reveal new insights into how we might think about dealing with guns, and the statistical increase in violence that are associated with guns. Put differently, a public health can give us political leverage, as well as a different way of viewing problems.

But a public health approach needs to be complemented by better understanding of the problem at hand.

Let me highlight a few statements that illustrate why:

Experiments by Nathan Kalmoe, for instance, show that “even mild violent language increases support for political violence among citizens with aggressive predispositions, especially among young adults.”

Hate-crime experts say they’ve seen such mergers of ideology and personal motives result in other attacks, including the shooting of two Army recruiters in Little Rock, Ark.

Understanding the link between violent acts and mental disorder requires consideration of its association with other variables such as substance abuse, environmental stressors, and history of violence.

Language meets up with predispositions, ideology and personal motives mix, mental problems and environmental stressors mix. We need an understanding of violence that can stretch as far as the actual reality of violence.

There are two basic approaches here. One that matches itself more closely with public health and with the number-crunching of a lot of variables to get at the constellation that best represents someone like Loughner. Developmental science, social neuroscience, mental health epidemiology, and like fields have all embraced interdisciplinary, data-driven approaches. Their aim is to provide views from the outside, an objective recounting of what we know about categories of people like Loughner.

The second approach is one represented best by what we do here at Neuroanthropology. It is an approach that draws on what we know from neuroscience and political science, and mixes that with a focus on Loughner as a person who has intentions and meanings that go beyond either his mental states or political orientations. Then it grounds the whole investigative endeavor in the particular time and place of Loughner’s actions.

Both approaches are important. Developmental science is closer to a public health orientation. It relies more on statistics and risk factor language that are part-and-parcel of government bureaucracy. Neuroanthropology is closer to the Violence Intervention Program, and offers recourse to cultural and social views, such as a culture of anger or institutional violence, that form part of the larger picture.

The first risks turning Loughner into a psychosocial problem to be solved by science and political action from the outside. The second risks a lack of generalization, and calls for action that can rely more on political orientation than the state of the science. But both stare squarely at the breadth of a problem like violence and don’t blink. Neither the reductive blinders of one-cause theories nor the comfort blanket of simplistic explanations get in the way of finding a better version of truth.

Why Did Loughner Do It?

The past week has challenged me. I have seen the over-reach of the mental health model firsthand. I am left thinking of it as incomplete, and fundamentally flawed. It will continue to focus on brain and mental states as explanations for behavior, and that will continue to match well with politicians’ and everyday people’s need to cast blame on individuals.

A “mental illness” approach alone leaves out so much that is important – it leaves out social context, it leaves out the political dimensions, it leaves out Loughner’s own views. He becomes a pathology, and our understanding of him a delusion that distances us from him and politics from responsibility. It wipes out the intentions and acts of this man, and locating our understanding of what he did in more human terms.

It isn’t “who he is” that is the problem – a mentally unstable person in the midst of schizophrenic delusion or a political radical inspired by far-right ideology to exercise his gun rights against an illegitimate government. Rather than looking for explanations from politics or from mental illness, we should center our explanations on what he actually did and experienced. Too often we take these things as what needs to be explained. In this case, as in so many others, what he did is both the problem to understand and a central part of the explanation.

This shift to focusing on his behavior is probably the hardest shift in our understanding to make – to forget our Western individualism and to focus on actions done in particular contexts.

But it is what the research shows us.

No profile, no type of person, can fit all the attackers, and any profile would include far too many people who are not dangerous, the researchers found…

The Secret Service did find that the attackers shared behaviors in common. The researchers are saying there is not a type of person, but there is a type of action, such as acquiring a weapon, and communicating their intentions (though not a threat) to others.

In other words, what people do matters.

What they experience matters too. In Jared Loughner’s case, one of his most typical experiences, the one he expressed publicly, was anger. One of the main places Loughner expressed himself was on online forums linked to specific video games.

Even in a setting that includes the raw and often raunchy thoughts of young men, Mr. Loughner’s postings were startling. They show an obsession with language, a hatred of the educational system and aggression—all of which later became themes of videos posted by Mr. Loughner on YouTube in the months before the shooting…

Anger increasingly permeated his postings… On May 9 at 2:00 a.m., he asked: “Does anyone have aggression 24/7?”

