Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jared Loughner and the Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

Right Wing, Left Wing, or None of the Above?

As the media scrambled to find Loughner's motive for the shooting, the thing they wanted the to know most was his political affiliation. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, a Tweet from Caitie Parker, a high school friend who had once been in a band with Loughner, had seemed to indicate that he might in fact be a far-left extremist, which would have flown in the face of the liberal blogosphere's prefabricated denunciation of him.

"As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy," Parker Tweeted.

Jared Lee Loughner
Jared Lee Loughner

Parker admitted she hadn't seen him since 2007. Still, Parker's portrait of the young man was that of someone who had once been a normal teen but who had become an alienated recluse resonated, and proved closer to the truth.

She mentioned that he had been a pothead and listened to artists like the Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Loughner, Parker related, had been a social person until 2006, when, in an unclear incident, he had suffered alcohol poisoning. After that, she wrote, "He was very reclusive."

The truth, it seemed, was that while Loughner could broadly be described as having political concerns, his politics, as such, made no coherent sense. As gathered from his internet activity, he was anti-government, and believed that NASA had faked the moon landings. Upon examination, Loughner's online track record revealed neither a far-right winger, nor the left-wing nut for which conservative talk radio had been hoping. Instead, he seemed delusional and paranoid, weirder and more extreme than even the most hardcore of conspiracy theorists at either end of the political spectrum.

Throughout his adolescence and much of his teens, he was a regular if somewhat gawky guy. Sporting longish curly hair, he played the saxophone and was a member of the Arizona Jazz Academy.

A report by The New York Times described the young Loughner as being compared to Harry Potter in appearance, with short hair and glasses. Later, as he became more immersed in band, his teachers suspected he might be using pot the Times reported. In this sense, and others, Loughner was like any a number of socially awkward and somewhat alienated teens. He liked fantasy games, he dabbled in hallucinogenic drugs, and, later, he would go out into the desert to target shoot with guns.

His list of favorite books on his MySpace page contains so many titles common to a certain adolescent mode of formulaic, shock-the-bourgeois nonconformity as to be cliché: Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 share the bill with Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto.

In 2004, he had his first major run-in with authorities. It was an inauspicious beginning.

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