Acts of violence and feelings of anger matter. And if we accept this, that what people do and experience matters, then we move onto a series of other question. What role do social relationships play? Here his isolation from his neighborhood, and what is likely a difficult relationship with an aggressive father, come into light. How does his life intersect with social institutions? However we decide to apportion blame, it does appear that his fraught interactions and then suspension from community college are central to Loughner’s story.

The list could go on – language and his ideas about government, his learning about and use of guns (which appears to have happened later in his young life), and so forth. Rather than a never-ending list, what I want to point out is that I have focused on everyday aspects of his life – what he does, his emotions, his relationships, the institutions that shaped his life.

These things are closer to his own life, and permit us to go inwards towards the specific functioning of his brain and out towards the specific functioning of his society. These are where we need to find our explanations, and our answers for what to do, about what Jared Lee Loughner did.


Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
-Barack Obama

We live mediated lives, lives lived through media and institutions and bodies of established and contested knowledge. Casting stones is a very human act – he was mentally ill, extreme rhetoric is to blame, the school should have done more. But I have written this post to help rise to that calling – to expand our moral imaginations.

Three things have deeply challenged me this week. I’ve realized that after one hundred years of great success, the mental health model has triumphed publicly and failed scientifically. Violence is not a mental health problem. The causes of human behavior cannot be reduced to only mental states. Yet within minutes of the shootings, Loughner was declared crazy. Many people, scientists, professionals, and politicians alike, have lined up behind this discourse. It has extraordinary institutional and cultural weight. And it mis-diagnoses the man and the problem. But I am hopeful that we are at the start of building a better approach to understanding why people do what they do.

I believe the Secret Service is right. Actions matter. But most law enforcement is about punishing acts after the fact, after someone has broken the law. Most social regulation focuses on acts, on behaviors and words, in an informal manner, such as the commentators on Loughner’s internet postings or the students in his classes. How we build an infrastructure, an institutional mediation, of acts like violence, substance abuse, and other behaviors that do not fall well into the mental health model is a challenge facing us right now.

Finally, I am confronted by this photo – Jason Loughner’s mugshot. It shocked me viscerally when I saw it. And immediately I knew so many who saw it would take it as confirmation of his being mentally ill.

But I ask you to look closer at the photo. At first glance his eyes appear deeply disturbed, and his smile sickening. That was my initial reaction. I too have the mental health model in my head.

But I have known young killers, people who killed others in sudden fits and in deliberate acts.

The crazed look in his eyes? It says little about what he was like before the shooting, when a cop stopped him and a taxi driver got change from him. But this is a man who just shot someone in the head on purpose, and then purposely kept on shooting into a crowd. A man who has just killed.

His eyes show how much he can’t make sense of what happened – of his own act of vehement brutality. That is what I think.

And that smile? Oh, that’s the conscious part. He did what he set out to do, and now he can twist his smile at all of us. He has sown chaos and hurt. He has struck back. It is a smile of defiance and satisfaction. And I do find it sickening.

But it is not the portrait of a man totally subsumed by mental illness. It is a man who has committed murder, and forced that smile on his face afterwards. Who smiles back at the police and the public looking on.

So, what are we going to do about it?

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28 Responses to Jared Loughner Has a Violence Problem, Not a Mental Health Problem

  1. Peter Gomez says:

    To diminish the influence that mental illness has on this tragic event due to “just how organized his behavior was” is ludicrous. His actions may have been organized, but the motivations behind his actions were delusional.

    John Hinckley, Jr. was just as organized in his failed assassination attempt on President Reagan. Should we deny the driving force that mental illness had on Hinckley because he had an organized plan?

    Charles Whitman was also deeply disturbed. He did not travel to the top a campus tower at the University of Texas just because he had an issue with anger or a proclivity towards violence.

    All these people were mentally ill. No credible person is suggesting that violence is an universal outcome of mental illness. Without a doubt Loughner has problems with resolving anger. Most people learn to let things go. Loughner held on to things and processed these lingering things with a sick mind.

    Loughner’s ability to deal with the police on the morning of the shooting may have more to do with the officer not detecting the signs of Loughner’s mental illness from a brief interaction. A motel clerk who worked at the motel where Loughner stayed at the night before the mass murders described Loughner as looking “messed up” but not under the influence of drugs. The clerk said Loughner was strange.

    Certainly Loughner was deliberate, systematic, and organized. I used to volunteer as crowd control at a local soup kitchen. I would see the same people who were dealing with obvious serious mental health issues who exhibited deliberate, systematic, and organized behavior in showing up daily at the soup kitchen. Schizophrenics do not become vegetables unable to perform deliberate and organized behavior.

    • timb says:

      Yes, they do. Severe schizophrenics his age are rarely able to take care of themselves and are often hospitalized or institutionalized. Schizophrenia, as a disease, is more dangerous to the sufferer than the rest of us.

      Loughner wasn’t delusional; he was an angry jerk.

      Let’s it put it this way, I know a schizophrenic (through representation) who felt the government controlled his arousal and defecation habits. He was weird, but no more of a danger to a stranger than you are. I also knew an attorney who represented one who bashed his father’s head in with meat from the freezer and then ate some of brains before walking outside in winter naked and covered with a blanket.

      Did Loughner believe the government actually controlled his mind? No, he believed they were trying to control ALL our minds. Did he believe his father was a demon and beat him with a ham? No, he ran from his father when provoked. Later, he harmed people for attention and to make his political point. The man who thought the government controlled his thoughts never thought of politics.

      Loughner’s political beliefs were not delusional and he was attached to reality. He is, in my layman’s opinion, unlike any schizophrenic person I ever met.

    • Duaine Fitzgerald says:

      I don’t believe you truly know what mental illness is. I correspond on a NAMI site with parents of the adult mentally ill daily. These parents have similar dealings with their adult children. Such persons are very good at “hiding from authorities their symptoms” when they are confronted with authorities who might be able to get medical help for them. A cab driver could certainly possibly not be aware of the illness.

  2. You are overlooking a vital angle to your discourse: that of good and evil.

    In an increasingly secular world, this is not surprising – but it seems you are trying hard to pinpoint ‘what is evil?’ without calling it by name.

    Let’s call it exactly what it is: evil. Satan is alive and well, and shows up quite clearly in Mr. Loughner’s mug shot.

    • Joseph says:

      Blaming our problems on invisible, magical beings who torment us rather than a rational, fact-based analysis sounds like yet more delusion.

      • timb says:

        It does make the discussion a lot easier than all this annoying nuance! Let’s fix on the Satan angle and then we can ignore stopping this in the future.

  3. icastico says:

    two things argue seriously against him being a schizophrenic. The first is just how organized his behavior was.

    Not sure how that matters.
    From the DSM criteria I see at least two from the part A list…and it seems a clear hit for part B.

    A. Characteristic symptoms: Two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period (or less if successfully treated):

    * delusions
    * hallucinations
    * disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence)
    * grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
    * negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening, alogia, or avolition

    Note: Only one Criterion A symptom is required if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.

    B. Social/occupational dysfunction: For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolescence, failure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational achievement).

  4. Zing says:

    I agree with you in many parts. But a mistake I think you are making is you are taking Rosofsy’s generalized comment and applying it as if were some rule about schizophrenics. You’re making the assumption that just because you found some organization to his actions that he therefore could not be schizophrenic. If you take each one of his actions the night before, most of them make little sense in context of what appropriate or expected behavior would be. Running around in a red G string and making steamy pictures shows someone pretty disconnected from reality for example. He’s like organized disorganization… Or organized chaos. He has some kind of vague plan, but all the little pieces are a mess.

    His “act of violence” wasn’t that sophisticated. It just involved getting a gun and ammo at Walmarts and then running up through the crowd and shooting. He had no major plan of how to get away either. John Lennon’s killer who was also schizophrenic planned his murder way in advance. He visited Lennon and when he was near enough he started to shoot him. He had all these plans, yet there were voices in his head telling him this and that. Yet he was caught up in catcher in the rye. After he shot John, he stood on the street and read quotes from that book. So he had some organization, but again all the pieces were a jumbled up mess of delusions.

    Jared also showed many sign of paranoid schizophrenia because a year ago his friends explained that he cut off communications because Jared believed his friends were plotting to kill him. In fact he ask one friend if he was standing out in the dark stalking him at 4 in the morning. That’s paranoia. He also inappropriately believed things like grammar could control society in a major way. A typical delusion you would find with someone schizophrenic.

    Also if you try to explain to a schizophrenic why their thoughts make no sense, it will never work. The reason is they will eventually create more delusions to “patch” the hole you just shot through their “logic”.

    Instead of realizing that having school officials call him to the office over a dozen times for disrupting the class was his fault, he manufactured the notion that it was the school that was faulty and subjecting their “victims” to unfair treatment. Thus ripping them off and saying it was a terrible place etc. He had the delusion that it was ok to burst into free speech in the middle of class because he had trouble understanding reality. The more they tried to surpress him, the more he became convinced it was a all a conspiracy. And to give his own arguments validity he would attach non nonsensical “proofs” to them. Such as noting what “currency” was being used as if that would explain what was going on around him.

    That’s exactly like what a schizophrenic would do. Then you have to realize that there are all levels of disability with schizophrenics. Some are only slightly schizophrenic, some are major so. Some are going through transitions where they are changing and becoming worse.

    His anger problem is definitely pronounced and a schizophrenic that wan not angry would still be schizophrenic, but may not react in an angry manner. So why might he be so angry? Again, because he was not behaving correctly, society was dumping him. His girl friend dumped him. The Army didn’t want him. School was basically letting him know he was not fit to be in school. All things that would be pretty disappointing. Little by little he was probably becoming more and more frustrated, and thus very angry inside. Because his mind was not functioning correctly and he’s likely schizophrenic, he probably started to build an even bigger fantasy world to help him deal with rejection and failure.

    Then to make matters worse, I heard he was taking hallucinogenic drugs. Some of those can cause psychosis and paranoia. Over a long period of time they may have messed up his brain chemistry. If you watch his video where he’s walking around campus at his school, he’s claiming that he’s in a terrible place. It’s like he’s desperately making a documentary of his school to prove to the outside world that this school is indeed a scam and horrible. Yet he shows nothing and proves nothing. He rants about how it’s a “genocide” school, and how all the students where suffering. Delusional? Yep.

    But I’m not fully disagreeing and saying you have no valid point in questioning whether or not he’s schizophrenic. Simply because he does stand out as a bit different. In fact I met someone way back that was schizophrenic. She went to the university, yet was spiraling down hill. Years later a friend of mine saw her in the super market with her mom. She handed my friend a piece of paper to read. When they got home and read it, it explained that the university was controlling people through mind control and she had to wear foil on her head to stop the thought waves from penetrating. Yet she was a student there just 3 years prior..

    But if he were not made angry by rejection, he might not have that anger problem. Yet, he would still be schizophrenic. But rather than saying he’s just got that one problem, he could have 3 or 4 different mental issues. He could be part autistic, part something else. Who on Earth knows what mental issues he really does have? So this could also explain how he doesn’t seem to fit into any particular description.

    I think he’s a mix of things. Partly normal enough to go to school and drive a car.. But at the same time falling apart fast enough that pretty soon he’s not able to function correctly within that school or even correctly while driving a car. He did get pulled over for running lights. So many he’s been on his way to lala land for a while now.

    You go on to say it was political. This is where it gets interesting. I have to say I agree with you that there is a 95% chance this is true. Why? It just doesn’t add up that he had zero interest in Giffords and happened to pick her for no reason what so ever. Even if completely crazy, there is usually some thread of reason for someone to pick the killer. Like John Lennon’s killer thought he was a “phony” and had a prior interest in the star because of his music. With Giffords, Jared had to have a reason for his intense fixation on her. He kept ranting about the government and went on and on about control etc. So he was definitely had some thoughts about politics.

    Again it would make zero sense for him to pick out someone he does not know and drive across town and kill her in anger. I mean, it could have been a school shooting instead. He was plenty angry with people within that school. I think it would be more likely he’d shoot everyone at school one day. But instead, he choose to drive across town and target Giffords. That means he knew something about her. Also the day he got to meet her in 2007, he was meeting her to confirm his belief that she was “unintelligent”, even if that was not true. He was rude to her, and she brushed him off and answered him in Spanish. Oddly enough, under one of his youtube accounts, he has favorites to over 15 different Spanish, self-help videos for learning Spanish.

    I’m not sure why, but that somehow all was figured into it. Perhaps she mad him mad… But wait, he was already mad before he met her. That’s why he thought she was stupid. That’s why he drove across town in 2007. So it’s all a big goofy, but there is some sort of link here. There is something about Giffords and her role in politics that makes him really upset.

    And just because he doesn’t discuss it with people doesn’t meant he doesn’t have a political agenda about this. So I think the media is assuming to much to say he’s simply crazy, so therefore it’s not political at all. I think he’s schizophrenic/crazy AND he’s mad at Giffords and politics etc etc. But beyond this I have nothing else to go on as to why he’s so mad at her, except it would make sense that he believes something she said threatens his well being..

  5. Zing says:

    typo: “there is usually some thread of reason for someone to pick the killer.”. I meant to pick the victim. Also I may have a few more typos. Sorry about that, but didn’t have a lot of time

  6. thebewilderness says:

    People want him to be mentally ill. That way they can pretend there is something unusual about what he did.
    In a society that glorifies violence it is absurd to pretend to be shocked by it.

  7. N says:

    This post both saddens and angers me–perhaps in equal measure. Lende criticizes those who have “jumped” to the conclusion that Loughner’s motivations were deeply affected (if not caused) by psychosis, and yet evinces a dishearteningly shallow understanding of schizophrenia (as does Ira Rosofsky, who one can only imagine knows virtually nothing about schizophrenia not found in some out-of-date psych textbook). To take a superficial appearance of organization and normality as “proof” of the absence of psychosis–in spite of overwhelming evidence (overwhelming for anyone who has actually experienced and/or studied psychosis) is just…je ne sais pas quoi. More disturbing, however, is the degree and the intensity of moral judgement demonstrated here. Even if Loughner had not been experiencing psychosis I might find this troubling, but given the detailed record we now have of his history and behavior, it strikes me as truly unsettling. Should it really be so easy to judge someone with very very serious psychiatric problems? Particularly for those who have never experienced them themselves…? Shouldn’t we all, at the very least, think twice before jumping on the “let’s demonize Jared Loughner as much as possible” bandwagon?

  8. Jon Chrismond says:

    As the previous reply states, disorganized behavior isn’t necessary for schizophrenia. Schizophrenics, especially of the paranoid variety, can be surprisingly focused and goal-directed when confronting their “tormentors”. Besides, if not disorganized, how would his behavior be categorized? The night before the assassination, he takes a roll of film to be developed – containing a pic of himself wearing nothing but a g-string. Checks into a motel. Writes goodbye messages in the middle of the night. In the morning, makes two attempts at buying ammo (one failed). Gets pulled over for moving violation. Is confronted by his father, and runs off into the desert. Catches a cab and leaves without paying (RUDE!). Arrives at rally, and, while already in possession of the gun, asks permission to see the congresswoman. He didn’t exactly pull off an Operation Overlord!

    On the second point, that he had 2 significant interactions that day, it must be stated that we don’t really know the extent of those contacts. Not that many people hold extended conversations with cabbies – not the picture of normalcy themselves. He could have easily said “Take me to destination x” and not another word. The police encounter doesn’t give us much to work with either, but it would be very interesting to see the dash cam video. Police, historically, aren’t the best – or rather – even marginally adequate at detecting psychosis. They work with weird, and distinguishing one kind of weird from another can be difficult, esp. considering police approach it from a code violation perspective, not a mental health perspective. Even if these 2 encounters were “normal”, they would contradict YEARS of abnormal relations, including one that night at the motel.

    It’s obvious from his writings that Loughner has a formal thought disorder… persistent neologisms, if-then statements, derailment, frequent intrasentence tone changes. Further, he suffers from delusions of persecution e.g. politicians are watching him, odd beliefs e.g. only 5% of pop. are literate, grossly inappropriate affect (see the mugshot), major personality changes appeared in late teens/early twenties, inability to hold a job/social dysfunction, the list goes on. These are pathognomonic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

  9. Dr. shock says:

    We’d better leave diagnosing schizophrenia or not to the psychiatrist investigating Loughner self.

  10. As for the violence part, just ban ownership of weapons throughout the US. This will at least diminish gun violence.

    • AA says:

      Come on now Dr. Shock, we can’t be violating our constitutional rights to bare firearms.

      Instead, let’s round up every person who is different and involuntarily commit them to a psych hospital for life. Let’s stigmatize and punish a group of people to pay for the sins of a killer instead of focusing on the real problem, which is gun ownership. This has worked so well in other states with tougher commitment laws that now people are afraid to seek help out of fear of being committed.

  11. Persons with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent (in fact, NIMH data shows they are LESS likely) than the average US male age 18-24.

    What seems to be overlooked is what makes it more likely. Heavy drug use.

    Mental illness or not, a male in his age range who uses LSD, mushrooms, marijuana and drinks excessively (all reported) is more likely to commit an act like this than just the simple fact of having a mental illness alone.

  12. Rob Boyd says:

    Interesting perspective, criticisms regarding the overgeneralizations of schizophrenia nothwithstanding. I have seen some frothing at the mouth, “barking mad” people pull it together when in front of the police or a psychiatrist.

    However, simply saying “mental illness” isn’t explanatory. We might as well say he was demonically possessed as one response has indicated. Unless we medicate everyone who is not presenting like some predetermined normal person, it isn’t going to help solve the issue of violence.

    I like the idea of the “pattern of behaviour” and the checklist of behavioural risk factors.

    We know that early life experience is critical for forming social bonds. We know that the sense of self and the sense of belonging are critical to psychosocial well being. Perhaps a mental illness, perhaps political alienation, perhaps adverse childhood events, whatever the case, it appears that a tremendous amout of rage was built up as a result of social dislocation.

    The question is why did Laughner act the way he did when others, with similar life situations do not?

  13. soleilmavis says:

    Jared Loughner has mentioned Mind Control in his video.
    He suffered “Sleep deprivation”. Jared writes “All humans are in need of sleep. Jared Loughner is a human. Hence, Jared Loughner is in need of sleep.”

    Torturers used their electromagnetic (/microwave) mind control weapons:-
     To hack victims brain;
     To “inject” dreams to victims brain at night;
     To “inject” thoughts to victims brain every day;
     To harass victims brain with electromagnetic waves and make victims cannot concentrate to do anything;
     To torture victims and make victims suffer many diseases;
     To harass victims with “voice to skull” technologies;

    An anonymous Survey for Mind Control Victims (result on 19 Dec 2009), the result shows that victims have suffered many symptoms. You can read these symptoms in question16 of the survey from the following link:

    Thousands people have claimed that they have been torturing and abusing by covert Mind Control Weapons (and Directed Energy Weapons).
    Some victims were tortured to death or driven to crazy, some victims were controlled to do bad, please have a look:

    If you can hear voices inside your brain, you are possible harassing by new “voice to skull” technologies.
    Mind Reading; mind control technologies had been well developed
    More information about Mind Reading technologies
    More information about Mind Control technologies

  14. Michma says:

    Getting lost in these discussions is the fact that higher rates of violence ARE associated with untreated schizophrenia. Add drug or alcohol use and the rates are multiplied. As far as we know, Loughner was untreated, and we may well learn of drug use that could greatly escalate the risk of violence. Cocaine and meth use in untreated schizophrenia are particularly explosive. I understand the desire to allay unwarranted fears of mentally ill persons, but untreated persons, particularly those with paranoid features and drug use do present a higher risk of violence.

    And there are paranoid schizophrenics who certainly can engage in the simple planning of and execution of a murder of this kind. There is a great deal of variation in the manifestation of schizophrenic conditions. We have a tendency to force fit psychotic patients into specific diagnostic slots, when in fact, many exist in the more blurry edges of the diagnostic categories.

    Watch some videos of Loughner. The thought disorder is right there. Anyone who has evaluated schizophrenic patients recognizes it immediately. Whether he Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic or a schizophrenic with paranoid features is up for grabs, but the schizophrenia in this case is right out there.

  15. I have been reading everything I could about the Tucson events for the last week; the material here and at the earlier article, “Jared Lee Loughner – Is Mental Illness the Explanation for What He Did?” is the most comprehensive and thought provoking I have come across. The comments here also seem to have more depth than than the usual flaming responses.

    My work as a forensic psychologist for the last thirty years has included evaluating people brought to a psychiatric unit to assess whether they met the criteria for Involuntary Commitment (for thirty days). I have seen several thousands individuals over the years as part of the commitment process. (A judge makes the final decision during a court hearing — if it goes that far — based on the opinions of two evaluators and other witnesses.)

    The most heart-breaking evaluations are when young men are hospitalized during their first psychotic break, their first time they are hospitalized for being mentally ill. These young men, more often than not, come from homes from where there have been more than good enough parents.

    Until I had witnessed this pattern time and time again — this pattern of young men previously functioning well slowly spiraling into psychosis– I would not have believed how insidious schizophrenia was, and how much it was beyond the control of the family or the afflicted member of the family.

    I don’t have an opinion yet on what has been written in this article; I do know that schizophrenia (if that is what this is — and it sure feels like it) is very real and is always tragic.

    I would add that the vast majority of people I see who are mentally ill are not violent; however, paranoid schizophrenia, by far, results in the most violence.

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  18. PB says:

    No one is pointing out the societal realities and influences shaping kids today as part of the basis for this kid’s actions.

    I have a 25-year old. I am 52. There is a quantum difference in how our society raises children now versus when I was growing up. I’ve watched my daughter’s friends over the years. Too many have raised themselves with no character development or moral teaching, few good role models, increasingly graphic television and music, and violent video/computer games. She grew up an a very upper middle class area and attended both public and private schools; most of her peers were latchkey kids from the age of 9, most rarely spent any kind of meaningful time with their parents, most parental communications were criticism, and most of the boys were taking Ritalin or Adderall. The result in many cases is low-esteem, lack of reasoned critical measured thinking, inability to form healthy attachments, and arrested emotional development. There was a kid locally who poisoned his best friend at the family home, not because the kid wanted his friend’s first girlfriend but because he didn’t want to “lose” his best friend.

    So in my parental opinion, this is probably not a mentally ill or even violent kid, but a product of his generation’s culture. People no longer spend much time with their kids talking about things and building character/morals in the process. I’m not shaking my head wondering what on earth this kid was thinking, I’d imagine he’s been a lost boy on a quest for meaning and connection most of his life.

    • Mike T. says:

      Lots of claims being made here. I’ve grown up in the same culture – will I go on to shoot people?

      I’ve played increasingly violent video games since an early age (and still do) – will this increase my propensity for violence?

  19. Tara says:

    I love this…..everyone seems to be an armchair psychiatrist. Maybe we should all just shut up and wait and find out what REAL psychiatrists find out? Either he is or he isn’t mentally unstable but neither you nor I have any right to sit here and force our assumptions on others. If he is or isn’t makes no difference…the man shot several people and murdered 6 of them including a child. Trust me he’s going to hell.

  20. Tara says:

    In contrast to my opinion on how people seem to diagnose this guy….I almost feel sorry for him. Sure his actions were horrifying and there is no excuse for what he did. I do wonder however what kind of parents he has. They keep quiet and I often wonder when he was kicked out of college for strange behavior, if they really even cared. Clearly his mental capacity is in some way messed up even if it’s just how he sees the world. Was he verbally abused as a kid? Did his parents try to control him somehow in a way that made him feel he had no control of himself or his actions?
    I am a mother…..one thing I know…..how we take care of our children at a very young age and the way we bring them up even as toddlers, can and will frame their adulthood later. Still, since none of us know whether he is mentally unstable do to a disease or just from mental and emotional trauma as a child…we will never know and can’t blame anyone for what happened in Tucson other than Jared Loughner himself.

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